Air Force focuses on pilot retention

The Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) is hoping to attract retired pilots into the Reserves and move serving pilots from staff jobs back into cockpits as part of a broader effort to retain a critical workforce, according to the vice chief of the defence staff.

The RCAF is reaching out to retired Canadian Forces personnel and other serving pilots from staff jobs in hopes that they’ll get back in the cockpit; this is part of an effort to retain pilots. 2Lt Kathleen Soucy Photo
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“We’re reaching out to retired individuals from the Canadian Forces and seeing if they’d like to join,” LGen Paul Wynnyk told the House of Commons defence committee in late February. “[We want to] make it more flexible for pilots who have retired to go into the Reserves, to perhaps look at ways of getting into [4 Wing] Cold Lake or [3 Wing] Bagotville or wherever we need to fly them, and potential bonuses.”

Wynnyk was responding to a question on the retention of fighter and helicopter pilots, both of which have been heavily affected by the lure of the commercial sector.

“This is not a problem that’s unique to Canada,” he acknowledged. “There’s a lot of pressure on the Five Eyes countries [Canada, U.S., U.K., Australia and New Zealand] … The big draws are the civilian airlines as they increase substantially.”

Promotion in the Air Force invariably involves a move from the aircraft to staff jobs in various headquarters. Wynnyk said the military was talking with allies about options, and considering ways to encourage those who just want to fly to remain in the service.

“[M]aybe there’s a career stream where you will not necessarily progress in rank, but will get to fly more,” he told the committee.

Wynnyk was one of six senior officials from the Department of National Defence, along with Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan, to appear as part of a discussion on the budget supplementary estimates for 2018-19 and the interim estimates for 2019-20.

Committee members were also concerned about “a rumour” that the department was returning the engines of the F/A-18 Hornets it has begun receiving from Australia as part of an interim measure to fill a gap in Air Force capability.

“We are in fact sending the engines back–that model of engine,” confirmed Patrick Finn, assistant deputy minister of materiel. “We have sufficient spare engines, so we dropped the engines … and we’re using our spare engines to re-engine the aircraft.”

Though the government announced it would acquire 25 Hornets from the Royal Australian Air Force–18 for operational aircraft and seven for spare parts–Finn said the seven spare jets might not be necessary.

“What we’re finding is that the number of spares they’ve been able to provide to us is more than adequate,” he explained. “Rather than take aircraft apart and go through that cost, we’re taking the spares. We may not in fact, at this point, look at any of the seven.”

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Finn confirmed the Air Force was still analyzing options to upgrade the combat capability of the current fleet of 76 CF-188 Hornets, as well as the interim jets. Enhancing combat systems was not included in the approximately $360 million budget to acquire and bring the Australian jets up to the same standard as the Canadian Hornets.

“We’re looking at some upgrades around IFF, Link-16, and that’s across the entire fleet,” he said. “That is the next wave that will happen … We are replenishing missiles, looking at different areas, and the Air Force, I’d say, is in the beginning of that next phase of what they would need to do.”

Asked whether Canadians should have confidence in the military’s ability to meet its commitments, based on the state of a number of equipment procurement projects, Jody Thomas, deputy minister of National Defence, said that, with respect to the fighter jet file, the department was meeting its targets.

“The [request for proposals] for the future fighter capability project will be on the street in the spring. We are meeting every single milestone that we have laid out for that project. [And] we are working on a program to recruit pilots and to improve the number of technicians in the Air Force,” she said.

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