The federal government has signed a $3.6-billion contract with European aviation company Airbus SE to replace its aging Polaris transport planes, one of which is used by high-ranking government officials including the Prime Minister and Governor-General.
The fleet of five planes has been flown by the RCAF 437 transport squadron since 1992, and its lifespan is set to reach its end in 2027. Government officials say extending that further would be extremely difficult because of the age of the technology.
The new fleet of planes, which will be named the CC-330 Husky, includes four new and five used aircraft that are being outfitted to feature the same capabilities.
The government bought the used planes from a company in Kuwait, and two of them are set to begin flying out of Ottawa International Airport this fall.
One of those will be painted in a way that is similar to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s current plane, and it is expected to be delivered this summer. Officials would not say whether it will be ready for use in September, when Mr. Trudeau is expected to attend the G20 summit in India.
The aging Polaris fleet has caused issues for Mr. Trudeau throughout his time in office.
A problem in October, 2016, required the aircraft to return to Ottawa 30 minutes after taking off with Mr. Trudeau, who was en route to Belgium to sign the Canada-Europe free-trade deal.
In October, 2019, the VIP plane rolled into a wall while being towed into a hangar at 8 Wing Trenton, sustaining “significant structural damage to the nose and right engine cowling,” according to the Air Force.
The plane was out of service for several months that year. A backup aircraft was used to take Mr. Trudeau to the NATO summit in December, 2019, but it was grounded in London when the Air Force discovered a problem with one of the engines.
Canadian crews have been training to fly the new aircraft in Britain since January. On average, it takes about three months of training for a Polaris pilot to be ready to fly the new Airbus, National Defence officials said in a background briefing for reporters on Tuesday.
Two of the used planes were purchased for US$102-million last June and the remaining three were bought this month at a cost of US$150-million.
The Airbus contract includes advanced training devices and a full flight simulator, which will eliminate the need to send crews to Germany to train twice a year, officials said.
The Husky planes will be able to perform air-to-air refuelling for Canada’s NATO allies, including F-35 fighter jets and the U.S. Air Force’s fighter jets. Canada has committed to buying 88 F-35 planes, which are set to be delivered starting in 2026.
Defence Department officials said the fleet will be housed at three bases: one in the East, one in the West and one in the North, but they have not yet determined exactly where those will be.
New infrastructure is part of the contract as well, because the planes are about 50 per cent heavier and 50 per cent wider than those in the current fleet. The government is looking at commercial sites and existing National Defence properties as part of that work.