Fighter jet delays fuelling exodus of pilots from Air Force, insiders say


OTTAWA—The oft-delayed purchase of new fighter jets is contributing to a flight of pilots out of the Air Force to the civilian sector, causing a critical shortage of skilled aviators to fly Canada’s aging fleet of CF-18s, insiders say.

Flying a 30-year-old jet holds less appeal for pilots who are no longer prepared to sacrifice quality of life and are instead quitting for airline careers, where demand for experienced personnel is sky-high.

The rush out the door has left the Royal Canadian Air Force coping with less experienced pilots flying increasingly outdated jets, former fighter pilots tell the Star.

“It’s not a winning proposition,” one veteran former pilot told the Star.

In a recent report, the auditor general turned a spotlight on the crisis, noting that the Air Force only had 64 per cent of the CF-18 pilots it needs. Between April 2016 and March 2018, 40 fighter pilots left and the Air Force was only able to train 30 new ones. Since then, 17 more pilots have indicated they are out the door.

If that pace continues, there won’t be enough experienced pilots to train new ones and the Air Force won’t be able to meet its obligations to NATO and NORAD, the report said.

The Star spoke to several former fighter pilots about the situation. They spoke on background because of sensitivities around their current jobs.

They say several factors are at play in the exodus of pilots. These include exasperation over the delayed purchase of replacement jets that are now not expected for a decade or more, as well as a desire for better quality of life away from the two main fighter bases in Cold Lake, Alta., and Bagotville, Que.

But the biggest factor is the huge demand for pilots across Canada and the world, offering military pilots an easy path to the cockpits of commercial airliners.

“There’s not enough pilots globally … so companies are very aggressive in recruiting wherever they can find them. Military pilots are prime candidates, so they get offered good deals and off they go,” one former pilot said.

The broader pilot shortage problem could soon be the topic of parliamentary study. Liberal MP Steve Fuhr, a former Air Force pilot who flew the CF-18, has proposed a motion to have the Commons transport committee examine the challenges facing flight schools in training new pilots.

Speaking to the motion earlier this month, Fuhr (Kelowna-Lake Country) said the industry-wide shortage is already having an effect on the civilian sector and the military, and noted that Canada could be short 3,000 pilots by 2025.

“As the pilot shortage percolates up, both scheduled and nonscheduled commercial air service will be negatively affected,” Fuhr told a meeting of the committee on Nov. 21.

The CF-18s were last deployed in a combat role in Iraq against Daesh, and remain potent fighters. Able to fly at almost twice the speed of sound, they continue to hold appeal for young military pilots.

But delays in purchasing new fighters, first by the Conservative government and now the Liberals, means replacement aircraft are 10 years or more away. With no prospect of flying the next generation of fighter, some pilots see little incentive to stick around and are opting to quit the Armed Forces when their flying tours are complete.

“They make the calculation that I’m never going to fly anything other than an old 40-year-old F-18 in my entire career,” the former pilot said.

However, another veteran pilot downplayed the delayed procurement as a reason for the departures. “Realistically, I don’t think that’s driving people out the door,” he said.

After two tours of flying — typically about six years — pilots usually move to a desk job. That’s the point where military pilots who are keen to keep flying decide to jump to the private sector, which offers the promise of a good career and the chance to live closer to big cities.

“That’s why guys get out. What’s ultimately driving them out is opportunity,” he said.

Whatever the reason, the departures are hitting the RCAF hard. The Air Force has 76 CF-18s and just over 100 pilots qualified to fly them, insiders say. As a result, having almost 60 quit the forces in just over two years marks a huge loss in experience, they say.

The former Air Force veterans stressed that training is good and that the young pilots arriving at the front-line squadrons are well-qualified. Yet they are considered “minimum combat-ready,” able to initially fly only as wingmen and require another one or two years of experience to be considered qualified to fly all missions and serve as flight leaders.

“That’s the danger of this cycle. They’re not regenerating the same numbers as they’re losing,” the pilot said. “The experience level is dropping … With that goes an increase in risk.”

By the time they are replaced, the CF-18s will have been in the Air Force fleet for almost half a century, 30 years longer than planned. The auditor general noted that it’s been 10 years since there was any significant upgrade to their combat capabilities. The Air Force had been relying on the experience of its pilots to overcome shortfalls caused by the age of the aircraft.

“You can still fight OK with an old jet if you have very, very skilled individuals flying it. We invest a lot in our training and therefore our people are very capable, adaptive, innovative,” the pilot said.

“The problem is that those guys are leaving,” he said.

In response to the auditor general findings, Lt.-Gen. Al Meinzinger, commander of the RCAF, said the Air Force is taking steps to help retain aircrews, including measures to improve the quality of life along with changes to how the Air Force trains its pilots to give it “greater flexibility to better meet future personnel demands.”

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Bruce Campion-Smith is an Ottawa-based reporter covering national politics. Follow him on Twitter: @yowflier


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Cannabis IQ: What should THC limits be for cops, pilots, doctors, soldiers? – National


What’s an appropriate level of marijuana consumption if a lot depends on your doing your job exactly right?

Police forces across the country have been wrestling with the question — not just as a law enforcement issue, but in setting rules for their own members.

An easy limit to enforce is not allowing consumption within 28 days of going on duty. (THC can be detectable up to 28 days after consumption.)

MORE: Want this weekly update delivered to your inbox? Sign up for Cannabis IQ.

Toronto police will enforce a 28-day limit, as will the RCMP. Edmonton police won’t allow officers to consume cannabis at all (though we could debate whether that’s actually stricter than a 28-day limit.)

Montreal police take a more tolerant approach, saying only that officers must be “fit for duty.” Federal correctional workers will have a 24-hour ban on consumption before going on duty.

The airlines face broadly similar issues. Air Canada and WestJet will ban employees in safety-sensitive positions, like flight crews and aircraft mechanics, from consuming pot at all.

WATCH: Flying high: rules surrounding passengers carrying cannabis at Canadian airports

Winnipeg’s hospital authority says only that employees “are required to report to work fit for duty and not impaired,” given that “there are currently no standards established for measuring the effects of cannabis.

The military takes a nuanced approach, looking at the risks in the job a service member will do. Troops have a 24-hour ban before handling weapons or explosives, but a 28-day ban before serving on a submarine or as aircrew.

It’s tempting to err on the side of caution, but what’s reasonable?

Solomon Israel had a useful explainer in The Leaf. To summarize: even looking at the heaviest users, scientists can’t find the tiniest example of THC influence after seven days from use. At that point, the effects they’re detecting can only be picked up by sophisticated neuropsychological tests, and don’t necessarily matter in the real world.

WATCH: AGLC licenses 17 Alberta cannabis stores for Oct. 17

In brief:

  • On Tuesday, the U.S. announced a major policy change — people who work in the Canadian marijuana industry would, on second thought, no longer be in danger from being banned for life from entering the United States.
  • When will a cannabis-impaired driver be charged? Federal Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould said Sunday it would have to be on a case-by-case basis.” “Legalization is being rushed through without proper planning or consideration for the negative consequences,” opposition public safety and justice critics charged.
  • From Global Edmonton’s Fletcher Kent, a reflection on cannabis’s slow journey into mainstream culture. (He talks to four bud trimmers, all senior citizens, who were recruited at the quilting group at the seniors’ centre in Peers, Alta. “Life’s a journey,” one observes.) 
  • Condo boards across the country have the thankless task of trying to regulate residents’ marijuana use.
  • Calgary will see only two cannabis stores open on Wednesday: over 100 more applications are waiting for provincial approval. Businesses caught waiting in line are grumpy.

WATCH: Doug Ford says he’ll consult about allowing marijuana in public parks

  • Large majorities of Manitobans fear that police don’t have the tools to identify marijuana-impaired drivers, and that impaired driving will increase when marijuana becomes legal. 
  • Increasing numbers of young people are ending up in hospital for cannabis poisoning. The problem seems to have to do with grey-market edibles, which can be in appealing formats like soft candy.
  • Warning signs are going up in airports across the country, warning people not to leave the country with their pot. But what are you supposed to do if you realize you have some that you should be getting rid of? Some U.S. airports have installed amnesty boxes, and Canadian airports are considering the same.

You asked:

  • How will the legalization of recreational cannabis affect the medical cannabis market and its clients?

Canada’s national recreational cannabis industry will take years to take its final form, whatever that looks like. In the meantime, there’s been much talk of shortages, at least at first.

B.C. government anticipates a shortage of certain strains of recreational pot

That’s a manageable and temporary problem if you’re ordering marijuana as a recreational drug, and more serious if you need it as medicine. Unfortunately, the same licensed producers that supply the medical market are now frantically scaling up to supply the recreational market, in many cases with exactly the same products.

These crunches will sort themselves out over time, but obviously, that doesn’t help with a problem right now. (We spoke to an expert who wondered if a shortage of medical cannabis could be made up through imports, which raises some interesting possibilities.)

So the short answer is: yes, shortages for medical users are a possibility. If you’re in that situation, please let us know through the contact form below.

You can buy live pot plants when they’re legal — at least in theory

Send us your questions


© 2018 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.


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U.S. NTSB faults Air Canada pilots for last year’s near disaster


Federal safety officials in the U.S. blame two Air Canada pilots for coming within three to six metres of crashing their jetliner into a plane on the ground last year in San Francisco.

The Air Canada pilots were apparently confused because one of two parallel runways was closed and dark before the late-night incident. The crew was seconds from landing their Airbus A320 jet on a taxiway where other planes loaded with passengers were waiting to take off.

« We could not have gotten, literally or figuratively, any closer to having a major disaster, » the safety board’s vice-chairman, Bruce Landsberg, said during a hearing Tuesday in Washington.

Underscoring the severity of the incident, the NTSB’s top aviation-safety staffer, John DeLisi, said it was the first time the board considered a major investigation for an event in which there were no injuries or damaged planes.

Mistook taxiway for runway

The board said the Air Canada crew mistook the taxiway for a runway because they didn’t adequately review a warning to all pilots about one of the runways being closed for construction. The board cited other mistakes and crew fatigue as contributing factors.

Air Canada did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Matt Hogan, chair of the Air Canada Pilots Association’s elected council, urged the Canadian government to change its regulations around fatigue, saying it would help ensure the safety of both passengers and pilots.

The U.S. safety board recommended the development of technology to warn pilots and air traffic controllers when a landing plane appears to be aimed at a taxiway instead of a runway. It also said the Federal Aviation Administration should consider better lighting and markings to warn pilots about closed runways.

Video shows Air Canada plane narrowly missing several planes as it attempts to land on taxiway instead of runway 1:16

The cockpit voice recorder might have helped investigators better understand how the near accident unfolded. However, the recording was taped over because the NTSB wasn’t notified of the incident for nearly two days.

« When we learned of a passenger airliner almost touching down on a taxiway occupied by four other airliners, we elected to launch a full investigation, » DeLisi said.

The July 2017 incident occurred just before midnight local time; it would’ve felt like 3 a.m. to the pilots, who had taken off from Toronto. The safety board recommended that Canada strengthen rules to prevent pilot fatigue.

The safety board’s chairman, Robert Sumwalt, urged the FAA and Canadian officials to adopt the recommendations « so that we do not have to relearn the lessons of this incident at a far greater cost. »

The Air Canada crew was cleared to land on 28R, to the right of 28L. According to a preliminary NTSB report, the pilots thought the lighted runway was 28L — not theirs — and they aimed their jet to land to the right of that, on a parallel taxiway where the other planes were waiting to take off.

According to the NTSB, the pilots told investigators that they didn’t see planes on the taxiway, but that something did not look right.

A United Airlines pilot in one of the planes warned air traffic controllers about the Air Canada jet, and pilots on a Philippine Airlines jet switched on their landing lights in an apparent warning manoeuvre.

Abandoned landing

The Air Canada pilots abandoned the landing and pulled their plane up just in time to avoid catastrophe. An NTSB staff member said Tuesday that they calculated the plane flew three to six metres above the first of the four waiting jetliners, then circled and returned for a safe landing.

Both pilots of the Air Canada Airbus A320 were experienced. The captain, who was flying the plane, had more than 20,000 hours of flying time, and the co-pilot had about 10,000 hours.

In May, federal officials blamed pilot error for three other close calls in the previous 16 months at the San Francisco airport. Pilots say that the airport, with parallel runways close to each other, requires special attention during landings.

The Air Canada incident led the FAA to issue new rules for the airport covering nighttime landings when one of the runways is closed and better late-night control tower staffing.

This composite of file images released by the NTSB shows Air Canada Flight 759 attempting to land at the San Francisco International Airport on July 7, 2017. At top is a map of the runway created from radar track data analysis. At centre is a transcription from a transmission to air traffic control from a United Airlines airplane on the taxiway. The bottom image shows the Air Canada plane flying just above the United flight waiting on the taxiway. (NTSB via the Associated Press)


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