OTTAWA — A shortage of experienced pilots is forcing the Royal Canadian Air Force to walk a delicate line between keeping enough seasoned aviators available to train new recruits and lead missions in the air.
Air force commander Lt.-Gen. Al Meinzinger described the balancing act during a recent interview with The Canadian Press in which he also revealed many pilots today are likely to have less experience than counterparts in similar positions 10 years ago.
Much of the problem can be traced back to veteran aviators leaving for commercial jobs, or other opportunities outside the military, forcing senior commanders into a juggling act over where to put those still in uniform.
“In order to (support) your training system … you’ve got to pull experienced pilots into those positions, but you have to have experienced pilots on the squadrons to season the youth that are joining the units,” he said.
“So it’s a bit of a delicate balance. And when you’re in a situation where you don’t have as much experience, broadly speaking, you’ve got to balance that very carefully. Hence the idea of retaining as much talent as we can.”
Fixing the problems created by the shortage will become especially critical if the air force is to be ready for the arrival of replacements for the CF-18s.
Meinzinger said such transitions from one aircraft to another are particularly difficult — the RCAF needs to keep the same number of planes in the air to fly missions and have senior aviators train new pilots, while still sending seasoned pilots for training on the incoming fleet.
“Ideally you want to go into those transitions very, very healthy with 100 per cent manning and more experience than you could ever imagine,” Meinzinger said.
While he is confident the military can address its pilot shortage in the next few years, especially when it comes to those responsible for manning Canada’s fighter jets, the stakes to get it right are extremely high.
The federal auditor general reported in November that the military doesn’t have enough pilots and mechanics to fly and maintain the country’s CF-18 fighter jets. Air force officials revealed in September they were short 275 pilots and need more mechanics, sensor operators and other trained personnel across its different aircraft fleets.
There are concerns the deficit will get worse as a result of explosive growth predicted in the global commercial airline sector, which could pull many experienced military pilots out of uniform.
“That’s the expectation, that Canada will need an additional 7,000 to 8,000 pilots just to nourish the demands within the Canadian aerospace sector,” Meinzinger said. “And we don’t have the capacity as a nation to produce even half of that.”
Within the military, there also hasn’t been enough new pilots produced to replace the number who have left. The auditor general found that while 40 fighter pilots recently left the Forces, only 30 new ones were trained.
The military is working on a contract for a new training program that will let the air force increase the number of new pilots trained in a given year when necessary, as the current program allows only a fixed number to be produced.
Meanwhile, Meinzinger said the loss of more seasoned pilots means others are being asked to take on more responsibility earlier in their careers, though he denied any significant impact on training or missions. He said the military is managing the situation through the use of new technology, such as simulators, to ensure the air force can still do its job.
“There’s no doubt commanding officers today in RCAF squadrons, they have probably less flying hours than they did 10 years ago,” he said.
“What that (commanding officer) has today is probably an exposure to 21st-century technology and training. So I think that certainly offsets the reduction of flying hours.”
Meinzinger and other top military commanders are nonetheless seized with the importance of keeping veteran pilots in uniform to ensure those climbing into the cockpit for the first time have someone to look to for guidance — now and in the future.
New retention strategies are being rolled out that include better support for military families, increased certainty for pilots in terms of career progression and a concerted effort to keep them in the cockpit and away from desks and administrative work.
Other militaries, notably the U.S., that are struggling with a shortage of pilots have introduced financial bonuses and other measures to stay in uniform. Meinzinger couldn’t commit to such an initiative, but did say that “nothing is off the table.”
The situation may not represent an existential crisis, at least not yet, but officials know it is one that needs to be addressed if Canada’s air force is to continue operating at top levels for the foreseeable future.
“Experience is what allows us to (transfer knowledge) and grow for the future,” Meinzinger said. “And that’s why I talk about it as being kind of the centre of gravity. In the extreme, if you lose all your experience, you can’t regenerate yourself.”
— Follow @leeberthiaume on Twitter.
Lee Berthiaume, The Canadian Press
A year after Danforth shooting, teens who lost friend grapple with anxiety
TORONTO — They were eight care-free teenagers out celebrating a birthday when the bullets flew. The rampage that ensued on July 22, 2018, changed their lives.
Days before the first anniversary of the shooting in Greektown, four of the teens who survived the tragedy sit in the living room of an east Toronto home talking about their struggles with anxiety, depression and the feeling of loss. It’s better than therapy, they say.
“I feel like the people I am surrounded with is my therapy,” says Skye McLeod, as her friend Noor Samiei, whose 18th birthday they were celebrating the night of the shooting, gently holds her hand.
Their best friend, 18-year-old Reese Fallon, was one of two people who were killed when a deeply troubled 29-year-old man went on a shooting spree. Thirteen people were injured, including their other friend, Samantha Price.
Price has largely recovered physically, but she says she cannot stop the morbid thoughts that often race through her mind. The 18-year-old will watch cars go by and think the driver will shoot her in the head. She’ll notice a stranger on the street and fear for her life. She thinks large crowds make for a perfect place for a bomb to go off.
“It’s horrible,” she says. “But I can’t help it.”
All four have tried various forms of therapy. Three say it didn’t help.
McLeod stopped after one session with a therapist. Samiei, 19, says she saw a therapist twice.
“The therapist would look at me and if she didn’t initiate the conversation, I would just look back at her,” Samiei says. “What I really wanted was feedback.”
“Tell me how to heal,” Price says. “It sucks to go outside and be this age and not have fun.”
Max Smith, however, says therapy has helped his recurring anxiety.
“We just talk about what I’m feeling,” he says. “(My therapist) is super helpful and gives me insight and has given me some breathing techniques.”
All four say they think about the shooting a lot.
The night of the celebration started with dinner at an Italian restaurant downtown. Then they moved to Greektown for gelato. They were chatting at a nearby parkette when some noticed a man across the street, staring at them.
Price remembers Faisal Hussain raising a gun and firing. A bullet shattered her right hip and she collapsed. Next to her, two of her friends were on the ground bleeding.
McLeod also went down, but wasn’t shot.
“I remember looking at him,” she says. “Do I get up to run? Will that make me a bigger target? Do I play dead?”
Smith, who was next to McLeod, says he crouched down when the bullets flew.
“It was like tunnel vision,” he says. “I remember saying ‘Skye, we have to go.'”
“You saved my life,” she says to Smith. He blushes.
In the commotion, Samiei ran straight onto Danforth Avenue, tripped and fell, smashing her chin and knee on the road.
“While on the ground, I looked behind me and saw him shooting,” she says.
Samiei noticed Smith, McLeod and another friend duck into a nearby cafe so she got up and followed. The four ended up in a basement bathroom with two strangers.
Price watched her friends dash into the cafe, but also noticed restaurants were closing their doors.
Somehow, despite her shattered hip, Price made her way to Christina’s, a restaurant where a waitress helped her in and called for a doctor. She’d spend the next five days in hospital.
Her friends, meanwhile, were trying to track down members of their group. Samiei, while still in the basement bathroom, called Fallon repeatedly but got no answer. McLeod called her father, who rushed over.
Patrick McLeod, a retired police officer, found his daughter and her three friends in the cafe bathroom. After speaking with police at the scene, he ended up identifying Fallon’s body.
The friends later learned that Fallon had run in one direction while they scrambled in another. Her body was found in the parkette where they had gathered.
“That’s when our lives changed forever,” Samiei says.
While three of them started university last September, McLeod chose to travel. She headed to Greece, but the horror of what happened soon took hold.
“I immediately had a panic attack,” she says. “I had never been so depressed in my life. Crying constantly. Everything just hit me.”
Her father flew over to help and McLeod eventually carried on to Italy, but delayed her trip to Australia.
“I realized I needed time at home to heal,” she says.
Her travels helped, but like Price, McLeod says she grapples with disturbing thoughts. At a recent concert, for instance, she found herself thinking “this is a great place for a shooting.”
Smith moved to Guelph, Ont., for university and said being away from Toronto has also helped.
“It’s easy to forget about the shooting because you’re just not there,” he said. “It hits you when you get home.”
Samiei, now a student at the University of Toronto, says commuting to the school’s downtown campus was a challenge because crowds on the subway distressed her. So her mother commuted with her for months. Now, she’s able to make the journey on her own.
“I will change cars if I see someone weird, though,” she says.
Price has also struggled with parts of city life — a walk around her neighbourhood on Canada Day triggered a panic attack when she heard fireworks.
“It’s become so difficult,” she says. “I’ve loved growing up here and loved living here, but I feel uncomfortable at any public event.”
Despite their issues, the friends say they try to be positive as much as they can, especially when it comes to remembering Fallon.
“Reese’s last meal was her favourite: raspberry and chocolate gelato,” Samiei says with a smile.
Smith shows a video of the group at the restaurant that night where Fallon makes a goofy face. Everyone laughs.
“As horrible as that night was, at least until then, we had such a good time,” Smith says.
Samiei visits the parkette regularly to keep Fallon’s memory alive. She puts photographs of her friend on a tree. Someone takes them down, but she returns to put them back up.
“It’s important,” Samiei said. “So people don’t forget.”
Liam Casey, The Canadian Press
Lyme-infected ticks are so common in parts of Canada, testing no longer done
OTTAWA — Lyme disease has settled so deeply into parts of Canada many public health units now just assume if you get bitten by a tick, you should be treated for the potentially debilitating bacteria.
In Ottawa, where more than half of the ticks tested in some neighbourhoods carry the bacteria that causes Lyme disease, the public-health unit no longer bothers to test ticks because it’s assumed they carry the illness.
Dr. Vera Etches, the top doctor at the health unit, says that means if a tick is found on a person, and is believed to have been there for more than 24 hours, then the patient should get antibiotics to prevent Lyme infection.
After three days, preventive treatment won’t work so patients then wait for symptoms or enough time for antibodies to evolve to show up on a test.
Similar rates of Lyme disease have been found in parts of every province except Alberta, Saskatchewan, Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland and Labrador, but the disease is marching further afield every year.
Lyme disease began appearing in Canada in the early 1980s but it has only been since about 2012 that the ticks that carry the bacteria have become plentiful, mostly due to warmer winters that allow more of them to survive.
The Canadian Press
Red Deer Westerner Days Parade Map
Innisfail woman charged with stealing over $50 thousand from employer
Concerns mount over ‘criminalization’ of detained migrants in Canada
Police investigating after 2 toddlers drown at Maskwacis
Alberta22 hours ago
Police investigating after 2 toddlers drown at Maskwacis
National23 hours ago
Ontario man calls out Eric Trump for tweet that used son’s image
Crime1 day ago
Two month investigation leads to record Meth Seizure in Medicine Hat
Top Story CP1 day ago
Joaquin ‘El Chapo’ Guzman sentenced to life in prison
Alberta2 days ago
Alberta seeing spike in syphilis cases
National Entertainment9 hours ago
Man screaming ‘You die!’ kills at least 23 at anime studio
Alberta6 hours ago
Million-Dollar Cocaine Seizure Made in Edmonton
Local Sports1 day ago
PARKER THOMPSON BREAKS NEW GROUND WITH INCREDIBLE TWO SERIES WEEKEND AT TORONTO INDY