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Clock ticking as Air Force looks to stop hemorrhaging experienced pilots

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  • 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


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    National

    PR firm suspends contract with former B.C. premier amid groping accusation

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  • VANCOUVER — A global communications marketing firm says it is suspending its contract with former British Columbia premier Gordon Campbell in light of an allegation in a British newspaper that he groped a woman in the United Kingdom.

    Edelman says in a statement that Campbell has served as a special adviser to the firm since last July, and was engaged on a part-time basis as a consultant through a retainer agreement.

    However, the company says it and Campbell have “mutually decided to suspend their consulting arrangement” until a police investigation in the United Kingdom is complete.

    On Friday, the Daily Telegraph reported that London police are investigating a complaint from a woman who was an employee at the Canadian High Commission when Campbell was high commissioner to the U.K.

    The newspaper says the complainant alleges she was groped in 2013 and filed a complaint with police in January.

    The Metropolitan Police in London could not be reached for comment on Friday or Saturday.

    Campbell also could not be reached for comment, but a spokesman issued the following statement on his behalf:

    “This complaint was transparently disclosed and became the subject of a full due diligence investigation at the time by the Government of Canada and was found to be without merit.”

    The Daily Telegraph story includes the woman’s name, but The Canadian Press does not identify alleged victims of sexual assault without their active consent and was not able to contact the woman.

    Campbell was premier of British Columbia from 2001 until 2011. He was appointed high commissioner to the U.K. in 2011 and left the diplomatic post in 2016.

    The Canadian Press


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    National

    International rules must be enforced, Freeland says after Munich conference

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  • Canada will continue to meet with like-minded nations as it aims to bridge divides between countries at a time of simmering international tensions, Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland said from Germany on Saturday.

    The approach is necessary as Canada strives to reinforce the “rules-based international order,” Freeland said in a conference call with reporters as she wrapped up her time at the Munich Security Conference.

    “We also think we need to … bring together specific coalitions around specific issues,” she said, listing the Lima Group — which helped empower Venezuela’s opposition in its fight against President Nicolas Maduro — as an example of Canada doing just that.

    The group helped identify the politician Canada and its allies recognize as Venezuela’s real leader, Juan Guaido, as a contender to bring down Maduro’s regime.

    “There is now a very long list of countries who have recognized Juan Guaido as interim president,” she said. “That is a sign that the international community is coming together around democracy in Venezuela.”

    But she added that Canada is not — and should not be — leading the fight against Maduro.

    “This is a process led by the people of Venezuela,” she said. “They are the ones who need to win this effort. Our job as the international community is to support them, and that is very much what we’re doing.”

    She said that beyond seeking out like-minded countries, Canada will continue to name and shame those involved in human rights abuses, listing the country’s involvement in protesting the genocide of Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar as an example of such an approach.

    The federal government has appointed former Liberal MP Bob Rae as Canada’s special envoy to Myanmar and pledged $300 million over the next three years to combat the crisis there. Last September, Parliament voted unanimously to strip Myanmar’s de facto leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, of her honorary Canadian citizenship for failing to stop the atrocities committed against the Rohingya people.

    Freeland’s public push for a rules-following international order also comes in the midst of an ongoing dispute between Canada and China, following what she called the superpower’s “arbitrary” detention of two Canadians in apparent retaliation for Canada’s arrest of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou.

    Freeland said the detention of Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig was central to her discussion with Rob Malley, president of the International Crisis Group, and is yet another example of nations rallying together.

    “The ICG has been a very important partner in working to build international support,” she said.

    Numerous countries — including Germany, France, the Netherlands, the U.K., Australia, Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia — have spoken against the men’s detention. Earlier this week in Munich, U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham said the American response had not been strong enough.

    Nicole Thompson, The Canadian Press


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