By Lee Berthiaume, The Canadian Press
OTTAWA — The Canadian Armed Forces is refusing to accept the first of its new search-and-rescue planes from European manufacturer Airbus because of concerns with the aircraft’s manuals.
The new plane was supposed to be delivered to the military by Dec. 1, but The Canadian Press has learned that is unlikely to happen as the company, the Royal Canadian Air Force and the Department of National Defence wrangle over the manuals’ contents.
The manuals provide pilots, aircrew and technicians with necessary instructions and references for operating and maintaining the aircraft and are thousands of pages thick. The disagreement revolves around exactly which details Airbus needs to include in the documents.
Exactly how long delivery could be delayed remains unclear, though there are hopes the aircraft will still be accepted by the end of the year, which would have minimal impact on the Forces’ operations.
However, an extended delay could force the military to make adjustments with its existing aircraft, some of which are already decades old and long overdue for replacement.
The federal government ordered the military to start conducting search-and-rescue operations in 1947.
The government receives about 10,000 distress calls a year, and while the majority are handled by the provinces or territories, with police and volunteers tasked with responding, about 750 of the most high-risk calls are answered by the military.
Military search-and-rescue personnel often use their specialized airplanes and helicopters to parachute or rappel into remote areas such as mountains, the high Arctic or one of Canada’s three oceans to respond to plane crashes and sinking ships.
The federal government announced three years ago that it would pay Airbus $2.4 billion for 16 CC-295 aircraft, which will replace the air force’s ancient Buffalo search-and-rescue planes and an old version of the RCAF’s Hercules aircraft.
The deal, which includes an option to pay Airbus another $2.3 billion to maintain and support the plane for 15 years, has been held up as one of the few major successes for Canada’s beleaguered military procurement system in recent years.
News of the expected delay follows revelations last week that Irving Shipbuilding in Halifax was pushing back delivery of the Royal Canadian Navy’s first Arctic and offshore patrol vessel. Already years overdue, the vessel had most recently slated for delivery at the end of 2019.