Friday, June 27, 2014

Government cuts Challenger jet fleet by two

The Conservative government is shrinking the size of its fleet of VIP jets, hoping to redirect the projected savings to other areas within the strained defense department budget.

The Challenger fleet is being cut to four from six, a move the government says will save about $1.5 million a year. If the projections are accurate, the government will redirect the cash to what it’s calling “higher operational needs” such as search and rescue operations.

The reduction of two planes is effective immediately.

“The government takes its role as a steward of public resources very seriously and makes every effort to ensure taxpayers’ money is well invested and the men and women of Canada’s armed forces have the equipment they need to stay safe and perform their duties effectively,” Defense Minister Rob Nicholson said in a written statement released Friday.

“I’m pleased today to see more responsible measures taken to ensure our defence investments are going into higher priority areas, such as search and rescue.”

The Bombardier jets are used to shuttle around the Governor General, prime minister, cabinet ministers and other dignitaries. The RCMP has determined that, for security reasons, the prime minister and Governor General should not fly aboard commercial aircraft.

The Royal Canadian Air Force’s jets — which seat nine passengers, two pilots, a flight engineer and one steward — cost more than $3,300 an hour to operate. That cost, coupled with the government’s use of the jets, has drawn criticism from opposition parties who argue that the Conservatives have been abusing taxpayer dollars by using the jets for party business but only repaying a fraction of the cost.

The Conservative government maintains it has reduced the use of the Challengers by 75 percent compared to the previous Liberal government, although it’s difficult to verify those numbers.

The federal government owns six Challenger jets. In November 2012, the Conservative government announced it was going to get rid of four of its six Challenger jets. The aircraft spend more time flying empty — so that the pilots can keep up their flying skills — than shuttling around ministers and dignitaries.

The main reason was that the jets were coming to the end of their operational lives and would require costly upgrades to keep them flying.

What’s to happen to the winged limousines is not clear: The government announcement didn’t say whether they would be sold, simply calling the move the “Challengers’ retirement.” Depending on the year and model of the aircraft, Bombardier’s Challengers can fetch seven to eight figures.


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