Monday, November 26, 2007

Not so really hot aircraft news

This story received pretty good coverage almost two months ago. But now there is a terrible suspicion that there may be some politics involved. Regarding our armed forces and industry, in Canada, in Nova Scotia. Quelle horreur! Who'd a thunk it?
National Defence has postponed a decision on whether to continue with major upgrades to its fleet of Maritime patrol planes until after Parliament rises for the Christmas holidays.

Critics say the deferral is an unabashed attempt to bury what is expected to be a bad news announcement for Defence Minister Peter MacKay.

A substantial portion of the work has been carried out in his home province of Nova Scotia.

Defence sources say the long-anticipated announcement was put off earlier this week until Dec. 18, almost one month past the government’s self-imposed deadline and at least four days past Parliament’s scheduled Christmas break.

Despite several telephone calls over three days, the department’s material branch did not answer requests for comment — or explain the rationale for the extension involving the CP-140s.

The air force had originally intended to keep its 18 CP-140 Auroras in the air until 2025, but a multi-year upgrade contract was put on hold in September and there have been suggestions the military has been shopping for a replacement aircraft...

Companies, including IMP Aerospace in Halifax, were preparing for the next round when the project was put in limbo.

Defence sources said officials from IMP met with MacKay earlier this month.

The minister offered no hint about what the final decision might be "other than to suggest they might not be happy with the result," said an official who asked not to be named.

A spokesman for the minister denied MacKay is leaning one way or another and that politics played any part in the decision to postpone.

"The minister has not made a decision on this file and is expected to within coming weeks," Dan Dugas said in an email note.

"The reason for the postponement is that the minister wants all the information possible on this important file before he does decide the way forward and he’s waiting for more advice."

But Opposition members said they don’t buy it and the stonewalling — particularly by department officials — can only mean the Conservatives want the issue dropped into the pre-Christmas news void to protect MacKay.

There has already been controversy surrounding defence contracts in Nova Scotia’s business community.

Irving-owned Halifax Shipyards is suing the federal government over the awarding of a long-term submarine maintenance contract.

"So, it means during Christmas, ho, ho, ho, and we pull-the-plug," said Liberal defence critic Denis Coderre.

"The only reason they would want to do this during the holidays is because they want to cover it up so nobody knows what happened."

NDP defence critic Dawn Black said she’s troubled by the extension and that politics appear to be at play.

"This is important for surveillance and for the safety of Canadians on both coasts and we deserve to know what is going on."

The Auroras are used for submarine hunting and coastal surveillance.

In 2005, IMP and L-3 Electronic Systems were awarded two contracts totalling $961.1 million.

IMP, which has maintained the airframe of the Auroras since they were introduced in the 1980s, has been carrying out engineering and structural upgrades.

Industry officials told MacKay it would be cheaper to continue with the upgrade and keep the planes flying until 2025, rather than spend several billion dollars to purchase new ones.

But the air force has countered that the slow pace of the refurbishment means it could have new aircraft by the time the old ones are back in service, said a defence insider.

Bailing out on the rest of contract would result in a "managable" penalty, the source admitted...
I'm shocked, see that M. Coderre is in top, technically-informed, Liberal national defence critic mode:
So, it means during Christmas, ho, ho, ho, and we pull-the-plug...
I'd bet that if he was in a bathtub racer he'd pull the plug by accident. What a shame.

Update: This story, by the Ottawa Citizen's David Pugliese in an apparent effort to catch up with CP's Murray Brewster (author of first quote above), is really not hot. Unless Mr Pugliese is right that the Air Force is set on the P-8 as the Aurora's replacement (sole-sourced, horrors!)--statements for which he gives no source:

From Mr Brewster (at the end of his story):
The air force is said to be looking at two aircraft, the P-8 Poseidon and the ASTOR.

The U.S. Navy replaced its Auroras with Boeing manufactured P-8s, which are essentially 737s modified for surveillance. The ASTOR is a smaller version of Quebec-based Bombardier’s Global Express jet.
From Mr Pugliese:
The military's recommendation is to keep the Auroras flying until 2016 without any upgrades, while at the same time proceeding with the purchase of the Poseidon surveillance aircraft, the U.S. navy's successor to its version of the Aurora. Several years ago, Canada was invited by the U.S. to take part in the Poseidon program, but declined...

The military would prefer to tie in to the U.S. navy's P-8 Poseidon aircraft program starting around 2011 or 2012. An order placed then would see the delivery of the first of those aircraft by 2016...


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