It’s back to basics for Canada’s famed Snowbirds as the squadron takes a break from airshows to practice.

The stunt pilots have abruptly withdrawn from six appearances in the U.S. and Canada until June. The decision was announced Monday after the team leader raised concerns over the recent flyover at Parliament Hill with the French air force two weeks ago.

The Ottawa show may have looked flawless to the crowd, but the team leader said some of the Snow Birds planes deviated from their positions mid-flight.

“Our team leader absolutely knows that they can get closer and tighter as they fly,” Snowbirds spokesperson Michele Tremblay told CTV News. “He’s alarmed right now, and he wants to stop, go back to basics, practice.”

To hone their trademark precision, the Snowbirds have returned to their base in Moosejaw, Sask. for some aerial acrobatics 101. In six weeks, the troupe is expected to be a major feature at Canada 150 celebrations in Ottawa. The team has even painted its CT-114 Tutor jet with a commemorative paint job to mark the occasion.

Without the famous nine-plane team in the skies, Windsor has cancelled its airshow altogether. Organizers say they’re disappointed by the sudden news.

“Everybody associated with the air show is devastated,” said the event’s director Paul McCann.

The weather may have been a factor in the less-than-perfect performance. Poor conditions have repeatedly thwarted the Snowbirds’ intensive preparation schedule over the last few months.

“As a result, more training is required before the Snowbirds resume the 2017 schedule,” said Maj. Patrick Gobeil, Snowbirds team lead, in a statement.

Safety is critical in pulling off the successful shows. The single-engine jets travel at nearly 600 kilometres per hour and fly within metres of each other’s wingtips. It takes hundreds of hours to polish the intricate routines. Small mistakes can have deadly results. In 1989, a mid-air collision at the Toronto Air Show killed one pilot and injured another.

“Ultimately it’s the safety of the team and the safety of the spectators which trumps everything,” said Lt.-Col. Steve Will, a former Snowbirds commander.

Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan insists the team always puts safety first.

“I’m very proud of the fact that they’re taking these things extremely seriously, because safety is paramount,” Sajjan said. “They do some extraordinary things, and I look forward to seeing them in future air shows.”

The Snowbirds team operates as part of the Canadian Forces and includes highly-trained pilots, technicians and support personnel.

The shows affected by the cancellation include:

  • Rochester, New York (May 17)
  • Quonset Air National Guard Base, Rhode Island (May 20 and 21)
  • Fort Erie, Ont. (May 24)
  • Windsor, Ont. (May 27 and 28)
  • Whiteman, Missouri (May 31)
  • Duluth, Minnesota (June 3 and 4)

With a report from CTV’s Kevin Gallagher