Feds to unload 4 of 6 beleaguered Challenger jets
Published Tuesday, November 27, 2012 8:17AM EST
The federal government is getting rid of four of its six Challenger jets -- aircraft traditionally used to shuttle Canadian government officials and VIPs around the country, sometimes controversially.
The fleet reduction is part of ongoing Conservative efforts to cut spending and balance the books over the next few years. The Tories have already reduced the use of the jets by as much as 80 per cent since coming into office.
While the Challengers are used for VIP transportation, they're also used for administrative support, and, at times, for medical evacuations.
A number of the six CC-144 Challenger twin-engine jets will come to the end of their lifespan in 2014, CTV’s Mercedes Stephenson says the government is not waiting until then to get rid of them.
"I asked if they were going to wait … I was told no, they absolutely will be gotten rid of by the Canadian Forces before they come to the end of their lifespan at 2014, so they're looking to do this for immediate cost savings," she told CTV News Channel.
The Challenger program has been the subject of controversy in recent years.
Former chief of the defence staff Gen. Walter Natynczyk was taken to task in 2011 for spending more than $1 million on personal flights aboard the jets, which shuttled him to such events as CFL games, fundraising dinners and even to join his family on a Caribbean vacation.
Natynczyk defended his actions at the time, saying he had been transparent about his flights, which were all approved through official channels.
Defence Minister Peter MacKay also came under fire that year for racking up $3 million in Challenger flights. The prime minister defended MacKay, saying the trips had all been for legitimate reasons -- including the repatriation ceremonies for fallen soldiers -- and said MacKay had used the VIP jets an average of 70 per cent less than previous defence ministers.
Documents showed only nine of MacKay’s 35 flights were for repatriation ceremonies, while the other flights were for press events and other political announcements.
The decision to get rid of four of the jets is largely about optics, saying they have come to be seen as an expensive "perk" for government officials at a time when many Canadians are struggling financially.
"I think you're seeing the military not only looking for cost-savings … but they're also looking at how does the average Canadian view it if you're essentially flying around in a private jet," Stephenson said.