MacKay asks for review of used U.S. choppers for search-and-rescue fleet
Defence Minister Peter MacKay makes an announcement at National Defence Headquarters in Ottawa, Thursday, May 2, 2013. (Sean Kilpatrick / THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Published Monday, May 6, 2013 7:00AM EDT
Last Updated Monday, May 6, 2013 10:21PM EDT
Ottawa is considering U.S. President Barack Obama’s old presidential choppers for use the Royal Canadian Air Force.
Defence Minister Peter MacKay said Monday he has asked for a study to determine whether old U.S. Marine Ones can be retrofitted for its own search-and-rescue fleet.
In 2009, Canada bought from the Pentagon nine decommissioned VH-71 aircraft -- presidential helicopters -- at a price tag of more than $160 million. The old Marine Ones weren’t suitable for flying, so they were purchased for spare parts.
“So we are looking for ways in which we might, through investments, reconfigure those helicopters and bring some of them in to use to augment the current fleet,” said MacKay.
But one defence analyst says the choppers aren’t designed for search and rescue, especially considering Canada’s extreme conditions and remote destinations.
“Helicopters have to be able to float,” said Steven Staples, president of government relations firm Public Response. “You’ve got to pull people off the deck of a sinking ship. Obama’s hand-me-down helicopters are not going to be able to do that.”
Maj. –Gen. Mike Hood, deputy commander of the RCAF, said the refrofit is a consideration, but right now the force is focused on the parts and the current system.
“I’m certainly not going to preclude anything,” Hood told The Canadian Press. “We’re going to have to work with industry to see what is the art of the possible.”
The idea to retrofit the old Marine Ones comes just one week after the Auditor General issued a scathing report, slamming the Harper government for having inadequate equipment for emergency rescues.
MacKay ordered the review before the AG report.
Critics say they have no reason to believe such an initiative would be successful, and say the mishandling of the F-35 contract is an example of procurement that has spun out of control.
“What I think is frankly embarrassing for Canada is that these procurements take too long and are always grossly over-budget,” Liberal MP Bob Rae said.
National Defence says its study is expected to take a few months and the full costs will be known after it is complete.
With a report from CTV’s Richard Madan and with files from The Canadian Press