OTTAWA – A shortage of experienced pilots is forcing the Royal Canadian Air Force to be discerning the need to maintain a sufficient number of experienced airmen to train new recruits and conduct missions in the air.
Commander of the Air Force, Lieutenant General. Al Meinzinger described this balancing exercise in a recent interview with the Canadian Press in which he also revealed that many pilots today had less experience than their counterparts occupying positions. similar positions 10 years ago.
Much of the problem can be attributed to the fact that veteran airmen leave for commercial jobs or for other opportunities outside the military, forcing senior commanders to juggle the place to put those still in uniform.
The experience gained as veteran airmen leaving for commercial jobs or other opportunities has forced senior commanders to juggle the place where to put those who are still in uniform.
"In order to (support) your training system … you have to attract experienced pilots to these positions, but you need to have experienced pilots in the squadrons to select the young people who join the units," he said. he declares.
In order to (support) your training system … you must attract experienced pilots to these positions, but you must have experienced pilots in the squadrons to select the youngsters who join the units.
"So it's a delicate balance. And when you're in a situation where you do not have as much experience, basically, you have to balance that very carefully. Hence the idea of retaining as much talent as possible. "
Resolving the problems created by the shortage will become particularly critical if the Air Force is to be ready for the arrival of the CF-18 replacements.
Meinzinger explained that such transitions from one aircraft to another were particularly difficult. The RCAF had to keep the same number of planes in the air to be able to execute missions and ask large airmen to train new pilots, while sending experienced pilots to train on the incoming fleet.
A member of the RCAF crew prepares for takeoff aboard the CH-124 Sea King helicopter from 443 Maritime Helicopter Squadron in Saanich, British Columbia, on Tuesday, November 27, 2018.
THE CANADIAN PRESS / Chad Hipolito
"Ideally, you want to get into these transitions with a 100% team and more experience than you can ever imagine," Meinzinger said.
While he is confident that the military will be able to address the shortage of pilots in the coming years, particularly with respect to those responsible for the use of jet fighters in Canada, the stakes are high.
The federal auditor general reported in November that the army did not have enough pilots and mechanics to fly and maintain the country's CF-18 fighter jets. Air Force officials revealed in September that they lacked 275 pilots and needed more mechanics, sensor operators and other qualified personnel in its various fleets of aircraft.
It is to be feared that the deficit will worsen due to the explosive growth anticipated in the global commercial airline sector, which could force many experienced military pilots to disengage from the uniform.
"It is the hope that Canada will need 7,000 to 8,000 additional pilots just to meet the demands of Canada's aerospace sector," Meinzinger said. "And we do not have the capacity as a nation to produce even half of that."
Within the military, there were not enough new pilots to replace those who left. The Auditor General found that although 40 fighter pilots have recently left the Forces, only 30 have been trained.
The army is currently working on a contract for a new training program that will allow the Air Force to increase the number of new pilots trained in a given year, if any, the current program not allowing to produce a fixed number.
Canada is expected to need an additional 7,000 to 8,000 pilots just to meet the demands of Canada's aerospace sector.
At the same time, Meinzinger said the loss of more experienced pilots means that others are expected to take on more responsibilities earlier in their careers, although he denied any significant impact on training or training. missions. He added that the armed forces were managing the situation using new technologies, such as simulators, to ensure that the air force could still do its job.
"There are undoubtedly commanding officers in the RCAF squadrons, they probably have less flying hours than 10 years ago," he said.
"What (Commander) has today is probably an exposure to 21st century technology and training. So, I think that certainly compensates for the reduction in flying hours. "
Meinzinger and other senior military commanders are nonetheless aware of the importance of keeping veteran pilots in uniform so that those who enter the cockpit have the opportunity to be guided, now and in the future.
New retention strategies are being rolled out, including better support for military families, increased certainty for pilots in terms of career progression, and a concerted effort to keep them in the cockpit and away from offices and administrative tasks.
Other armies, including the United States, struggling with a shortage of pilots, have introduced financial incentives and other measures to stay in uniform. Meinzinger could not engage in such an initiative, but said that "nothing is excluded from the table".
The situation may not be an existential crisis, at least not yet, but officials know it's a crisis to be expected if Canadian aviation must continue to operate at the highest level in the future. close.
"Experience is what allows us to (transfer knowledge) and grow for the future," Meinzinger said. "And that's why I'm talking about the center of gravity. Ultimately, if you lose all your experience, you will not be able to regenerate. "