Members of the RCAF take part in a Royal Canadian Air Force change of command ceremony in Ottawa on Friday, May 4, 2018. The Royal Canadian Air Force is hoping Canada will open its doors to military pilots from other countries as it seeks to address a longstanding shortage of experienced aviators. THE CANADIAN PRESS/ Patrick Doyle

Members of the RCAF take part in a Royal Canadian Air Force change of command ceremony in Ottawa on Friday, May 4, 2018. The Royal Canadian Air Force is hoping Canada will open its doors to military pilots from other countries as it seeks to address a longstanding shortage of experienced aviators. THE CANADIAN PRESS/ Patrick Doyle

RCAF turns to foreign pilots to help with shortage as commercial aviators stay away

The seriousness of that pilot shortage has been repeatedly noted by military officials

Canada should open its doors to military pilots from other countries as it seeks to address a critical shortage of experienced aviators to fly its helicopters and planes, according to the head of the Royal Canadian Air Force.

In an interview with The Canadian Press, Lt.-Gen. Al Meinzinger said the military is currently working with Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada to facilitate and streamline the enrolment of seasoned pilots from overseas.

“We would not be in a position to influence … or demand certain outcomes,” he said. “But I do think it’s a valuable opportunity space for us to continue to leverage individuals who want to come to Canada and want to serve still as an air force member.”

The initiative is the latest in a long list of moves by the air force in recent years as it has scrambled to make sure it has enough experienced pilots to both train new recruits and lead air missions at home and abroad.

The seriousness of that pilot shortage has been repeatedly noted by military officials and others such as the federal auditor general, prompting concerns about the short- and long-term impacts on Canada’s defence and security.

Meinzinger said there has been some progress in addressing that shortage. The air force is supposed to have about 1,500 pilots and was short around 225 at the end of December 2019. Currently, Meinzinger said, the air force is short about 130.

Yet most of that progress can be traced to a reorganization that saw about 60 unfilled pilot positions reclassified into what the air force calls “air operations officers,” which are responsible for planning and co-ordinating missions rather than flying them.

“We’re short 130 pilots,” Meinzinger said. “But if you add 61, you’re really at a number closer to 195. … So there’s been a small improvement in the aggregate.”

The progress has been less than the military and government had hoped.

Efforts to retain experienced personnel have been underway since 2018. They include providing better supports for military families, tapping reservists to help with basic maintenance work and creating the air operations officer position to keep pilots in the air rather than working desk jobs.

There was also optimism at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic that the financial difficulties facing commercial airlines would result in an influx of former military pilots who had left for private-sector gigs but were now furloughed or unemployed.

Despite a dedicated unit in his office responsible for reaching out to former air force personnel and an advertising campaign touting the benefits of re-enlisting, however, Meinzinger said only about 15 pilots have decided to put their uniforms back on.

“It’s not a significant number,” he acknowledged. “I would rationalize it in that individuals may have already transitioned into a civilian job and they’re probably trying to ascertain whether they can maybe get their old job back or in some cases, individuals have been furloughed.”

It is in this context that Meinzinger is hoping to ensure pilots who have flown with other militaries and now want to fly for Canada aren’t blocked by bureaucratic red tape or other technical barriers.

The air force commander suggested the majority of those who would be interested in putting on a Canadian Armed Forces uniform are from NATO or European countries, but may also hail from others such as India.

“Of course, we would value that clearly because often they have thousands of hours of experience and it’s a great opportunity,” he said.

The push for more pilots comes amid challenges in the military’s entire recruiting and training systems caused by the global pandemic. Acting chief of the defence staff Lt.-Gen. Wayne Eyre has said recruitment was down by two-thirds last year.

Meinzinger said that decline has had an obvious impact across the air force, which was exacerbated by the closure of various training institutions due to the pandemic.

“That will be a challenge for us,” he said. “We will strategically have to manage that demographic issue.”

Lee Berthiaume, The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Canadian Armed Forces

Just Posted

An old growth cedar stands in a cut-block within the Caycuse Valley. More than 100 prominent Canadians, have signed an open letter calling for the immediate protection of all remaining old-growth forests in B.C. (Submitted)
Brian Mulroney and Greta Thunberg among 100 celebrities pushing to save B.C. old growth

List includes Indigenous leaders, scientists, authors, Oscar winners

Tim Wilkinson, who will attempt a double anvil triathlon on Vancouver Island on July 3, poses with his training partner, Shadow, who has been dragged up and down the Nanaimo Parkway many times. (Submitted)
Vancouver Island triathlete takes on ‘double anvil’ for charity

7.6km swim, 360km bike ride, and 84.4km run, all within 36 hours

From left: Thomas Kuecks, David Lane, John Ivison, Denis Berger, Rod Gray, and James Kuecks are Cabin Fever. Catch their performance on the Cowichan Performing Arts Centre website. (Ashley Foot photo)
A&E column: Music Festival winners, CVAC awards, and Cabin Fever

The latest from the Cowichan Valley arts and entertainment community

BC Green Party leader and Cowichan Valley MLA Sonia Furstenau introduced a petition to the provincial legislature on Thursday calling for the end of old-growth logging in the province. (File photo)
Cowichan Valley MLA Furstenau introduces old-growth logging petition

BC Green Party calls for the end of old-growth logging as protests in Fairy Creek continue

People line up to get their COVID-19 vaccine at a vaccination centre, Thursday, June 10, 2021 in Montreal. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
Vaccines, low COVID case counts increase Father’s Day hope, but risk is still there

Expert says people will have to do their own risk calculus before popping in on Papa

The border crossing into the United States is seen during the COVID-19 pandemic in Lacolle, Que. on Friday, February 12, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson
U.S. border restrictions to remain in place until at least July 21

Safety minister says Canada, U.S. extending restrictions on non-essential international travel

The Co-op gas station at Whiskey Creek is burning after a camper van exploded while refueling just before 4 p.m. on Thursday, June 17, 2021. (FACEBOOK PHOTO)
Exploding camper van torches Highway 4 gas station between Qualicum Beach and Port Alberni

Highway traffic blocked after Whiskey Creek gas station erupts into flames

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Helen Austin performing with Trent Freeman at the 2018 Vancouver Island MusicFest. Austin is one of the many performers listed for the 2021 event.
Vancouver Island MusicFest goes virtual for 2021

Black Press to stream 25 hours of programming July 9-11

Greater father involvement in the home leads to improved childhood development and increased marital satisfaction, says expert. (Black Press Media file photo)
Vancouver Island researcher finds lack of father involvement a drag on gender equality

Working women still taking on most child and household duties in Canada: UVic professor

FILE – A science class at L.A. Matheson Secondary in Surrey, B.C. on March 12, 2021. (Lauren Collins/Surrey Now Leader)
Teachers’ union wants more COVID transmission data as B.C. prepares for back-to-school

BCTF says that details will be important as province works on plan for September

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry outlines B.C.’s COVID-19 restart plan, May 25, 2021, including larger gatherings and a possible easing of mandatory masks on July 1. (B.C. government photo)
B.C. records 120 new COVID-19 cases, second vaccines accelerating

Lower Pfizer deliveries for early July, Moderna shipments up

A Heffley Creek peacock caught not one - but two - lifts on a logging truck this month. (Photo submitted)
Heffley Creek-area peacock hops logging trucks in search of love

Peacock hitched two lifts in the past month

Most Read