Mil­i­tary flight test­ing to move from Al­berta to On­tario

Saskatoon StarPhoenix - - FRONT PAGE - DAVID PUGLIESE TYLER DAW­SON AND

The fed­eral gov­ern­ment will cre­ate a new cen­tre of ex­cel­lence in Ot­tawa to sup­port air­craft test­ing, but it will come at the cost of re­lo­cat­ing staff and shut­ting down ex­ist­ing mil­i­tary fa­cil­i­ties in Al­berta.

The move af­fects the Cana­dian mil­i­tary’s Aerospace En­gi­neer­ing Test Es­tab­lish­ment, or AETE, which has been at Cold Lake, Alta., since 1971. Un­der the new plan, AETE would be re­lo­cated to the in­ter­na­tional air­port in Ot­tawa and part­nered with the Na­tional Re­search Coun­cil Flight Re­search Lab­o­ra­tory and Trans­port Canada Air­craft Ser­vices Direc­torate to cre­ate a cen­tre of ex­cel­lence for flight test­ing and eval­u­a­tion. The move would af­fect al­most one-third of the unit, which em­ploys 166 mil­i­tary per­son­nel and 22 pub­lic ser­vants. The re­main­ing twothirds would be re­as­signed to other air force func­tions, said Depart­ment of Na­tional De­fence spokesman Dan Le Bouthillier.

Mov­ing AETE will save $14 mil­lion a year and free up space for the ar­rival of more fighter jets at Cold Lake. Canada is in the process of pur­chas­ing used fighter air­craft from Aus­tralia and the fed­eral gov­ern­ment has com­mit­ted to buy­ing 88 new jets to re­place the ex­ist­ing fleet of CF-18S.

“This part­ner­ship will stream­line our flight test­ing and eval­u­a­tion ca­pa­bil­ity, while en­sur­ing suf­fi­cient space is avail­able for the ar­rival of ad­di­tional fighter air­craft in Cold Lake,” Le Bouthillier said.

The move, how­ever, is not sit­ting well with lo­cal politi­cians.

David Yur­diga, the Con­ser­va­tive MP for the area, said he’d heard about the move on Mon­day when it was raised at the House Com­mons Stand­ing Com­mit­tee on Pub­lic Ac­counts. DND of­fi­cials briefing the com­mit­tee said there had been con­sul­ta­tion about the move with lo­cal politi­cians. “It’s to­tally not true,” said Yur­diga.

Craig Copeland, the mayor of Cold Lake, said the city hasn’t yet re­ceived a briefing from of­fi­cials in Ot­tawa. “It’s been sort of ver­bally men­tioned over the years that there would be a re-org,” he ex­plained. “We’re hop­ing to get some­body to brief us.”

De­tails about the ex­act num­ber of jobs that will be moved from Al­berta are still not clear. It is not known how many of the air force per­son­nel who will be re­as­signed to new jobs would con­tinue to op­er­ate from Cold Lake.

Yur­diga said the loss of jobs would hit the com­mu­nity hard but he added that de­fence minister Har­jit Sa­j­jan had as­sured him there would be a “net ben­e­fit” to the com­mu­nity. “Cold Lake can’t af­ford to lose even one po­si­tion,” Yur­diga said.

“There are so many unan­swered ques­tions and un­cer­tainty is what the com­mu­nity is fac­ing,” he added.

Copeland said he had heard an es­ti­mate of 50 jobs be­ing lost. That would be a real blow to the area, al­ready suf­fer­ing from de­pressed oil prices, and with a home fore­clo­sure rate, he said, of around 10 per cent. “That is con­cern­ing to me,” Copeland said. “On the one hand it’s tough to see peo­ple leave our com­mu­nity but on the other hands, we are hope­ful — and ex­pect­ing — that the Cana­dian mil­i­tary’s go­ing to be in­vest­ing (lo­cally) for the new fighter jet pro­gram.”

AETE cur­rently oc­cu­pies the sec­ond-largest and new­est hangar at Cold Lake, which will be re­pur­posed for other air force needs, in­clud­ing the new fighter pro­gram.

The fi­nal de­tails of the move are still be­ing worked on, in­clud­ing costs, Le Bouthillier said. DND is in on­go­ing dis­cus­sions with the Ot­tawa In­ter­na­tional Air­port Au­thor­ity re­gard­ing the lo­ca­tion of the new cen­tre, he added.

The costs for re­lo­cat­ing AETE are in­cluded in the $470 mil­lion the Liberal gov­ern­ment has set aside for buy­ing the used Aus­tralian F-18 fighter jets, and would not take place be­fore sum­mer 2021.

The Cold Lake lo­ca­tion was pri­mar­ily se­lected for AETE be­cause of the large eval­u­a­tion range nearby and its favourable cli­mate for flight test­ing. AETE em­ploys test pi­lots, flight test en­gi­neers, qual­i­fied sys­tems eval­u­a­tors, spe­cial­ist en­gi­neers, and tech­nol­o­gists.

Post­media first re­vealed the pro­posal to move AETE in April 2016. The plan first started un­der the Con­ser­va­tive gov­ern­ment but the Lib­er­als con­tin­ued with the re­lo­ca­tion ini­tia­tive.

WE’RE HOP­ING TO GET SOME­BODY TO BRIEF US.

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