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Editorial: Weathering the Storm

Weather lore suggests that the month of March can either “come in like a lion and go out like a lamb” or vice versa – and when you apply this statement to the Canadian aviation industry, you might say an entire pride of lions gave its collective “roar” at the end of March.


May 8, 2012
By Matt Nicholls


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Weather lore suggests that the month of March can either “come in like a lion and go out like a lamb” or vice versa – and when you apply this statement to the Canadian aviation industry, you might say an entire pride of lions gave its collective “roar” at the end of March.

It’s been a rough ride for the Canadian aviation industry this spring as mismanagement on a number of levels of government – not to mention in some aviation corporations – has dominated headlines from coast to coast.

The federal Conservatives’ bungling of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program and its negligence (in revealing) the final costs of the project tops the list. This political football has sparked the collective ire of thousands of Canadians and has grown into the most controversial aviation story since the cancellation of the Avro Arrow – or, on the rotary side, the bungling of the CH-148 Cyclone, Sikorsky’s replacement for the versatile but aging CH-124 Sea King. (For more on the Cyclone, see “Playing the Waiting Game, pg. 28)

Canadians have a right to be upset. On March 16, I attended a breakfast in Ottawa just before the opening day of the Helicopter Association of Canada’s annual conference at the Westin Ottawa. Associate defence minister Julian Fantino addressed members of the media and the Canadian Association of Defence and Security Industries (CADSI) and, for the first time, indicated that the feds were in retreat mode over the F-35 project – after months of promises (to the contrary) and grandstanding by defence minster Peter MacKay.

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“All options are on the table,” Fantino said, adding that the Conservatives were planning to handle the replacement of the aging F-18s in a responsible manner. Interesting – a “responsible” manner? Not revealing final costs and lying to Canadians, not to mention waving the red flag years into a project, are deemed responsible?

Government mismanagement was also seen at the provincial level in Ontario, where the ongoing fiasco over the province’s medical transport provider, Ornge, came to a head with the release of a report from provincial auditor general Jim McCarter. The troubled Ontario-based medical service has been mired in controversy for months, and McCarter’s report presented a sad commentary on an operation scarred by corporate greed, personal gain and government negligence.

This debacle clearly rests with the irresponsibility of a few now departed members of Ornge’s upper management – and it’s unfortunate the hardworking pilots, medevac teams and maintenance crews have been subjected to such negative publicity. Having flown with both the fixed- and rotary-wing medical teams, it’s obvious to me these teams have the best interests of Ontarians in mind at all times. It’s also not an aviation issue per se, but a commentary on how a government program should not be run.

The month closed with another significant jolt. When finance minister Jim Flaherty presented the new federal budget March 29, it wasn’t good news; a 10 per cent reduction in Transport Canada (TC) staff was a big blow to an industry already reeling from a lack of resources at TC.

The news was particularly damaging to the helicopter industry. Fred Jones, president of the Helicopter Association of Canada (HAC), didn’t mince words. “We already raised concerns about the spare mental (and fiscal) capacity that TC has for the Canadian helicopter industry. The 10 per cent reduction in funding for TC is just going to fuel the fire that TC has no time for industry-driven innovation or efficiency-related changes in Canada.”

Several committee members at HAC’s annual general meeting had already expressed frustration at TC’s lack of resources to concentrate on issues relating specifically to the rotary-wing industry. Further cuts and TC’s inability to concentrate on key issues will make 2012 – and the years ahead – that much more challenging for members of the rotary community.

Budget cuts, government mismanagement, and corporate strife. Let’s hope the next few months bring more positive times for Canadian aviation – and that the industry, as a whole, can band together to find solutions and weather the storm of leaner times at TC. If the turmoil in March underscores anything, it’s this: rotary operators, more than ever, need to focus on the things they can control – constantly enhancing their own operations and providing the safest operating environment possible for their clients. And it shouldn’t be a problem: it’s what Canadian rotary operators do best.


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