The USA isn’t the only country whose SAR (search and rescue) aircraft programs are having a hard go of it lately. In 2004, Canada announced a program to replace its aging DHC-5 (CC-115) Buffalo (West Coast) and CC-130E/H Hercules (East Coast) search-and-rescue planes with at least 15 new aircraft. Some of the Canadian Forces’ CC-130s have already been grounded after flying 40,000 – 50,000 hours, and a contract has been signed for C-130J replacements.
The SAR project hasn’t been so lucky. The first SAR aircraft was supposed to be delivered in 2006, with all deliveries complete by 2009. Unfortunately, the Conservative Harper government temporarily shelved the project when it came to power, and subsequent efforts to restart it have featured one poor performance after another. The competitors have since expanded beyond the familiar duo of the Alenia C-27J Spartan with its speed advantage and C-130J compatibility, vs. the EADS-CASA C-295M with its longer fuselage and lower operating costs. Yet expanded options are no substitute for serving planes, and at least 1 victim has already died because the current fleet was unserviceable. What Canada’s SAR program really needs right now is transparency and urgency. Neither is currently in evidence.