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

Tin Wis opening ceremony in 1993. (Submitted photo)
National Indigenous Peoples Day: Tin Wis, past, present and future

Tin Wis Tofino within Tla-o-qui-aht First Nations territory is a growing hub of economic development

FILE – Perry Bellegarde, National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations, takes part in an event on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Tuesday, July 7, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Indigenous Peoples Day must be a ‘call to action’, says Assembly of First Nations chief

Discovery of children at Kamloops residential school site must lead to change, Perry Bellegarde says

Tofino General Hospital Foundation board members Phyllis Banks, left, Camilla Thorogood, and Arlene McGinnis clutch a giant cheque presented by Coastal Community Credit Union branch manager Marc Salewski. (Nora O’Malley photo)
Tofino General Hospital Foundation presses VIHA for a new hospital

Ministry of Health says they are in the early stage of the planning process and there is no timeline

Black Press file photo
RCMP seek suspect in Vancouver Island-wide crime spree

Crimes stretched from Deep Bay to Qualicum, Ladysmith, Chemainus and Youbou

Things are looking up for Vancouver Island as zero COVID-19 cases have been reported for the first time since October. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Island records zero new COVID-19 cases for the first time since October

For the first time since October, the province is reporting zero new… Continue reading

The border crossing into the United States is seen during the COVID-19 pandemic in Lacolle, Que. on February 12, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson
VIDEO: Border quarantine to soon lift for fully vaccinated Canadians

Eligible travellers must still take multiple COVID-19 tests

Chilliwack secondary school’s principal is apologizing after a quote equating graduation with the end of slavery in the U.S. was included in the 2020-2021 yearbook. (Screenshot from submitted SnapChat)
B.C. student’s yearbook quote equates grad to end of slavery; principal cites editing error

Black former student ‘disgusted’ as CSS principal apologizes for what is called an editing error

Skeena MLA Ellis Ross. (Photo by Peter Versteege)
BC Liberal leadership candidate condemns ‘senseless violence’ of Okanagan church fires

Skeena MLA Ellis Ross says reconciliation isn’t about revenge for past tragedies

A coroner’s inquest will be taking place at the Capitol Theatre in Port Alberni for the next week. (ELENA RARDON / ALBERNI VALLEY NEWS)
Teen B.C. mom who died following police custody recalled as ‘friend to many’

Police sent Jocelyn George to hospital after intoxication had gone ‘beyond the realm’ of normal detox

FILE - In this Nov. 29, 2020, file photo, Las Vegas Raiders defensive end Carl Nassib leaves the field after an NFL football game against the Atlanta Falcons in Atlanta. Nassib on Monday, June 21, 2021, became the first active NFL player to come out as gay. Nassib announced the news on Instagram, saying he was not doing it for the attention but because “I just think that representation and visibility are so important.” (AP Photo/John Bazemore, File)
Nassib becomes first active NFL player to come out as gay

More than a dozen NFL players have come out as gay after their careers were over

Penticton Indian Band Chief Greg Gabriel speaks to the Sacred Hearts Catholic Church burning down early Monday morning, June 21, 2021. (Monique Tamminga Western News)
Penticton band chief condemns suspicious burning of 2 Catholic churches

Both Catholic church fires are deemed suspicious, says RCMP

COVID-19 daily cases reported to B.C. public health, seven-day moving average to June 17, 2021. (B.C. Centre for Disease Control)
B.C.’s COVID-19 infections drop to 90 on Sunday, 45 Monday

Pandemic spread dwindles as 77% of adults receive vaccine

Emergency vehicles are parked outside of the Wintergreen Apartments on Fourth Avenue. (SUSAN QUINN / Alberni Valley News)
Port Alberni RCMP investigate stabbing on Fourth Avenue

Two men were found with ‘significant’ injuries near Wintergreen Apartments

By protesting uninvited in First Nations’ territories, conservationists are acting in a neocolonial or paternalistic manner, says Huu-ay-aht Chief Robert Dennis. Photo by Heather Thomson
A closer look: do Vancouver Island First Nations support the war in the woods?

First Nations/environmentalist old growth alliance uneasy, if it exists at all

Most Read