Canada

Trudeau not the 1st Canadian PM to be grounded due to plane trouble

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, currently marooned overseas because of a mechanical issue with his official plane, is the latest to get stuck because of a ministerial aircraft.

Louis St. Laurent was stranded in Iceland in 1951

A man walks down the steps of a plane.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau walks down the steps of the plane upon his arrival at Hiroshima airport for the G7 summit in Hiroshima, Japan, on May 18, 2023. (Louise Delmotte/The Associated Press)

If you've ever had a conversation about air travel, you've likely heard some version of the same story: passengers being stranded for hours after an obscure mechanical problem took their plane out of service.

Those passengers, from time to time, include Canadian prime ministers.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, currently marooned overseas because of a mechanical issue with his official plane, is the latest to get stuck. (For security reasons, Canadian prime ministers don't fly commercial.)

Here's a look at similar situations in the past.

Louis St. Laurent, Iceland, 1951

In a predicament presumably much colder than Trudeau's, former Liberal prime minister Louis St. Laurent was stuck in Keflavik, Iceland, after his plane broke down on his way home from a Commonwealth conference in France on Jan. 15, 1951.

St. Laurent, then 70, told defence minister Brooke Claxton his "four-motored DC-5" — a modified Canadair North Star — had trouble with its carburetor, an essential part of a gas engine that controls the mix of fuel and air. Another RCAF plane flew a new part from Montreal to Keflavik to fix the aircraft.

There had been talk of diverting a Trans-Canada Air Lines plane from the U.K. to give the prime minister a lift home, according to The Canadian Press. 

A screenshot of an archival newspaper headline reads, "St. Laurent plane forced to return to Iceland Result of Engine Trouble".
This newspaper headline appeared after then-prime minister Louis St. Laurent was stuck in Iceland because of a mechanical issue with his modified Canadair North Star plane on Jan. 15, 1951. (newspapers.com)

Justin Trudeau, Ottawa, 2016 and 2019

In 2016, Trudeau was on his way to sign the Canada-Europe free trade deal in Belgium when a flap issue with his plane, an Airbus 310-300, forced the aircraft to return to Ottawa after half an hour in the air.

Another trip to India was delayed less than two years later because of a mechanical issue during a refuelling stop in Rome.

His plane was grounded yet again in 2019 after an incident at a hangar at CFB Trenton, Canada's largest air force base. The plane suffered "significant" structural damage to the nose and right-engine cowling when the aircraft rolled into the back wall of a hangar.

Trudeau used another CC-150 Polaris from the same fleet to travel to London for a NATO summit that winter, but the Royal Canadian Air Force grounded the back-up plane after finding a problem with one of the engines during a post-flight inspection.

A third plane — which had been in Italy with then-Gov. Gen. Julie Payette during her own European tour — was commandeered to bring Trudeau, his team and accompanying media back to Ottawa.

Trudeau, India, 2023

Since Sunday, the Royal Canadian Air Force CC-150 Polaris has been out of service because a mechanical part needs replacing before it can fly. The piece isn't fundamental to get the plane off the ground from a function standpoint, but is necessary under current regulations, sources told CBC News.

Sources said a technician was expected to land in Delhi with the replacement part on Tuesday. The plane could leave later that afternoon if repairs work, but there are back-up plans in place if not.

A second CC-150 Polaris will travel from 8 Wing Trenton to India on Monday to potentially pick up the prime minister and his delegation. Sources said a third plane, The Challenger, was also brought over from London as a plan C.

A man in a black wool coat walks towards a large airplane with a red maple leaf on the side on a tarmac on an overcast day.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau walks toward his plane as he departs Ottawa on May 24, 2017, en route to Europe. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

The federal government has purchased nine planes — some new, some used — to replace its existing fleet, the first of which arrived in Ottawa on Aug. 31.

Two of the used Airbus A-330s from Kuwait Airways won't include the prime minister's traditional VIP quarters until a retrofit, which might not finish for two years or more.

Jean Chrétien and the 'Flying Taj Mahal'

Former Liberal prime minister Jean Chrétien, notably, never used Can Force One once during his term.

As Opposition leader in 1992, Chrétien protested how much it cost to buy the Airbus and convert it into an office. The $56-million price tag included the budget for a dining room, fold-out beds and a shower. Chrétien called it the "flying Taj Mahal."

"The prime minister has a new plane because in the United States the president has a presidential plane called Air Force One. The prime minister's plane will be called Air Farce One," Chrétien said during a campaign stop covered by the Toronto Star in May 1993, referring to then-prime minister Brian Mulroney.

WATCH | Media tour of the PM's Airbus in 2004:

2004 tour of the prime minister's Airbus

12 months ago
Duration 0:34
RCAF crew gave the media a tour of the PM's compartment after Paul Martin became the first prime minister to use the aircraft for official travel.

Chrétien won the election and took office that year. His successors — Paul Martin, Stephen Harper and Trudeau — used the jet for most of their international travel.

After retiring, Chrétien eventually shared the plane with Mulroney, Harper and Kim Campbell to attend the funeral of Nelson Mandela in 2013. 

Four people sit in seats on a private plane.
Clockwise from left: former prime ministers Brian Mulroney, Kim Campbell, Jean Chrétien and Stephen Harper are pictured aboard a government plane travelling to South Africa for the funeral of Nelson Mandela on Dec. 8, 2013. Chrétien famously refused to use the plane during his time in office. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

With files from The Canadian Press