Politics

Replacement plane sent to India to pick up PM, delegation after maintenance issue

The Royal Canadian Air Force sent a CC-150 Polaris to India from CFB Trenton Sunday night to pick up Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and the Canadian delegation after the plane that took him there suffered a maintenance problem.

Preflight check on 36-year-old plane revealed part that needed to be replaced

Airplane problem strands Canadian G20 delegation in India

8 months ago
Duration 1:25
Canada's G20 delegation, including the prime minister, is still stuck in New Delhi due to a problem with the aging government Airbus that was supposed to bring them home. A replacement aircraft and parts have been dispatched to bring them back to Canada.

The Royal Canadian Air Force sent a CC-150 Polaris to India from CFB Trenton Sunday night to pick up Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and the Canadian delegation after the plane that took him there suffered a maintenance problem.

According to a statement from National Defence, the issue involves a part that must be replaced. 

"The safety of all passengers is critical to the RCAF and pre-flight safety checks are a regular part of all of our flight protocols," said the statement.

"The discovery of this issue is evidence that these protocols are effective."

The replacement plane, which initially was routing through Rome on its way to India, has since been diverted to London, England. According to the PMO, the earliest the plane will leave the U.K. is early Tuesday morning London time. 

A government source speaking on background told CBC News that a technician from Canada with the part needed to fix the plane is now flying commercial to India.

The source said the part is not fundamental to flying the plane but is required to meet regulations. If the first plane can be fixed before the replacement plane arrives, it will bring Trudeau and the delegation home.

A Challenger jet now in London could be sent to collect the prime minister if neither plane is able to make the journey. 

WATCH | Trudeau at the G20: 

Canada-India tensions apparent as G20 summit wraps in New Delhi

8 months ago
Duration 1:46
Relations between Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi appeared strained at this year’s G20 summit. Modi pushed Trudeau to rein in Sikh separatists in Canada, while Trudeau was dissatisfied with the wording of a joint declaration he called too weak on climate change and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

A history of maintenance issues

The issue with the 36-year-old CC-150 Polaris was discovered during the preflight check process. This is not the first time the aging Polaris fleet has caused issues for Trudeau during his time in office.

A problem in October 2016 required the aircraft to return to Ottawa 30 minutes after taking off with Trudeau, who was en route to Belgium to sign the Canada-Europe free trade deal.

In October 2019, the VIP plane rolled into a wall while being towed into a hangar at 8 Wing Trenton, sustaining "significant structural damage to the nose and right engine cowling," according to the air force.

The plane was out of service for 16 months that year. A backup aircraft was used to take Trudeau to the NATO summit in December 2019, but it was grounded in London when the air force discovered a problem with one of the engines.

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

But two of the used Airbus A-330s from Kuwait Airways purchased by the RCAF will not include the prime minister's traditional VIP quarters until a retrofit that may not come for two years or more.

New fleet of planes coming

The widebody jets will replace RCAF's 1980s-era Airbus A-310s, also known as the Airbus CC-150 Polaris, the aging aircraft used for the prime minister's trips abroad and for transporting military personnel.

Canadian crews have been training to fly the new aircraft in the United Kingdom since January. On average, it takes about three months of training for a Polaris pilot to be ready to fly the new Airbus, according to National Defence officials.

The replacement planes are expected to go into service sometime this fall. They will also provide personal transport for the Governor General.

The PMO said Trudeau continues to work from his hotel in New Delhi. It's not clear what this delay means for the prime minister's attendance at the Liberal caucus retreat this week.

Trudeau standing in front of his plane
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau shown walking toward his plane in Ottawa as he leaves on a 10-day international trip in 2022. (Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press)

This plane debacle caps off a tense G20 summit where Western nations failed to get a strong statement on Russia's invasion of Ukraine or to get countries to agree to concrete targets for aggressively tackling climate change.

The plane breakdown also comes on the heels of terse and awkward interactions between Trudeau and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

The two governments' summaries of their sit-down meeting were very different. Canada's failed to mention India's concerns about the Sikh separatist movement in Canada, while India's summary of the meeting focused on that issue.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Peter Zimonjic

Senior writer

Peter Zimonjic is a senior writer for CBC News. He has worked as a reporter and columnist in London, England, for the Daily Mail, Sunday Times and Daily Telegraph and in Canada for Sun Media and the Ottawa Citizen. He is the author of Into The Darkness: An Account of 7/7, published by Random House.

With files from The CBC's Chris Rands and The Canadian Press

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