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 goal is a Tuesday morning (New Delhi time) departure, however, a spokesperson for the prime minister said the situation remains fluid.
The issue with the CC-150 Polaris was discovered during the preflight checking process on the 36-year-old plane. 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.
A history of maintenance issues
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 several 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 which arrived in Ottawa on Aug. 31.
But two of the used Airbus A-330s from Kuwait Airways purchased by the RCAF won’t 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, which will also include providing personal transport for the governor general.
In the meantime, the prime minister’s office said Trudeau continues to work from his hotel in New Delhi. It’s unclear what this delay means for the prime minister’s attendance at the Liberal caucus retreat this week.
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 to aggressively tackle climate change.
The plane breakdown also comes on the heels of terse and awkward interactions between Trudeau and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Government summaries of their sit-down meeting were very different, with Canada failing to mention India’s concerns about the Sikh separatist movement in Canada, despite India’s summary of the meeting being focused on that issue.