Prime Minister Justin Trudeau declined to comment on the future of the Snowbird fleet on Tuesday after one of the planes crashed in Kamloops, B.C., on Sunday, killing a military public affairs officer and injuring the pilot of the aircraft.
The prime minister said the federal government is going to allow investigators probing the fatal crash to “do their work” before “making assumptions” about the outcome.
“I think there are very good questions being asked by a whole lot of people about safety right now, first and foremost by the RCAF,” Trudeau told reporters during his daily news conference outside Rideau Cottage in Ottawa.
“We will let the Royal Canadian Air Force undertake its investigation about how this accident occurred rather than jumping to conclusions about the safety of the planes involved.”
The crash in British Columbia’s Interior happened during a flyover tour by the Snowbirds to honour the lives of 22 people killed in the Nova Scotia mass shooting and to boost Canadians’ morale amid the novel coronavirus pandemic.
An eight-member, military flight investigation team was deployed from Ottawa to Kamloops on Monday to begin probing the cause of the crash. During a news conference that same day at 15 Wing Moose Jaw in Saskatchewan, where the Snowbirds are based, team commander Lt.-Col. Mike French said the cross-country tour known as Operation Inspiration has been suspended while the team’s Tutor jets are subject to an “operational pause.”
The crash claimed the life of Capt. Jenn Casey, a former journalist from Halifax. The plane’s pilot, Capt. Richard MacDougall, sustained serious but non-life-threatening injuries.
Asked by a journalist whether he’d spoken to Casey’s family and whether they’d raised any concerns about the Snowbird planes, Trudeau suggested he hadn’t yet spoken to them but would at some point.
“I have had a couple of conversations over the past couple of days with the minister of defence, and I know he and others are very closely engaged with the families,” the prime minister said.
“I will, of course, be speaking to the family of Capt. Casey and others.“
French on Monday said that while the Tutor jets may be old, they are regularly torn down and rebuilt like new and undergo regular maintenance to ensure they are safe.
Aviation experts have argued that age isn’t a primary factor in the safety of an aircraft.
“Age is not important, really. It’s engineering and maintenance,” Billy Allan, a professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering at the Royal Military College of Canada, told Global News on Monday.
“They’re designed to last forever and they’re designed not to fail. They’re well-maintained by a careful and meticulous and methodical approach that, in many other fleets, have been thrown out.”
Trudeau on Tuesday acknowledged it’s been “a very difficult few weeks for members of the Canadian Armed Forces.”
The air force was already reeling from the crash of a Cyclone helicopter in the Ionian Sea on April 29, which killed the six crew members on board.
Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer on Tuesday also extended his condolences to Casey’s family and friends and wished MacDougall a “speedy recovery.”
“This is a tragic end to a tour that has brought much-needed joy to so many and another difficult loss for the Canadian Armed Forces,” Scheer said during a news conference.
— With files from Global News’ Rachael D’Amore and the Canadian Press