An editorial by Mel Rothenburger.
THE BIG ANNUAL Abbotsford International Airshow wrapped up yesterday, without its star attraction.
The Snowbirds aerobatic team is out of action again, thanks to a malfunction in one of its Tutor jets that stalled after take-off in northern B.C., forcing the pilot into a dangerous return to the runway. Fortunately, he was uninjured but the jet was damaged.
That resulted in the grounding of the entire Snowbirds team while the cause is investigated. It’s only the latest in a long history of malfunctions and incidents involving the Tutor CT-114.
The most familiar to this city is the tragedy of May 17, 2020, when one of the Tutors crashed after takeoff, killing Capt. Jenn Casey and badly injuring the pilot, Richard MacDougall.
Casey’s death raised the number of fatal Snowbirds crashes to eight. A three-month investigation found that a bird strike led to the crash, but questions were also raised about the ejection system. As recently as June of this year, a Snowbirds appearance was cancelled in the East due to concerns about that system.
Each time a problem comes up and another investigation completed, assurances are offered that the birds are in good shape and perfectly safe. They are rebuilt every two years into what’s described as “mint condition.”
Yet the Tutor is almost 60 years old, and hasn’t been used as a training jet for more than two decades. The 20 or so Tutors used by the Snowbirds are the only ones left. Full replacement isn’t scheduled until 2030.
It’s inevitable that there will be renewed calls to either disband the Snowbirds or replace the Tutor jets now. That would cost $1.5 billion. In the meantime, keeping them running costs $10 million a year.
Further Tutor problems in the next eight years can probably be expected. Disbanding the Snowbirds would be a sad move to make, but it’s getting harder and harder to justify keeping them in the air.
I’m Mel Rothenburger, the Armchair Mayor.
Mel Rothenburger is a former mayor of Kamloops and a retired newspaper editor. He is a regular contributor to CFJC Today, publishes the ArmchairMayor.ca opinion website, and is a director on the Thompson-Nicola Regional District board. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.