Canada Looks At Hiring Immigrant Air Force Pilots


The head of the Royal Canadian Air Force is suggesting luring military pilots from other countries to fill a stubborn shortage in its own ranks. Lt.-Gen. Al Meinzinger told the Canadian Press that attempts to bring retired pilots back into uniform have been lukewarm and conventional recruitment hasn’t been able to fill the 10 percent shortage that needs filling. So, he said he’s working with Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada to figure out how the pathway for foreign pilots to take an oath to serve Canada might work.

“We would not be in a position to influence … or demand certain outcomes,” he said. “But I do think it’s a valuable opportunity space for us to continue to leverage individuals who want to come to Canada and want to serve still as an air force member.” Canada is short between 130 and 195 pilots (depending on how they’re defined) of the optimal 1,500 trained and operational people it needs. A campaign to convince recently retired active duty pilots to put the uniform back on attracted only 15 takers despite an extensive outreach and advertising campaign. Meinzinger said he hopes to get pilots from other NATO countries but specifically mentioned India as another potential pipeline.

Russ Niles
Russ Niles is Editor-in-Chief of AVweb. He has been a pilot for 30 years and joined AVweb 22 years ago. He and his wife Marni live in southern British Columbia where they also operate a small winery.

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  1. A foreign mercenary Air Force. What possibly could go wrong?
    Maybe they could out-source the entire operation – to China. Brilliant!

    • It worked for the RAF during WWII and China with the Flying Tigers, but that was a different time, and a necessity of war. Does seem a bit unorthodox in this case.

  2. The military and Homeland Security of Canada’s bordering neighbor may have something to say about this idea.

  3. Just how bad are they treating their military pilots to where they refuse to fly jets?

      • Exactly. Would be very interesting to see why these guys all want to leave, but there is a lot of incentive for the folks in charge to blame it all on money so they can push the blame onto taxpayers.

    • As Alex points out, it’s exactly the same situation USAF struggles with, and if there is a truly good solution to this problem I don’t see what it is. In the earlier AV Web thread he cites there was discussion of the “enlisted pilot” option as a partial solution, but that would be no panacea. Making pilot just another technical specialty staffed by those who simply want to fly would help recruitment, be cheaper in terms of training and probably pay, but would still present the same retention problems related to civilian world pay scales and working conditions they cannot match. When I left the USAF I stepped directly into a civilian position that virtually duplicated my military job at slightly more than twice the net salary and without the requirement to sometimes go to places I didn’t care to go.

  4. They are Canadians for gosh sakes. They are all nice people (both my son and uncle married one (but not the same one!)). Why do they even need an Air Force? Who is going to attack Canada? America? (Well, maybe…)

    • The very existence of Canada puts the lie to all the hyperbole around American military aggressiveness.

  5. When you don’t want to pay people and can’t force people to labor, just hire people from poor countries. They are happy to work for bread and butter.

  6. This isn’t a mercenary air force. The suggestion was to look to people who are considering immigrating to Canada and who are already pilots and see if any want to be streamed into joining the airforce. Not hiring mercs.

  7. Beware that there are some Pilots from Foreign countries who don’t care about landing.

  8. I tell you what, if they will let me take the tests I will pass them and fly for Canada in a heartbeat.

    As long as they don’t mind my 42 years of highly experienced life.

    They could get the pilots they need from the U.S. relatively easy

  9. YA’ll know that — for me — this is a highly personal irritant. I was not knowledgeable that the Canucks were having the same problem as our USAF, though. So what we’re really hearing here is that ‘they’ don’t “get” that pilots want to fly, not command a desk in the Pentagon or become Chief of Staff. I don’t know what the problem in C eh N eh D eh is, but I’d bet it’s the same issue PLUS it’s too darned cold up there. As I learned in Econ 101, money is not a motivator. Once you have enough, more is not necessarily more of a motivator.

    I have a friend who’s Son served in the USN for almost 10 years before he applied for a humanitarian transfer to the USAF because he had a sick child who required specialty medical care and a USAF Base was nearby. He went on to fly the F-117A and finished out as the USAF liaison officer to the USN again flying F-18’s. He was — as I understand it — the only USAF pilot allowed to land on a boat as a result. In retirement, he now flies the F-18 as a Company pilot at age 56. AND … he does some pretty outlandish demo’s, too. My point being that age shouldn’t be considered a disqualifier. Why the military thinks every pilot ought to be 10 feet tall, bulletproof and 25 years of age escapes me? With so few logical changes to antiquated rules, I believe the problem could be solved.

  10. Is this partly a side effect of the very high qualifications requirements that came into being when pilots were plentiful and the military could weed out everyone except the best-of-the-best-of-the-best? Not that you want sub-par pilots, but if you could qualify and train more pilots (based on less strict requirements) the military might be able to select for those that might be more inclined to stay longer-term. There are probably reasons why that won’t work as well, but when the potential pool of qualified pilots is so low to begin with, it seems that the problem of retention is amplified.

  11. Hmmmm…so summing up it appears that a) corporate culture is most likely the reason that pilots leave the USAF and Canadian AF, followed by b) lousy pay. Changing b) seems the relatively easier part of the solution. Changing corporate culture? In a male dominated organization that prizes top down thinking?