Move of Canadian Forces aerospace testing body to Ottawa delayed


Infrasturcture for the Aerospace Engineering Test Establishment (AETE) won’t be ready until the fall of 2025.

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Construction labour shortages and the need to eliminate mould and asbestos during renovations of a hangar have contributed to delays in moving a Canadian Forces organization from Alberta to Ottawa.

The hangar at Ottawa International Airport was supposed to be available this year to house the Aerospace Engineering Test Establishment (AETE), but the infrastructure won’t be ready until the fall of 2025, National Defence officials have confirmed to this newspaper.

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National Defence spokesperson Jessica Lamirande said so far 54 personnel had been moved to Ottawa from AETE at Canadian Forces Base Cold Lake. They are working at a temporary location on Coventry Road. Those staff include 38 military members and 16 public servants.

By 2026, when the move from Cold Lake is completed, there will be 118 staff in Ottawa: 66 military personnel and 52 public servants.

AETE, which has operated from Cold Lake since 1971, tests equipment and aircraft in all extremes and under a variety of situations in support of the military’s equipment acquisition and modification projects.

Lamirande said the AETE staff would eventually be located in Hangar 14 at the Ottawa International Airport. That facility is undergoing major renovation work, but problems have emerged. Work is going slower than expected because of the need to safely remove and clean up asbestos and mould found during renovations. The COVID-19 pandemic also caused construction delays from a lack of workers and supplies.

In addition, a severe derecho windstorm on May 21, 2022, caused significant damage to the roof and main hangar doors, Lamirande added.

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“Overall, these delays have impacted the Hangar 14 renovation timeline by 24 months, which in turn have delayed the timeline for effective project closure,” she said. “We now expect the infrastructure to be completed by fall 2025, instead of as originally planned for 2023, and the move to be completed by 2026.”

The total cost of the project, including renovations and moving staff, is estimated at $95 million. This represents a $5-million increase since the beginning of the project, primarily due to construction delays and increased costs related to the impact of COVID-19, Lamirande said.

The hangar that was previously occupied by AETE in Cold Lake will be freed up by the end of 2023 to provide space for fighter operations while new facilities are being built at the base.

AETE has ceased flying operations in Cold Lake.

The majority of flight test planning, flight test instrumentation design, manufacturing and installation will now be done from Ottawa. Flight testing will be handled at RCAF bases and weapon ranges as well as military operating areas away from Ottawa. That will limit disruptions with Ottawa airport operations and noise in and around the airport.

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The Cold Lake location was originally selected for AETE because of the large evaluation range nearby and its favourable climate for flight testing. AETE employs test pilots, flight test engineers, qualified systems evaluators, specialist engineers and technologists.

But currently only two of 19 RCAF aircraft types are routinely tested at Cold Lake due to a shift toward more testing at bases across Canada and at the companies that originally built the aircraft, Lamirande said.

This newspaper first revealed the proposal to move AETE in April 2016. The plan began under a Conservative government, but the Liberals continued with the relocation initiative.

At the time, the military told defence industry representatives the remote Cold Lake location made it challenging to attract or retain people and that relocating could save money.

The move to the Ottawa airport allows AETE to partner with the National Research Council Flight Research Laboratory and Transport Canada Aircraft Services Directorate for flight testing and evaluation, National Defence said.

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Moving AETE will save $14 million a year and free up space for the arrival of more fighter jets at Cold Lake.

Canada has purchased used fighter aircraft from Australia, and the federal government has committed to buying 88 new jets to replace the existing fleet of CF-18s. The move will also result in some military staff being transferred to other jobs in the Canadian Forces.

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