CAF pilot reprimanded for diverting training flight to Tofino in search of cellphone service
A CP-140 Aurora aircraft flies over the Atlantic Ocean during Exercise Cutlass Fury on September 11, 2019. (Cpl. David Veldman, Formation Imaging Services)
VICTORIA -- A Royal Canadian Air Force captain has been reprimanded for diverting a military patrol plane from a training mission to a populated area so he could find cellphone service to check in for a personal flight the following day.
The pilot pleaded guilty Tuesday to one charge of conduct to the prejudice of good order and discipline at a court martial hearing in Comox, B.C.
The charge stemmed from an incident on May 17, 2019, when the man was serving as the crew commander of a CP-140 Aurora long-range patrol plane based out of Canadian Forces Base Comox.
The aircraft and its 12-person crew were on a six-hour exercise in a restricted airspace off the B.C. coast to train the crew in anti-submarine warfare, vessel surveillance and search-and-rescue operations.
While over the training grounds, the captain realized he had not yet completed the online check-in for his commercial flight the next day.
As the highest-ranking member and “final authority” of the aircrew, the captain piloted the aircraft approximately 25 minutes off its target area to Tofino, B.C., to find cellular reception, the court heard.
The Aurora spent approximately seven minutes circling the Tofino area while the captain checked in for his flight before returning to the controls and taking the aircraft back out to the training ground.
The delay was enough that the training program had to be reset by the aircraft’s senior combat systems officer, causing crewmembers to complain later to senior officers about the incident.
Military judge Cmdr. Martin Pelletier described the captain's actions as an intentional misuse of a significant military asset, as well as a waste of fuel and valuable training time for the crew.
“He eroded the respect and trust of leadership in his whole crew,” Pelletier read to the court, adding that the man's actions selfishly put his own needs over those of his crew and the military mission. "Any crew under his leadership would have been ineffective,” he added.
However, the judge upheld the veteran pilot's record as an “otherwise reliable and high-performing officer” who had flown missions over Iraq and Syria as part of Operation Impact.
As precedent for his sentencing decision, Pelletier cited a 20-year-old case in which an RCAF pilot used a military helicopter to carry construction materials from his farm to a hunting camp he was building in rural Quebec. In that case the pilot was reprimanded and fined $1,000 for making three separate flights to the camp, according to the judge.
Pelletier sentenced the captain to receive an official reprimand on his military record with no financial penalty.
The charge of conduct to the prejudice of good order and discipline carries a maximum penalty of dismissal with disgrace from the military and imprisonment of less than two years.