Tories to retire all but two Challenger VIP jets as budget-cutting measure

OTTAWA – More federal politicians and senior military officials could find themselves flying commercial in the years ahead as the Harper government plans to retire and not replace most of its VIP Challenger jets.

Defence sources say most of the fleet, which has often been in the news for being air taxis for senior officials, will reach the end of its service life by 2014, at which time the jets will be taken out of service.

CTV News reported Monday that four-of-the-six remaining aircraft will be cut, something defence insiders say is a function of their age and the fact the Harper government doesn’t intend to invest in a service life extension.

The Conservatives, for over a decade, have made a political lightning rod out of the jets, pointing to their use as a sign of Liberal excess.

Once in office, they drastically curtailed the use of the executive jets to the point where one military official, who would not be identified, said the pilots have been reduced to flying training missions as a way to keep up their qualifications.

Jay Paxton, a spokesman for Defence Minister Peter MacKay, would not confirm the cutbacks, but said the government is always looking for efficiencies in order to sustain a combat capable military.

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