The federal government’s Future Aircrew Training (FAcT) Program, which is currently awaiting the release of its draft Request for Proposal (RFP), is an ambitious solution to Canada’s military aviation needs. The Public Services and Procurement Canada’s FAcT website describes its goal succinctly: “The program will renew aircrew training services to help maintain a multi-purpose and combat-capable air force. The program will include delivery of pilot training, as well as aircrew training for air combat systems officers and airborne electronic sensor operators.”
To make this happen, whoever wins the multi-billion dollar FAcT contract (a firm number has yet to be released) will have to merge Canada’s two existing military aviation training programs into one. The first is the NATO Flying Training in Canada program (NFTC), which is currently under private contract until 2023 with a one-year extension option. The second is the Contracted Flying Training and Support program (CFTS), whose private contract runs until 2027. As well, the FAcT winner will have to offer a full range of training solutions at 15 Wing Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan; Southport (formerly known as Canadian Forces Base Portage la Prairie), Manitoba; and at 17 Wing Winnipeg, Manitoba, where Air Combat Systems and Sensor Operator Training is currently conducted exclusively by the military but will roll into the FAcT program.
On December 10, 2018, the federal government announced a select group of qualified suppliers to bid on the FAcT program that has since dropped to four. They are: Babcock Canada, Leonardo Canada, Lockheed Martin Canada, and the SkyAlyne Canada Limited Partnership (SkyAlyne Canada/SkyAlyne).
Of these four, SkyAlyne Canada would seem to have an inside edge. The reason: SkyAlyne is a 50/50 partnership between CAE and KF Aerospace, both of whom have experience in training Canada’s military pilots and aircrews. This is because CAE is currently managing the NFTC program, while KF Aerospace is managing the CFTS program.
Given this depth of actual experience, “SkyAlyne’s parent companies and partners can provide the full, comprehensive range of capabilities needed for FAcT while ensuring a 100% Canadian content value in its supply chain, benefiting small- and medium-sized businesses, communities, and Indigenous communities in Canada for years to come,” said a background paper released by the SkyAlyne Canada partnership.
In other words, “The SkyAlyne team has the expertise, experience, passion and pedigree to provide the RCAF with one of the best pilot training programs on the planet,” said Tracy Medve, Chairperson of the SkyAlyne Canada Board of Directors.
AN UNDENIABLE ADVANTAGE
SkyAlyne’s experience in running Canada’s existing military flight training programs gives it an undeniable advantage over the other three FAcT bidders. Now this doesn’t mean that the contract is a slam-dunk for SkyAlyne: It isn’t, because Ottawa takes its competitive procurement process very, very seriously. But still, experience counts; especially when this experience includes training personnel already on the job, established educational programs, and years’ worth of successful pilot/aircrew graduates.
Here’s the specifics.
Montreal’s CAE has been the NFTC’s prime contractor since 2015. Working in partnership with the federal government – which owns the NFTC – CAE provides basic, advanced, and lead-in fighter training to student pilots at 15 Wing Moose Jaw and 4 Wing Cold Lake. This includes operating the NFTC base facilities, delivering ground-school classroom, computer-based and simulator training, and providing support services for live flying training programs on the Beechcraft T-6A and BAE Hawk Mk115 aircraft fleets”.
Kelowna-based KF Aerospace is Canada’s largest commercial maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) provider. It has managed the CFTS Program at the Southport Airport in Southport, Manitoba since 2005. The CFTS fleet is impressive: It includes the Grob G120A for Primary and Basic training, the C-90B King Air for Advanced Multi-Engine training and the B206 Jet Ranger and B412 CF Outlaw to support Advanced Rotary Wing Training. KF Aerospace and its partners provide the ground school, simulator and flight instruction on the Grob G120A, plus the program’s support services.
“Together, CAE and KF Aerospace are responsible for the delivery of all phases of pilot training to the RCAF through the NFTC program managed by CAE and the CFTS program managed by KF Aerospace,” said Bill Ryan, SkyAlyne Canada’s Deputy General Manager, (He is a member of the leadership team coordinating SkyAlyne Canada’s response to the upcoming RFP.) “It is a natural fit that SkyAlyne Canada will leverage our homegrown knowledge, expertise, resources and experience with the RCAF to provide a truly Canadian solution to meet the training needs of current and future RCAF aircrew.”
Boosting the fortunes of Canadian business and creating/maintaining well-paying Canadian jobs is a key goal for the federal government. This is why Canadian content/ benefits plays a major role in this country’s procurement processes.
This is an area where the SkyAlyne partnership gets high marks, because its overall team is ‘all-Canadian’. In addition to 50/50 partners CAE and KF Aerospace, SkyAlyne’s roster includes ATCO Frontec, Bluedrop Training and Simulation, Canadian Base Operators, Canadian Helicopters, PAL Aerospace and SERCO Canada.
“SkyAlyne Canada is a Canadian industry leader with unmatched pilot and aircrew training experience and capabilities that cements Canadian leadership in training design, training delivery and ISS of the training assets and infrastructure,” said Ryan. This translates into the high number of jobs that the government’s agenda is built on. “With extensive Canadian and global expertise covering the entire scope of the FAcT program, from training design and simulation to In-Service Support (ISS) aviation operations management, the SkyAlyne Canada team collectively employs over 14,000 Canadians.”
The fact that SkyAlyne is an all-Canadian bidder should logically make a difference when the federal government evaluates the four FAcT proposals. Again, this positioning doesn’t guarantee SkyAlyne Canada a win, because one can never predict how the procurement process will play out. Still, this ‘fly the flag’ fact, along with the partnership’s existing role in Canada’s military aviation training, is another undeniable advantage in its favour.
BENEFITS TO CANADA
To win a federal procurement, a bidder must convince the civil servants in charge that their proposal has more to offer than their competitors’ bids; both in terms of satisfying the procurement’s requirements and in benefiting the Canadian economy as a whole.
Here is what the SkyAlyne Canada bid has to offer to the FAcT program; based on the benefits outlined by the SkyAlyne partnership.
First, a FAcT program managed by SkyAlyne would be led by people who know what they’re doing. “Members of the SkyAlyne Canada team are recognized global leaders in innovative training technologies and solutions,” said Ryan. “This will enable SkyAlyne Canada to leverage the best in Canadian technology and innovation to provide the RCAF with the most advanced, flexible, and adaptable program possible.”
Second, this knowledge base runs throughout the entire SkyAlyne supply chain; not just its lead partners. “SkyAlyne Canada is a collection of the best that Canadian industry has to offer in the military flight training and support industries,” Bill Ryan told CDR. “The SkyAlyne Canada team’s experience and expertise is broad and deep, from not only CAE and KF Aerospace but the many pan-Canadian companies that SkyAlyne has secured as strategic subcontractors for the program.”
Third, moving from the current training structure to one managed by SkyAlyne would be minimally disruptive to students and the Canadian Armed Forces. Frankly, the transition would be as smooth as it gets.
“The combined experience of operating and supporting several Canadian and international military training programs, including NFTC and CFTS, provides the foundation for safely and efficiently transitioning to the FAcT program with very low transition risk, while continuing to provide innovative training solutions for Canadians, by Canadians,” Ryan noted. “Through decades of supporting the RCAF, SkyAlyne Canada’s exceptional knowledge of the RCAF’s specific training requirements will facilitate the smooth transformation to the future training system. As the incumbents, we already have the staff and organization in place to mitigate the risks of bringing three current training operations together under the ‘One School, One Rule” philosophy.”
At the same time, “winning the bid would permit SkyAlyne Canada to continue to collaborate with Canada in a strategic fashion for the long-term success of the RCAF,” said Ryan. “SkyAlyne Canada’s parent companies already work in a collaborative manner to ensure the best possible outcomes for the RCAF. With the FAcT contract awarded to SkyAlyne, the RCAF would be able to seamlessly transition to the future model while mitigating the risk of current programs being interrupted and diminishing graduate pilot and aircrew output.”
Fourth, CAE and KF Aerospace will not have to form new arrangements with the third-party suppliers and communities who currently support Canada’s military aviation training programs. Thanks to their current contracts, the SkyAlyne partners have “existing relationships with the local communities as well as several indigenous communities,” said Ryan. “We understand their needs and the important roles they can play in the future success of the FAcT program.”
Due to the COVID-19 lockdown, Bill Ryan’s answers were submitted to CDR in written form. He took advantage of using text to deliver a meaningful pun. “SkyAlyne Canada not only comes with over 125 years of combined experience but also an established manuFAcTuring, maintenance, training and supply chain foundation within the Canadian context,” Ryan quipped.
That’s not all: The fact that SkyAlyne is an all-Canadian venture is a tangible benefit in the age of parochial politics and home-country advantaged defence procurements.
Other countries, America included, often place in-country interests and support for local industries ahead of their international and moral commitments. When they evaluate the FAcT RFPs, one might expect, even demand, the civil servants in charge to look for an option that shields Canada’s defence readiness from such political whims while at the same time making a choice that best supports Canadian industry in what the Government considers a key industrial capability.
In this context, one can understand why SkyAlyne is emphasizing their all-Canadian content, much like homegrown companies in other countries do routinely in defence procurements. It gives them an edge in the procurement process, given the current geopolitical realities and vulnerabilities exposed by the COVID-19 crisis.
“Ensuring Canadian military pilot and aircrew training remains in Canadian control is a sovereignty issue,” said Ryan. “The RCAF’s training needs and reputation should be isolated from potential trade and supply chain barriers that may not be predictable, such as during the COVID-19 scenario.”
WHAT SKYALYNE MEANS TO CANADIAN CONTRACTORS
We’ve already seen that SkyAlyne Canada includes some of the most important players in the Canadian defence industry, and that this company winning the FAcT contract would be good news for existing suppliers to NFTC and CFTS.
So what would a winning SkyAlyne FAcT bid mean for the Canadian defence contractors as a whole?
The likely answer is that it would be good news for domestic contractors as well, simply because SkyAlyne’s sales argument is based on an all-Canadian supply chain. By the logic that underlies the CAE/KF Aerospace partnership and its appeal to the federal government’s economic/employment agenda, SkyAlyne would be motivated to use Canadian suppliers as much as possible.
This idea is underlined by Mike Sliva, SkyAlyne’s General Manager. “A SkyAlyne win is a win for the Canadian defence sector and the development of Canadian key industrial capabilities that will be further developed for other Canadian military training and ISS programs, and exported into international defence and security training programs,” he said.
“Many of SkyAlyne Canada’s staff, from mechanics to instructors, to support personnel who run the current operations at NFTC and CFTS are ex-military aircrew or Canadian companies who have supported military training operations for over 20 years,” Ryan added. “This expertise must stay in Canada to keep our proud heritage and world-class training at the highest level. That makes this contract crucial to our companies and to Canada.”
The bottom line: “As the RCAF’s FAcT training partner, SkyAlyne Canada would continue to develop innovative training technologies and solutions for the benefit of the RCAF and other international allies,” he said. In other words, everybody wins.
WHAT HAPPENS NEXT
The benefits outlined above could be achieved if SkyAlyne Canada wins the FAcT bid, according to the SkyAlyne partnership. (In fairness to the program’s other three bidders, their proposals would also bring benefits to the RCAF and this country, but this is not within the scope of this article.)
Right now, all of this is conjecture. The federal government is only scheduled to release a draft FAcT RFP this year, and the final version in 2021. It will then take two more years for the FAcT contract to be awarded, assuming that COVID-19 doesn’t delay the process. (Even before the pandemic hit, Ottawa built wiggle room into the process. “Through this engagement, Canada will define its requirements, and industry representatives have an opportunity to provide feedback on items such as procurement approach, schedule, solicitation documents and economic benefits to Canada,” said the PSPC website.)
At this point in time, “Canada’s FAcT Project Team is continuing to conduct industry consultation to refine the RFP requirements,” said Ryan. “SkyAlyne Canada has been collaborating by responding to the various FAcT workshops and draft documentation.”
How the FAcT procurement plays out is an open question; one SkyAlyne Canada has done its best to address through well-documented and reasoned arguments. The partnership’s selling point comes down to one simple contention argued Ryan: “The RCAF can rely on their two current trusted training partners, KF Aerospace and CAE, together with the SkyAlyne Canada team, to continue to provide reliable training and support as they do now for 100 % of the RCAF pilots and some portions of aircrew training.”