Here’s what we know about the planes on Canada’s federal election trail

Avatar for Ben ForrestBy Ben Forrest | August 31, 2021

Estimated reading time 8 minutes, 25 seconds.

As Canadians savour the final days of summer, the leading contenders for prime minister are criss-crossing the country in chartered airliners ahead of the Sept. 20 federal election.

This is what’s required to cover meaningful ground in a condensed 36-day campaign that will determine if incumbent Justin Trudeau and his Liberal Party win the majority government they desire.

The leading contenders for prime minister are criss-crossing the country in chartered airliners ahead of the federal election. Liberal Party Photo

Erin O’Toole, leader of the Conservative Party, and Jagmeet Singh, leader of the New Democrats, would love to unseat him — or at least maintain the tenuous equilibrium of a minority Parliament.

Whoever wins will owe something to Canada’s aviation community, whose pilots and aircraft are playing a small but important role in getting out the vote.

Here’s everything we know (so far) about the campaign jets of Election 2021.

Air Canada Jetz flies the flag

The Trudeau and O’Toole campaigns have both chartered Airbus A319-114 aircraft (call signs C-GBIK and C-GBHN, respectively) from Air Canada Jetz in 58-seat, all-business-class configuration.

They ferry party leaders and their families, as well as political staff and reporters, to campaign stops in key ridings.

Air Canada provides six dedicated pilot crews — six captains and six first officers — for each aircraft. There is no separate cabin for the party leaders, their families, or political staff, said Air Canada spokesperson Peter Fitzpatrick.

The Liberal Party plane, an Airbus A319-114 aircraft from Air Canada Jetz. Michael King/Global News Photo

As with Air Canada’s mainline flights, the airline uses electrostatically-charged disinfectant spray to groom the cabin, and wipes down high-touch surfaces with hospital-grade disinfectant.

Both aircraft have high-efficiency particulate absorbing (HEPA) air filtration systems, and their ventilation systems have not been further modified for the campaign, said Fitzpatrick.

“Air Canada is proud to be able to offer its services to support important national events, such as federal elections,” he said in a statement.

“That we were selected for these missions by two of the largest political parties is recognition that Air Canada has unsurpassed ability to provide service coast-to-coast-to-coast within Canada and beyond.” 

Air Canada Jetz has a small fleet of three Airbus A319 aircraft previously chartered by U2, the Rolling Stones, the Toronto Raptors basketball team, and five of Canada’s six NHL teams.

What about the paint?

The Trudeau and O’Toole campaign aircraft both have striking and distinctive looks on the runway, but they’re fitted with exterior decals, not custom paint.

The O’Toole campaign plane, an Airbus A319-114 aircraft from Air Canada Jetz. Tom Podolec Photo

Trudeau’s custom decal is similar to the one from the 2019, when his campaign sparked controversy for its use of two airliners — one for people and another for cargo — while touting environmental policies.

Air Canada said it has chartered only one airliner to the Liberal campaign this time around.

O’Toole is in his first campaign as leader of the Conservatives, after replacing Andrew Scheer in August 2020. His aircraft prominently features a campaign slogan, while both the Trudeau and Scheer planes featured the names of the party leader.

Air Canada would not disclose the name of the third-party vendor that applied the decals.

Incidentally, O’Toole served in the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) as a tactical navigator on CH-124 Sea King helicopters before becoming a corporate lawyer.

Air North brings it home

The Singh campaign has used a Boeing 737-548 aircraft from Air North (C-GANJ) during the 2021 campaign — Singh’s second as leader of the federal NDP.

The aircraft is based in Whitehorse and has a custom NDP decal in relatively small type as an addition to the standard Air North livery, which conveniently includes an orange empennage that matches NDP colors.

The Singh plane, a Boeing 737-548 aircraft from Air North. Olivia Stefanovich/CBC Photo

Air North has four Boeing 737-500 airliners in its fleet, with capacity for 122 people in an all-economy-class configuration, according to its website.

The airline did not respond to a request for comment, but its charter clients have included workers in the oil-and-gas and mining industries, and teams from the Western Hockey League and the Canadian Football League.

Singh tweeted a tongue-in-cheek video that showed him boosting a runway worker into a cargo hold of the aircraft, with the caption: “Our campaign is about lifting everybody up.”

Just prior to the campaign, Singh tweeted a video of his visit to Neskantaga First Nation in northern Ontario, aboard a twin-engine Fairchild SA227-TT turboprop, registered to SkyCare Air Ambulance in Sioux Lookout, Ontario.

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