Canada will sunset the operation of its leased Beechcraft King Air 350 transports in favour of broader air force modernisations.

The Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) leases two of the twin-turboprops from Northwest Territories-based commercial airline Air Tindi. It operates the aircraft from Canadian Forces Base Trenton in southern Ontario, under a contract dubbed the Multi-Engine Utility Flight (MEUF) agreement.

The King Airs are used to train and certify multi-engine pilots and provide some limited logistics support domestically, including personnel and VIP transport.

BE-350 King Air RCAF

Source: Royal Canadian Air Force

The Royal Canadian Air Force will end its lease programme covering two Beechcraft King Air turboprops, with plans to redirect funds toward modernisation efforts

The RCAF has now declined to renew the programme, citing a preference for redirecting leasing funds toward an ongoing modernisation effort.

“As we proceed with this historic recapitalisation of the RCAF, we must focus our investments towards cutting-edge technologies so that we can face the challenges of the future,” Ottawa said on 29 February.

Each King Air lease year is valued at C$3.6 million ($2.6 million), with total savings from the decision assessed at C$7.2 million.

The RCAF had the option to extend the leases by an additional year. With the lease terminations, King Air operations under the MEUF contract will conclude on 31 March.

“The functions provided by the MEUF will be absorbed by the RCAF’s expanding fleet of other aircraft models such as the [Lockheed Martin] CC-130J Hercules, [Airbus] CC-150 Polaris, CC-330 Husky and [Bombardier] CC-144 Challenger,” the service says.

Ottawa notes the King Airs did not offer “direct operational output”, in contrast with its internal fleet of combat-capable transport aircraft, which will take over their missions.

The Canadian Department of National Defence on 4 March confirmed to FlightGlobal the RCAF will separately operate three government-owned Beechcraft King Air 350ER turboprops under the Manned Airborne Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance initiative. The first of those aircraft was delivered to the RCAF in Trenton on 24 February, under a contract with L3Harris.

The move to phase out the MEUF leases comes as Ottawa is rolling out a series of sweeping modernisations for the RCAF, whose capabilities have stagnated in recent years compared to other allied air forces. Canada plans to acquire 88 Lockheed F-35A stealth fighters to replace the RCAF’s ageing fleet of Boeing F/A-18A Hornet combat jets.

Ottawa has also committed to expanding the RCAF’s aerial refuelling capability, announcing a $2.7 billion order in 2023 for nine Airbus Defence & Space A330 Mult-Role Tanker Transports – a type locally designated as the CC-330 Husky. Those twinjets will replace Canada’s current fleet of five A310-300-based CC-150 multi-purpose transports, of which only two are configured for in-flight refuelling.

The RCAF is also acquiring up to 16 Boeing P-8 Poseidon maritime patrol aircraft and 11 General Atomics Aeronautical Systems MQ-9B SkyGuardian remotely piloted aircraft.

The $1.97 billion deal for SkyGuardians represents Canada’s first-ever fielding of an uncrewed aerial vehicle capability.

Ottawa in February also announced a $200 million purchase of multiple air defence systems, including man-portable guided missiles from Saab and a variety of short-range systems designed to counter small drones that have proliferated on modern battlefields around the world.

Story updated on 5 March to include details of the RCAF’s Manned Airborne Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance project