The Sea King saga: it's not over yet

Canada is getting new helicopters. The old ones should have been sold for scrap ages ago.

Canada's Sea Kings should have been sold off for scrap long ago. But they're still flying–though just barely. Over the years, 10 people have been killed and 111 injured in crashes of the ancient navy choppers. But at last, the government has inked a long-awaited replacement contract. It only took 30 years.

1963: Canada's navy buys 41 Sikorsky Sea King helicopters to help monitor Russian sub activity.

1972-1977: The navy upgrades the Sea Kings to increase reliability. By the 1980s, they would be outdated and ill-suited to modern warfare.

1977: The military starts looking to replace the Sea King fleet.

1986: DND finally issues a request for proposals for new choppers, expected to be flying by 1995.

Aug. 5, 1987: Defence Minister Perrin Beatty announces the Sea Kings will be replaced by the EH-101.

1992: EH Industries (now AgustaWestland) and Paramax sign a joint contract for 43 choppers worth $4.7 billion. During election campaign, Chrétien's Liberals vow to kill the deal for this “Cadillac-type” machine.

November 1993: Newly elected Liberals cancel the contract, a move that costs taxpayers $500 million in payouts to contractors.

1994: Liberals release a white paper promising to replace Sea Kings by end of the decade: “The Sea Kings are rapidly approaching the end of their operational life.”

July 23, 2004: The government taps Connecticut-based Sikorsky to replace the Sea Kings with 28 H-92 Superhawk maritime helicopters.

Sept. 1, 2004: Losing bidder AgustaWestland files legal action to force Ottawa to give it the contract or start the bid process over because it was “biased, unfair,” and Sikorsky's H-92s face “major redesign hurdles…”

Nov. 23, 2004: Despite the legal action, the government formally inks a $5-billion deal with Sikorsky, which will deliver the first Superhawk in 2008. By then, the Sea Kings will be 45 years old.