As a group, they are an iconic Canadian symbol that rivals the RCMP Musical Ride, the beaver, a Tim Hortons coffee and pond hockey.
But are they worth it?
The country was shocked and saddened May 17 when a Snowbirds aircraft crashed into a house in Kamloops, killing Capt. Jennifer Casey of Halifax, and seriously injuring another.
The Snowbirds, despite their excellence, are no strangers to disaster.
Since the squadron was formed in 1971, there have been seven pilots killed in crashes, others involved in accidents that could well have resulted in fatalities, and related deaths of team members.
The first Snowbird pilot died in flight in 1972.
Solo Capt. Lloyd Waterer was killed after a wingtip collision with another aircraft, during an air show at Canadian Forces Base Trenton in Ontario.
Six years later, another pilot was killed at a Grand Prairie, Alta., airshow. In 1989, two planes plunged into Lake Ontario during an airshow at the Canadian National Exposition, after a mid-air collision, with one of the men perishing.
Other deaths have been recorded during practice and non-demonstration flights.
Assignment to the Snowbirds — officially called the 431 Air Demonstration Squadron — denotes a nearly unfathomable amount of nerve and skill.
The planes fly up to 590 kilometres an hour, often with a separation between aircrafts of 1.8 metres.
It’s important to remember these are not professional entertainers or daredevils. These are Canadian service people.
Human life is not the only cost.
The squadron employees 80 full-time personnel, and it takes approximately $10 million a year to just schedule the team’s airshow performances.
On Sunday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau released a statement regarding the most recent tragedy.
“For the past two weeks, the Snowbirds have been flying across the country to lift up Canadians during these difficult times. Every day, they represent the very best of Canada and demonstrate excellence through incredible skill and dedication. Their flyovers across the country put a smile on the faces of Canadians everywhere and make us proud.”
Is that a pride worth dying for?
At a time when every resource available to Canadians needs to be measured and carefully deployed, it at least deserves a discussion. Is it time to ground the Snowbirds?
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