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April 27, 2023 | Local, Aerospace

Cormorant helicopter upgrades to deliver improved Search and Rescue capabilities and economic opportunities for Canadians

April 27, 2023 - National Defence / Canadian Armed Forces – Enfield, Nova Scotia

Today, National Defence Minister Anita Anand visited IMP Aerospace in Enfield, Nova Scotia, and joined representatives from Leonardo U.K. Ltd., IMP Aerospace, and other partners, who announced that IMP Aerospace has received a major sub-contract for the Cormorant Mid-Life Upgrade (CMLU) Project.

The CMLU project will upgrade Canada’s CH-149 Cormorant fleet, which plays a critical role in our country’s Search and Rescue (SAR) operations. The fleet has been providing reliable and crucial service to Canada since 2001 – but requires upgrades to remain operationally effective.

Thanks to a $1.168 billion contract awarded in December 2022 to Leonardo U.K. Ltd, Canada is upgrading its current Cormorant helicopter fleet to the most advanced version of the helicopter, and acquiring additional airframes/parts to increase our fleet size from 13 to 16 aircraft.

Minister Anand welcomed today’s announcement by Leonardo U.K. Ltd. that IMP Aerospace and Defence has been sub-contracted to undertake the upgrade of 13 in-service AW101/CH-149 Cormorant Search and Rescue (SAR) helicopters at its facility in Halifax, Nova Scotia. Under its sub-contract award, IMP will deliver 13 of the 16 upgraded Cormorants to Canada from its Halifax facilities. The first three helicopters will be completed at Leonardo’s United Kingdom facilities. IMP personnel will undertake on-the-job training in the United Kingdom to complete the build of the remaining 13 CMLU helicopters in Canada.

Minister Anand noted that the CMLU project has the potential to contribute almost $79 million annually to Canadian GDP and 650 jobs annually for Canadian companies over a 12-year period – demonstrating our commitment to ensuring that national security and economic prosperity go hand in hand.

Upgrading the CH-149 Cormorant fleet will ensure that these helicopters remain operational for decades to come – and the maintenance work required will also sustain good jobs in Greenwood and Halifax, Nova Scotia and Gander, Newfoundland and Labrador. The CMLU project ensure that we can continue to perform Search and Rescue (SAR) operations from Comox, B.C., Gander, Greenwood, and add to the SAR capacity from Trenton, Ont.


“Through our upgrades to Canada’s Cormorant helicopter fleet, we are investing to keep Canadians safe and supporting good, middle-class jobs here in Canada. The CH-149 Cormorant helicopter is a critical asset for search and rescue operations in Canada. Upgrading our helicopters will ensure our continued search and rescue capacity going forward, all while supporting jobs for Canadians, and adding millions of dollars in economic activity.”

The Honourable Anita Anand, Minister of National Defence

“Our men and women in uniform play a vital role in protecting Canada and its communities. They deserve modern equipment to meet the very high expectations we ask of them every day. By upgrading our CH-149 Cormorant fleet, we are helping our search and rescue teams operate as safely and efficiently as possible while supporting hundreds of good paying jobs in our communities. This is great news for our province.”

The Honourable Sean Fraser, Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship and Member of Parliament for Central Nova

“The Cormorant Mid-Life Upgrade project is great news for Nova Scotia. These helicopter upgrades will help ensure that the Canadian Armed Forces have the tools that they need for search and rescue missions, all while creating significant economic opportunities here in our province. I’m especially thrilled that these upgrades will ensure the CAF’s continued search and rescue capabilities at 14 Wing Greenwood, in our beautiful Annapolis Valley.”

Kody Blois, Member of Parliament for Kings—Hants

“The AW101/CH-149 “Cormorant” Search and Rescue helicopter fleet has been providing the Royal Canadian Air Force with a dependable SAR capability across Canada for over 20 years. This Mid-Life Upgrade programme will deliver a greater level of high-technology to support the all-weather SAR capability that the country deserves. We're excited to execute this programme through Team Cormorant. This will reduce the cost of fleet ownership, while further increasing reliability, capability and safety for Canadians.”

Gian Piero Cutillo, Managing Director of Leonardo Helicopters

“Leonardo is proud to continue its 20 year+ relationship with Canada through the award of the Cormorant Mid-Life Upgrade Project which will upgrade and augment Canada's existing AW101/CH-149 “Cormorant” Search and Rescue helicopter fleet. Leonardo shall work closely with its Team Cormorant partners to transfer knowledge and capability, the majority of the CMLU helicopters will be upgraded in Canada by Canadian industry.”

Adam Clarke, Managing Director of Leonardo Helicopters UK

“Since 2001, IMP has supported Canada's rotary wing SAR fleet with pride. This contract award acknowledges our unique experience with the CH149 and our vital role in its sustainment both now and into the future. Our partnership with Canada and Leonardo ensures uninterrupted world-leading SAR availability during the CMLU program and the transition to the next-generation Cormorant fleet.”

David Gossen, President of IMP Aerospace & Defence

Quick facts

  • Two contracts for the Cormorant Mid-Life Upgrade and its simulator solution are valued at up to $1.24 billion (taxes included). This includes:

    • $1.168 billion (taxes included) for the helicopter upgrades with Leonardo U.K. Ltd of Yeovil, United Kingdom; and
    • $78 million (taxes included) for the training solution with CAE Inc. of Montreal, Quebec.
  • Capability enhancements and equipment improvements will be implemented on the CH-149 fleet to improve service to Canadians and meet the operational availability requirements to support the national 24/7 SAR service.

  • With this project the CH-149 fleet will be upgraded to the most advanced version of the helicopter, the AW101 615; similar to the model Norway has recently procured to conduct its rotary-wing SAR missions. Using this already established configuration accelerates the project considerably. Training solutions will also be acquired under the project to move aircrew training home to Canada.

  • This project will reuse as many parts as possible from current CH-149 inventory such as transmissions, landing gears and control surfaces to reduce costs and ensure value for money.

  • Delivery of these upgrades and training systems is expected to begin in 2026 and is anticipated to be fully operational in 2030. 

  • Through the application of Canada’s Industrial and Technological Benefits (ITB) Policy, both CAE Inc. and Leonardo U.K. Ltd will enter into high quality business activities within the world-class Canadian aerospace and defence industry to ensure that economic benefits equal to the value of the contracts are realized for Canadian industry.

    • The contractors are working with several Canadian companies as part of their industrial commitments to Canada including in Key Industrial Capability areas such as defence systems integration, training and simulation, and aerospace systems and components.
    • Together with the sub-contract placed with IMP Aerospace and Defence, Leonardo shall be investing 100% of the CMLU Contract value with other Canadian partners and suppliers.

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