OTTAWA - The COVID-19 pandemic is presenting another challenge to Canada's long-running and tumultuous effort to buy new fighter jets.

The federal government last summer launched a long-awaited competition to replace the Royal Canadian Air Force's aging CF-18s with 88 new fighter jets at an estimated cost of $19 billion.

Before COVID-19 hit, the three companies vying for the contract were told to submit their bids by June 30.

The federal government says it still expects Lockheed Martin, Boeing and Saab to meet that deadline and representatives for the three jet makers say they are plugging away on their proposals.

But Boeing is also leaving the door open to asking for an extension, saying the current situation has created a variety of unexpected challenges.

There are also questions about the government's ability to move ahead on the project even if the companies do get their bids in on time, given the majority of federal employees are working at home.