Quebec aerospace industry rides out the ups and downs

 - November 16, 2006, 4:58 AM

French-speaking Canadian province Quebec claims to be the world’s sixth-ranking player in aerospace after the U.S., France, the UK, Germany and Japan. But Quebec’s aerospace industry has seen setbacks over the past year, with Montreal-based Bombardier nearly abandoning its C-Series airliner project, suspending production of its 50-seat CRJ200 regional jet and making a poor showing in the 70- to 90-seat segment and the 90- to 100-seat market. Shelving the C-Series has cast uncertainty on Bombardier’s commercial passenger jet business.

According to the Quebec Aerospace Association (AQA-Association Quebeçoise de l’Aerospatiale), as of January 1, 45,063 people were working in 243 companies in the province’s aerospace industry, most of them in the greater Montreal area. The province boasts one of the biggest concentrations of aerospace activity, with its biggest city among the world’s top international aerospace centers, alongside Seattle, Toulouse and Wichita.

Quebec accounts for more than 50 percent of Canada’s aerospace activity. It exports 80 percent of its aerospace production, around half of it to the U.S. Apart from Bombardier, other major firms in the province include engine maker Pratt & Whitney Canada, Bell Helicopter Textron, CMC Electronics, Thales Avionique, simulator manufacturer CAE and aircraft systems specialist Messier-Dowty.

The AQA’s mission is to evaluate and act on issues that impact Canadian competitiveness. It works with the Centre for Aerospace Manpower Activities in Quebec (CAMAQ), a nonprofit organization whose main aim is to promote and support collaboration between companies in the province’s aerospace industry in an effort to adapt and develop skilled labor.

CAMAQ, which says more than 3,600 aerospace jobs need to be filled this year alone, encourages better relations between employers, workers, educational institutions and government representatives involved in planning and training the labor force. Over the last 14 years it has fostered the consolidation of research and innovation in universities, industry and government, resulting in the establishment of CRIAQ, a body that brings together the leaders in research and development in the aerospace industry and the engineering schools and Quebec’s universities.

At present, Bombardier cannot cancel the C-Series project outright as the Canadian and UK governments, as well as Quebec province, together have a financial stake in it, having pledged a total of about $700 million in launch aid. In return, Bombardier said it would build the airplane in the Montreal area and produce the wings, nacelles and composite empennage structures at its factory in Belfast, Northern Ireland. Quebec also invested almost $180 million in research and development support for Pratt & Whitney Canada to develop the C-Series powerplant. Officially, Bombardier still says the project is on the back burner and it believes the C-Series could be revived later in fast-growing aerospace markets such as Russia, India and China.

However, there is good news for Quebec companies and employees in the shape of Bombardier’s latest addition to its successful business jet family. The Challenger 605 made its first flight in January and represents a significant upgrade from the earlier 604 model, with a redesigned cabin, larger windows and a Rockwell Collins Pro Line 21 integrated flightdeck. Deliveries of the 605 are due to begin in the third quarter of next year.

Here at Farnborough International, the Quebec exhibit can be found at Hall 4 Stand C18.