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With some 350 companies, 22,000 employees and more than $7 billion in total annual economic output, Ontario’s aerospace sector is easily one of the most robust in Canada.

March 6, 2013  By Stacy Bradshaw

With some 350 companies, 22,000 employees and more than $7 billion in total annual economic output, Ontario’s aerospace sector is easily one of the most robust in Canada. Leading firms such as Bombardier Aerospace, Pratt & Whitney Canada, Honeywell, Goodrich Landing Gear (UTC Aerospace Inc.), SAFRAN, Messier-BugattiDowty and hundreds of smaller, dynamic tier-two, tier-three and tier-four companies are making a huge impact in the manufacturing, research and development, IT, engineering, aircraft modification, MRO and other realms both domestically and on the world stage. (See, “Trending up!, page 30) The province also boasts some of Canada’s leading educational facilities involved in hundreds of top-level research and development projects.

With its strong influence both in Canada and abroad, Bombardier’s support of an Ontario cluster is imperative. PHOTO: Bombardier


But as Canadian Aerospace Review lead David Emerson aptly points out in his comprehensive, two-volume report on the state of the Canadian aerospace industry, much more needs to be done to ensure Canada continues to maintain its role as a global aerospace leader – in Ontario, the GTA and nationwide. Globalization, competition from emerging countries, volatility, fluctuating exchange rates and a diminishing skilled workforce are significant challenges facing the Canadian aerospace industry going forward.

In “Beyond the Horizon: Canada’s Interests and Future in Aerospace,” released just prior to the Dec. 5-6, 2012, Aerospace Industries Association of Canada (AIAC) annual conference in Ottawa, Emerson makes 25 recommendations to federal industry minister Christian Paradis to help the nation’s space and aerospace industries stay competitive and trending upward in the future.


So, exactly what’s at stake? On the aviation side of the coin, plenty. Some $3.2 trillion in new commercial aircraft orders and an additional $661 billion in business aircraft orders will be on the books over the next 20 years, and Canada needs to step up its game in order to score a larger chunk of the projected business. Add in an impending skilled-workforce shortage and the stakes are indeed very high.

From a space perspective, halting the malaise that has, in the words of many space leaders, caused the Canadian space program to flounder in recent years – and arguably led to the recent resignation of Steve Maclean, head of the Canadian Space Agency, prior to the end of his five-year tenure as the agency’s leader – is also paramount. Without a larger commitment to drive innovation, research and development and more, Canada will continue to lag behind competitors for a large piece of the global aerospace pie.

“If you look at the future demand for aircraft and the economies that are going to dominate that demand, there’s no doubt in my mind that if you are not prepared to put a physical presence on the ground such as joint ventures and production, you are not going to be particularly successful,” Emerson said at the AIAC conference. “Messy developments” are emerging in the global economy and steps need to be taken in order to stay competitive. That means a more strategic, cohesive unified approach from industry, educational facilities and governments alike.

The cluster philosophy
Building on the more cohesive approach, one of Emerson’s recommendations involves the establishment of an aerospace training and research “cluster” in Ontario which would unite colleges, universities, aerospace firms and government-supported research and technology transfer centres in close proximity to one another to develop the skills necessary to help continue to elevate Ontario’s aerospace footprint. Within that cluster would exist a hub or “centre of excellence” in the GTA. It’s a model that currently exists in Montreal’s world-renowed aerospace hub with the École nationale d’aerotechnique and the Centre Technologique en Aérospatiale, for example, closely aligned with industries and universities to help form the Montreal aerospace cluster.

Toronto’s University of Toronto Institute for Aerospace Studies is looking to move out of its aging facility and will likely be one of the first to move into a Downsview-based centre of excellence. PHOTO: UTIAS


With four prime aerospace contractors – Bombardier Aerospace, Pratt & Whitney Canada, Bell Helicopter and CAE – 15 tier-one suppliers and 215 tier-two to -four suppliers, the Montreal aerospace cluster is one of the largest and most successful in the world. Strategically organized under the direction of Aéro Montréal, the cluster brings together key decision makers from industry players including aerospace companies, educational institutions, research organizations, associations, unions and government to help set a course for the successful development of all aerospace interests for the region.

Aéro Montréal was formed with the financial commitment from all three levels of government to help increase the city’s aerospace footprint both here and abroad. This industry-driven initiative has helped unite the individual components in the Montreal aerospace community to give it a strong, cohesive voice.

Speaking at last June’s “Taking Flight: Making an Ontario Aerospace Cluster a Reality” conference in Toronto, Suzanne Benoit, president of Aéro Montréal, told Ontario and GTA aerospace leaders, that an aerospace cluster offers “a proactive position to leverage new opportunities. It is not a defensive position but one that allows organizations to act collectively for a common goal.” Through its six strategic committees, Aéro Montréal helps drive innovation, heightens the sectors’ value, enhances the supply chain, focuses on human resources development, protects the interests of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and much more.

The cluster philosophy is not new and is not exclusive to the aerospace industry. Successful clusters have been established worldwide in a number of industries and while a GTA-based aerospace cluster would be a much different animal than its Montreal counterpart due to the size of aerospace firms in this region, their proximity to one another and many more factors, mean its benefits would be just as fruitful. Some include:

  • greater opportunities for collaboration
  • strengthened and more vertically integrated supply chain
  • stronger industry profile to solicit government support
  • sharing of best practices from cluster partners leading to greater innovation
  • a pipeline of well-trained graduates who are “industry ready”
  • creates an industry that is better positioned to deal with the escalating demands of the sector

Simon Roberts, vice president and general manager, Turboprops and Toronto Operations, Bombardier is a strong proponent of the cluster philosophy and a key advocate for the establishment of a GTA cluster. As the most prominent OEM in the Toronto area, Bombardier’s support is essential – and the company is more than happy to oblige. A fixture in Toronto for many years, Bombardier’s Q400 and Global business jets are currently being assembled there.

With two locations in the GTA, UTC Aerospace Systems is a huge proponent of a proposed Ontario aerospace cluster. The firm designs, manufactures and services integrated systems and components for the aerospace and defense industries. PHOTO: UTC Aerospace Systems


“There are many examples in our industry and outside of our industry whereby the convergence of industry, government, academia, research and development, coming together in a coordinated – and in many cases geographically centred way – has real benefits,” Roberts told Wings. “We definitely see the benefits of how those particular industries or jurisdictions have really accelerated their ability to collaborate.”

Dan S. Breitman, vice president of engine development programs at Pratt & Whitney Canada in Mississauga, agrees. With more than 800 GTA-based employees, Pratt has been in the Mississauga area since 1979 producing its PW300 engine line and working on research and development.

“To me, collaboration is what spawns innovation,” Breitman says. “If you can form a cluster which allows for proximity, and with the proximity you spawn collaboration, with that collaboration you will have aerospace. So, in that sense it would be good for anyone to be involved in a cluster. That’s why it makes sense and why we think it really needs to happen.”

The prospects of like-minded companies participating and contributing towards progression in many facets of the industry is an exciting prospect, notes Frank Karakas, vice president, Airbus Business Unit, UTC Aerospace Systems. With sites in Burlington and Oakville, UTC’s legacy Goodrich plants create landing gear systems for military, regional and commercial airlines. The Oakville plant serves as Boeing unit headquarters and is an Airbus regional and business aircraft unit. Another significant leader in the GTA space, Karakas says his team fully supports a cluster formation.

“I think there are clearly opportunities for synergy, collaborative research and development, and there are obvious areas of mutual interest,” Karakas says. “Overall, it would make for a strengthened supply chain when you look at the vertical integration that will ultimately take place. That already exists to some extent in a very informal manner in Ontario, but when you look at the heritage of the industry in this area that goes back decades, clearly there has been a handful of dominant players that have led to the establishment and growth of a variety of ancillary companies.”

The Downsview effect – A ‘centre of excellence’
An intriguing element of the proposed Ontario cluster is the development of a GTA hub or “centre of excellence” at the Downsview Park site in Toronto. As Emerson notes in his report, “one of the significant constraints to industry growth identified is an aging workforce and skilled labour shortage.” The Downsview hub would do just that – leveraging the province’s best educational institutions in a partnership to develop innovative new technologies, aid in workforce training and skills development, and participate in supply chain initiatives.

Centennial College is helping to lead the charge for the establishment of an aerospace centre of excellence in Toronto’s Downsview Park area. It would be a welcome move for students and faculty alike, as its Ashtonbee Campus in Scarborough is not sufficient for its needs. PHOTO: Centennial College


A public-private partnership has formed to promote the establishment of a cluster at the Downsview Park site, which would serve as an ideal focal point of a GTA cluster with its highly developed transit infrastructure (a GO Train commuter line and TTC subway stop nearby), close proximity to universities with innovative research and development opportunities. The Downsview Aerospace Cluster for Innovation and Research (DAIR) team involves key industry players and the province’s best educational institutions. Founding partners include Bombardier, Centennial College and the University of Toronto Institute for Aerospace Studies (UTIAS), with the support of several other firms and educational institutions.

The Downsview site was developed in 1939 as an airfield next to an aircraft manufacturing plant owned and operated by de Havilland Canada. It has had a very rich history, including being home to the Royal Canadian Air Force, who, in 1947, set up an air base there and expanded the property. The base closed in 1996, and since 1998, the land has been administered by Crown Corporation Parc Downsview Park, which co-manages the airfield with Bombardier.

Bombardier owns numerous hangars at the airport and with one 7,000-foot operational runway and parallel taxiway, it makes for an ideal location as a starting point to bring in not only colleges and universities for future research, training and development initiatives, but other aerospace tenants as well. A centre of excellence would serve as a focal point of a province-wide initiative and help ignite the passion from the grassroots level to help highlight the value and influence of the industry.

“I think it’s very important to have something like that here,” Roberts says. “And let’s not just focus on the manufacturing footprint that we have here . . . Given the benefit of our facilities, the runway obviously being a key component of that, and also when you look at the infrastructure that has been developed around our facilities, with the public transport developments and investment, the ability for us to connect this location for growth – and with public transport being a key strategy for the province, there is a great connection point there specifically around the actual subway extension that is currently taking place, some of the future plans around rail transportation around this location.”

Andrew Petrou, special projects officer with Toronto’s Centennial College, is a key driver of the initiative. Centennial is searching for a new home for the college’s aerospace maintenance program, as the Ashtonbee campus location in Scarborough is simply not adequate for the program’s needs. Relocating to the Downsview location makes a lot of sense.

Petrou is working closely with industry partners, educational institutions and government to make the centre of excellence at Downsview a reality. “The potential for something special here is immense,” he says. “It’s the biggest city in the country with three subway access points and GO Train station. There’s a physical presence that I think is hard to compare.”

Petrou isn’t the only one passionate about the possibilities. David Zingg, Professor, Canada Research Chair in Computational Aerodynamics and Environmentally-Friendly Aircraft Design and Director at UTIAS, is equally intrigued with the possibilities. UTIAS is keen to locate from its aging facility and join Centennial as an early adopter. Zingg is also quick to point out that the Ontario cluster would be unique to the GTA and this province – building on its unique strengths.

“What we’re trying to create here is something very different from Aéro Montréal,” Zingg says. “We’re trying to create a physical infrastructure that complements the whole thing. If you start with the big picture, you have the Ontario aerospace scene and you have some scope with that, then you come down to the GTA area. It’s a subset of Ontario but a very large chunk of the Ontario aerospace scene is in the GTA. So, what we’re trying to create is a hub. We use the word hub quite carefully as it includes everything along with that – universities, colleges, industries, SMEs, and it’s right beside Bombardier.”

Timing, of course, is everything and Zingg maintains all the elements are working to make a centre of excellence a reality. “You have these institutions that can move, you have some land that has come available in a perfect location, a large chunk of land in an urban centre that’s at the epicentre of Ontario aerospace, and it has constraints on it – you can’t build condos on it because you have a runway there. So, everything is lining up on this and if we don’t move on it, shame on us.”

Rod Jones, executive director of the Ontario Aerospace Council, maintains the Downsview centre of excellence is a tremendous idea but cautions it is just one piece of the overall Ontario aerospace pie. The cluster itself would not be confined to Downsview, but include the province as a whole – a collective unit.

“The cluster is industry, it’s academia, it’s R&D both in universities and other research organizations like the National Research Council and others, it’s engineering development organizations,” he says. “Industry represents everyone from business consultants to technical consultants to the whole raft . . . a centre for education, engineering excellence, R&D, all of that, those are the drivers, those are the pieces that are the difference makers in our situation going forward.”

Breaking down the barriers
Putting all the pieces together in the development of an Ontario cluster will take time and there are several things that must be accomplished. Getting the support of all three levels of government is needed to sustain it going forward, and incentives must be in place to make it attractive for aerospace companies to take part.

Pratt & Whitney Canada has been in the Mississauga area since 1979 producing its PW300 engine line and working on research and development.  PHOTO: Pratt & Whitney Canada


Industry leaders are also needed to help generate interest in the project and create momentum to champion the initiative on a day-to-day basis. Finally, industry associations such as the OAC will be needed to help co-ordinate efforts and provide industry oversight – from a collective position. It must be viewed in the best interests of all players. And it won’t happen overnight. While the framework for a cluster is starting to take shape, it realistically will be three to five years for a strong semblance to evolve.

“There’s enough conceptual strategic alignment, but now the business case needs to be real,” says Roberts. “We also need to see the first move physically in 2013 or 2014 and I am keen with our discussions with Centennial College around our needs, in terms of the Toronto site, in terms of workforce growth, and the anticipated retirements.

“Once we have that business case and we can promote what this is and how attractive it will be to suppliers, to research institutes, we will have something. The pieces of the jigsaw will quickly follow. I don’t think it’s unreasonable to imagine that in five years’ time we will have a very well-established footprint across all of the sectors in place, but what dictates five years time is really the progress we are going to make in the next 12 to 18 months.”

Jones agrees and notes a big advantage is that all industry players already know each other well and have worked together on a project basis in the past. It will certainly help in the formation of a cohesive strategy going forward.

“What we don’t have is the ongoing, day in, day out and progressing work that builds on those assets and that’s my notion of what a cluster would do for us,” he says. “It needs a leadership team, it needs some resources to help make it all happen.
Having Bombardier leading is a very positive idea, but I think the strength of this initiative is it doesn’t serve the position of just one company, it serves the sector. It’s not a UTIAS initiative, it’s not a Centennial initiative, it’s not a Bombardier initiative – it’s an Ontario aerospace initiative.”

Making something great even better
With more than 28 per cent of the employment base in Canadian aerospace, the formation of an Ontario aerospace cluster and GTA hub will only help to galvanize the industry – and continue to enhance Canada’s role in the global aerospace industry.

“This is going to be a flagship that shows that Ontario is recognized as a powerhouse of aerospace even including outreach,” says Zingg. There is a rich history here in Ontario . . . “Emotion is great, but we have a phenomenal sector that is in an export-driven sector that is going to grow, is inspiring people, it’s creating high level jobs with both skilled workers and engineers.

Canada is already doing well in it, how can you not invest in this?”

It’s a great point, and one the key drivers in the development of a GTA aerospace cluster will hope to capitalize on in the near future to help this plan take off.

This is part two in Wings’ special six-part series on Canada’s aerospace industry.

Trending up!
The GTA is blessed with myriad global aerospace leaders. Here are 10 on the move.

Aversan Inc. This global engineering firm based in Scarborough, Ont. has its tentacles in several key projects in North America and around the globe in commercial and military arenas. It offers embedded systems hardware design, automated test station and systems integration labs and flight SIMS.

Bombardier Aeropace One of the world’s largest aircraft manufacturers and the largest aerospace OEM in Ontario, Bombardier’s Toronto site serves as the final assembly plant for both the Global Express business jets and the popular Q400 turboprop.

Celestica This influential Toronto-based electronics manufacturing and supply chain leader has found global success on a number of fronts. With 2012 revenues in excess of $6.5 billion, Celestica boasts more than 30,000 employees worldwide at some 20 locations.

Field Aviation Internationally renowned for its extensive aircraft modifications, particularly on government services aircraft, this Mississauga, Ont.-based firm has also expanded operations to include aircraft sales.

Firan Technology Group This growing Scarborough, Ont.-based aerospace and defence electronics product and subsystem supplier develops technologically advanced cockpit panels and keyboard solutions for a growing international client base.

Honeywell One of the GTA’s leading aerospace companies, Honeywell boasts a 330,000 square-foot facility in Mississauga that supports the global aerospace market in the design, development, manufacture and aftermarket support of a number of key initiatives.

L-3 Wescam Two GTA locations of L-3 Wescam are helping to increase the company’s profile on the local aerospace scene. The company’s Burlington, Ont., location serves as the company head office and is home to the development of the MX-15 and MX-20 imaging devices used on both fixed wing and rotary wing aircraft. Applied Physics Specialties, based in Don Mills, Ont., specializes in the development of custom opto-mechanical lens assemblies and aspheric components.

Magellan One of Canada’s leading aerospace players, Magellan has made a significant footprint on the world stage in a number of key capacities including the development of engine components, structures, rotating parts (shafts, disks and spacers), static assemblies (exhaust systems, compressor cases frames, combustors, by-pass ducts), and more.

Shimco For the past 25 years, the Markham, Ont.-based firm has been creating a variety of precision shims, tapers, spacers and more for both the fixed and rotary-wing markets. Key suppliers include Bell Helicopter and Bombardier.

UTC Aerospace Systems UTC Aerospace Systems designs, manufactures and services integrated systems and components for the aerospace and defense industries and is once again showing solid growth both here and abroad. The company’s Goodrich Landing Gear operation based in Oakville and Burlington has long been one of the top aerospace entities in the region.


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