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Canadian jobs at risk if F-35 order altered: Labbe

April 20, 2012, Montreal - Canadian companies employing thousands of workers would be hurt if the Harper government abandons the multibillion-dollar purchase of F-35 fighter planes, said the head of aerospace cluster Aero Montreal.


April 20, 2012
By The Canadian Press

Gilles Labbe said the aircraft's lead manufacturers, Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman, could remove work destined to be completed in Canada by various suppliers if the federal government doesn't buy the 65 planes.

The Conservative government froze spending on the defence program earlier this month after the auditor general produced a withering report accusing the Department of National Defence of keeping Parliament in the dark about the program's spiralling problems.

Labbe heads Heroux-Devtek, which provides landing gear for all fighter planes produced.

The company's work will continue in the United States but work done in Canada by itself and other F-35 suppliers could be shifted outside the country if the government's commitment evaporates, he told reporters at Aero Montreal's annual meeting.

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Labbe wouldn't say what he thinks Ottawa and other countries will decide, but he believes the entire program will ultimately go ahead and deliver more than 3,000 aircraft in the long term.

The United States has reduced the number of aircraft it will purchase in the short term.

That will have an impact on Heroux-Devtek, but "nothing that we cannot cope with,'' he said.

Overall orders should be flat in 2012 and start ramping up a little in 2013 and more in 2014.

In three to five years, more planes will be delivered, helping Heroux-Devtek and other Canadian suppliers, Labbe added.

Meanwhile, Labbe said the aerospace industry has started to recover from the global economic crisis with increased commercial aircraft production and orders for business jets.

The result will be thousands of jobs being added over the next few years, added Suzanne Benoit, CEO of Aero Montreal.

She expects that about 3,600 jobs will be created in Quebec this year, erasing the up to 3,000 jobs lost in the 2009 downturn.