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Leading Edge – Bringing it all together

In the March/April 2013 issue of Wings, I wrote a piece that focused on the future establishment of a GTA aerospace cluster for the Downsview Airport site in Toronto, and how such a facility would provide a myriad economic benefits for the city, the province and the nation as a whole.


September 4, 2015
By Matt Nicholls

Such a plan was noted by David Emerson in his 2012 assessment of the Canadian aerospace industry report entitled “Beyond the Horizon, Canada’s Interests and Future in Aerospace.” In it, Emerson spoke of a site that would serve as a focal point for industry and academia to promote research and development, elevate training and skills – in short create a centre of excellence where transformative ideas would foster innovative aerospace solutions and promote real growth.

There is plenty at stake. Ontario’s aerospace industry supports some 350 companies, 22,000 employees and generates more than $7 billion in economic benefits. Some of the nation’s leading aerospace players have a presence in Ontario, such as Bombardier Aerospace (which is already on the Downsview site), Pratt & Whitney Canada, Honeywell, UTC Aerospace Inc. and hundreds of smaller dynamic tier-two, tier-three and tier-four companies making their marks in manufacturing, IT, engineering, aircraft modification, MRO and more.

The cluster model is alive and well in Montreal, where the école nationale D’Aérotechnique and the Centre technologique en Aérospatiale are closely aligned with industries and universities to help grow Montreal aerospace. Major aerospace companies such as Pratt & Whitney Canada, CAE, Bombardier Aerospace and Bell Helicopter, are key stakeholders in the Montreal cluster and it fits very nicely under the guidance of AéroMontreal, which was formed with the financial commitment for all three levels of government to help increase the city’s aerospace footprint both in Canada and abroad.

It’s this model that helps drive innovation, creates greater opportunities for collaboration, strengthens and develops a more vertically integrated supply chain, helps share best practices from cluster partners, and creates a pipeline of well-trained graduates who are “industry ready” and able to step into a fast-paced aerospace environment.

Such a cluster is closer to fruition in the GTA, thanks to a recent $18.4 million commitment from the federal government to help Centennial College build a new aerospace campus on the site. The facility, which will break ground this year, is slated to be completed in 2017. It will house the college’s existing aviation programs and related aircraft and technology, as well as new aerospace laboratories and research space to foster the next generation of advanced aircraft.

The total tab for the project is expected to be $55.4 million, and is supported by the $18.4 million federal contribution, $25.8 million in Ontario government funding and $11.2 million from Centennial College and the college’s partners and donors. Future stages of the development of the Downsview cluster include the relocation of the University of Toronto Institute for Aerospace Studies (UTIAS) and the creation of an Innovation Centre focused on R&D collaboration between industry and the research community.

“As much as it is important about the funding, it is the federal recognition of the project that is critical,” notes Andrew Petrou, Centennial College’s special projects officer and director of strategic initiatives and external relations for the Downsview Aerospace Initiative (DAIR). “It gives us a launching pad to be a gateway for an international link and strengthen our SMEs, our academic institutions, and our industry both locally and across the country . . . We are fifth in the world in aerospace and we’re not just going to slip into the night – let’s get as high as we possibly can.”

Aiming high and showing a solid level of commitment and shared enthusiasm for a project that has real merit on so many levels. The Canadian aerospace industry needs precisely this kind of vision, action and support to ensure it remains a strong player on the global stage.