Windsor aviation industry may get big lift
March 22, 2012, Windsor, Ont. - Windsor and its budding aerospace industry could gain from Tuesday's announcement that the company that services jets for Canada's biggest airline is shutting down its Canadian operations and firing all its workers.
On Monday, Aveos Fleet Performance Inc. filed for bankruptcy protection and announced Tuesday it had rejected a late-night offer of financial help from Air Canada, of which it was once a part and which still provides close to 90 per cent of the company's revenue.
Many of the approximately 2,600 now-terminated employees once worked for Canada's national carrier.
The news comes just weeks before Quebec-based Premier Aviation is scheduled to start moving in to Windsor Airport's new $21-million MRO hangar, the largest such aircraft overhaul building in Ontario and big enough to house a Boeing 747 and 737 side-by-side.
Mayor Eddie Francis said he didn't want to comment on what the Aveos decision might mean for Premier's Windsor operation.
"You're not going to find me commenting on who their clients are … and where their orders are from," he said.
Francis said the company has advised him its plan is to "ramp up aggressively" with hiring and training programs. He expects between 250 to 300 direct jobs will be created over the next two years.
Francis said he hopes to divulge details at his State of the City speech on April 13 on when the first aircraft will be brought in to the MRO, which stands for maintenance, repair and overhaul.
The city built and owns the giant hangar, for which the federal government contributed $4 million.
The mayor said Premier has begun shipping Windsorites to its other facilities to begin training and is also in the process of helping set up training programs at St. Clair College.
While the Aveos decision might mean the marketplace fills up with available skilled workers, Francis said that Premier's Windsor start means "absolutely" that jobs will open up for unemployed local workers.
The MRO means new jobs and new payroll being added to the local economy, as well as a hoped-for kick-start to a new aerospace sector, he said.
"Before Premier, we didn't have that type of industry represented here," said Francis.
The Aveos decision has nothing to do with less demand for MRO work – in fact the opposite is the case, said Marcel St-Jean, president of Local 1751 of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, which represents 1,800 Aveos employees in Montreal. He said nonunionized operations like Premier were already taking work away from Aveos, which according to court documents had abysmal relations with its main client.
"Will the work done there be as good as in Quebec?" St-Jean asked in reference to Windsor's MRO start.
The potential is huge in a growing multibillion-dollar enterprise that is global and labour intensive, with a Boeing 747 overhaul typically taking up to two months and employing 160 people, everyone from welders and machinists to painters, seamstresses and upholsterers.
While there's a growing amount of work, St-Jean warned there is also a growing number of MRO facilities, with China getting involved and one recently opened facility in Plattsburgh, N.Y.
Premier executives were in meetings all day Tuesday at their Trois-Rivieres headquarters and unavailable for comment.
In a news release, Aveos said it had ceased Canadian operations and was liquidating its assets.
"For some time we have attempted to work for a consensual agreement with Aveos' principal customer. At this point, we have exhausted all measures," chairman Eugene Davis said in a statement.
Even before they received their final termination notice, Aveos workers protested outside Air Canada's headquarters in Montreal Tuesday, pelting passing cars with stones, eggs and debris. One person was arrested.
Air Canada has already been in disputes with its pilots, represented by the Air Canada Pilots Association, and with its machinists, who are represented by the same union which represents the Aveos workers.
The pilots, angry after the federal government passed a law to prevent a strike or lockout at the airline, said they were challenging the legislation in court, complaining that it violated their right to collective bargaining.
Air Canada said on Monday that a disruption at Aveos would not affect its day-to-day operations.
Aveos became an independent company in 2007, although Air Canada still owns the maintenance facilities and leases them back to Aveos.