Canada launches programme to support aerospace technology

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The Canadian government today launched a new initiative to help aerospace and defence companies in the country pay for major technology demonstration projects.

The new subsidy is aimed at addressing two industrial weaknesses identified in a government-funded report on the Canadian aerospace sector earlier this year: a dearth of "tier 1" suppliers and available capital to usher new technologies beyond the conceptual phase.

"Technology demonstration projects involve [small and mid-sized enterprises] early in the process of developing new products," says Maria Della Posta, chairman of the board of directors of Aéro Montréal, a strategic think tank for Québec's aerospace cluster.

The newly-launched technology demonstration programme sets aside $54 million to pay for up to three new projects every year, with the government covering up to half the costs of each project.

The applicant must include one Canadian original equipment manufacturer (OEM), such as Bombardier or CAE, and one tier 1 supplier, such as landing gear specialist Héroux-Devtek.

The project should be designed to demonstrate whether a new aerospace or defence technology is worth pursuing into advanced development. In NASA's nine-step development process, the project would be expected to achieve a technology readiness level of six - meaning that it was successfully demonstrated in a realistic environment.

Canada already helps aerospace and defence companies move demonstrated technologies through the last phase of development and into production. That programme is called the strategic aerospace and defence initiative (SADI). But it does nothing to support new projects that have not yet been demonstrated.

The Beyond the Horizon report on the Canadian aerospace industry published earlier this year called for the government to launch the technology demonstration programme in order to bridge a perceived gap in support for projects that are not advanced enough to receive funding under SADI.

The lack of government support for such projects was one of several concerns that the report raised about the declining competitiveness of Canada's aerospace industry.

The Ministry of Industry will select several projects in January to submit detailed proposals. The first batch of projects supported under the technology development programme will then be picked in April.