Canada special: Canada's avionics leader CMC looks to potential of retrofit and emerging markets

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It may no longer be named after the inventor of radio, but Montreal-based avionics specialist CMC Electronics is proud of its 108-year history in the field of communications and six decades in cockpit technology.

As far as the future is concerned, president Greg Yeldon is also content with the company's strategic course, which sees it tapping growth markets in emerging regions and the burgeoning retrofit market for ageing commercial and military types.

The one-time Canadian Marconi Company sees itself as nicely positioned, with revenues split equally between civil and military customers - "very effective in a cyclical business", says Yeldon - and roughly 60/40 between retrofit and original equipment.

Contracts range from refitting the cockpits on 23 Lockheed Martin C-130s for the Royal Saudi Arabian Air Force (RSAF), to supplying its avionics suite as original equipment on the Beechcraft T-6B trainer. It has also had success installing new flight management systems in Boeing 747 Classics and is turning its attention to Airbus A300s.

"We have a lot going on, a lot of irons in the fire," says Yeldon, who joined the subsidiary of the US-based Esterline Corporation in 2009 and reorganised the company into two fields of activity: manufacturing its own cockpit products such as GPS navigation and enhanced vision systems, and integrating packages of its own and others' technology.

A "key discriminator" in CMC's approach when it comes to systems integration is that it has a neutral approach to the technology it uses, he says.

"We are very flexible in terms of our offering. We ask the customer what they want. It's the customer's solution, not ours. For instance, with the RSAF C-130s, 80% of the cockpit is made by other manufacturers. On the other hand, with the T-6s, 80% of the content is ours," says Yeldon.

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A300 cockpit retrofits are an opportunity

Niche areas

There are opportunities in the domestic defence markets of Canada and the USA - CMC has facilities in Chicago, as well as Montreal and Ottawa. These include the US T-X advanced trainer requirement, where likely bidders Alenia Aermacchi, BAE Systems and Korea Aerospace Industries will need to install local content. However, much of CMC's potential lies in more niche areas: new military markets and in general aviation. "We are expanding our reach into Russia, Brazil, China and India," says Yeldon.

Last year Esterline, which bought CMC from its private equity owners in 2007, acquired the licence to use SmartDeck integrated cockpit technology from L-3. Yeldon says it will allow CMC to "leverage into the higher end of Part 23 [general aviation aircraft] such as King Airs. There are plenty of aircraft out there with life left in the airframes but opportunities to update the cockpits," he says.