Canada special: Clusters of success

London
Source:
This story is sourced from Flight International
Subscribe today »

Montreal, says CAE chief executive Marc Parent, "is the only city in the world where it would be possible to build an entire airplane. No other city can make that claim, not even Toulouse or Seattle."

Parent, addressing the Montreal board of trade in February, highlighted the key ingredients: Pratt & Whitney engines, Héroux-Devtek landing gear (he could also have mentioned Messier-Dowty), Esterline CMC and Thales avionics and, of course, Bombardier - not forgetting pilot training, care of CAE.

The city is also home to heavyweights including Bell Helicopter Canada and L-3 Communications MAS (Canada), Rolls-Royce Canada, Sonaca NMF Canada and Turbomeca Canada, as well as the International Air Transport Association, International Civil Aviation Organisation and International Business Aviation Council.

According to local industry champion AeroMontreal, the city is, simply, one of the world's three top aerospace clusters, and the facts do support this claim: more than 240 companies support more than 40,000 jobs and 2009 sales of $11.4 billion, of which 80% were exports.

Montreal accounts for nearly two-thirds of Canada's aerospace production, as well as 70% of Canadian aerospace research and development spending and half of the country's aerospace workforce.

 fin_p32_bell-427-emergency-response-at-montreal-factory_credit-dan-thisdell.jpg
 ©Dan Thisdell
Montreal is home to Bell Helicopter Canada

But it was not always this way. As Parent notes, when he went to university in the early 1980s determined to forge a career in aerospace, many people warned him he was looking to join an national industry in decline, "heading for a slow death". Canadair, which he joined on graduation in 1984, was struggling, as was Toronto-based de Havilland.

The subsequent privatisation of Canadair - in a sale to Bombardier - marked the start of what Parent calls "a wonderful adventure".

QUALITY WORKFORCE

That adventure, Parent stresses, owes its success to entrepreneurship and a quality workforce, but also, critically, to the partnership with government that has supported the industry's strength in innovation, through federal and provincial investment tax credits and R&D investment.

The success of the Montreal region gives much credence to the notion of industry clusters as generators of virtuous circles of investment and development.

Supporting the industry locally are the aerospace engineering departments at Concordia and McGill universities, as well as two aerospace-specific trade schools, including the National Aerotechnical Institute, which is the largest in North America and home to a fleet of 23 aircraft.

Also in Montreal are the Canadian Space Agency, the Aerospace Manufacturing Technology Centre, the Industrial Materials Institute, the CTA aerospace technology centre and the Quebec composites development centre.

The result of all this is that Montreal is home to the largest pool of engineers in the country - there are more than 50,000 engineers including 9,000 working in aerospace - as well as what is claimed to be the highest concentration of qualified aerospace technicians, machine operators and assembly workers in Canada.

As Quebec Aerospace Association president Jacques Saada puts it: "Montreal is a cluster, but in my view it is more than that - it is a culture of aerospace."