Passionate about its French culture, Quebec is home to several companies headquartered in France, but who consider themselves Canadian. "The language in the corridors is French, but the overwhelming majority of our employees are Canadians," says Thales Canada president Marcel de Picciotto.

Thales brands itself "multi-domestic", rather than French, and its policy of giving local divisions worldwide responsibility for product domains means Montreal is its headquarters for regional and business avionics and its "centre of excellence" for fly-by-wire flight controls.

Thales set up in Montreal in 1994. "When we won avionics packages for the [Bombardier] Q400 and Global Express, we decided to undertake development at the gate of the client," Picciotto says. The company secured additional business with the Canadian airframer, but has also found other clients. "Bombardier was 100% of our business 10 years ago, but it was healthy for us and for them to diversify, which we have done successfully," he says.

When Bombardier retrenched earlier this decade, Thales had to look further afield for new programmes, but the Canadian unit retained its global responsibilities. "Montreal is the only place where we design and develop flight controls. It is the business unit that addresses the regional and business aviation market," says Picciotto.

The Montreal unit is to supply the Sukhoi Superjet 100 avionics suite, but development takes place in Toulouse and Moscow. "When the first phase is over, the technology will be transferred back to Montreal," he says. A potential application is Bombardier's proposed 110- to 130-seater, but Picciotto says: "The CSeries could be yet another generation of technology, from the new Airbuses and Boeings."

Defence makes up a small part of the aerospace unit's C$130 million ($112 million) in sales, because Canada operates mostly US platforms, but Thales has a separate defence and security unit in Ottawa. Its biggest programme is the communications management system for the modernised Lockheed CP-140 long-range patrol aircraft.

Through its aerospace unit, Thales has sold experimental and operational mini-unmanned air systems to the Canadian military, based on Elbit platforms. "Defence opportunities are growing, but not so much in aerospace, and Canada is still in the process of deciding what to do on unmanned systems," Picciotto says.

Source: Flight International