A stronger Canadian dollar and tougher global competition are twin challenges for the country's maintenance, repair and overhaul sector. While this has led Field Aviation to emphasise its engineering capability, ExelTech Aerospace has responded by offering customers more than just touch labour.

"We don't compete on price," says ExelTech president and chief executive Derek Nice. "We are not selling maintenance, we are selling a solution, including getting the aircraft back in the air faster and guaranteeing the reliability we are building in." Focused on regional turboprops and jets, 90% of the fast-growing Quebec-based company's sales are outside Canada.

"There is tremendous competition for straight wrench-turning, and the Canadian dollar is strong, so we have to add more value to MRO than just labour," says Joar Gronland, Field's vice-president, business development. "Engineering capability adds value."

Field West in Calgary does heavy overhauls and aircraft conversions, mainly for regional turboprops and jets, including Saab 340 cargo conversions and modification of early Bombardier CRJs to corporate shuttles. The company also produces spares for the de Havilland Canada Caribou and Buffalo, and is looking at other niches for low-volume manufacturing of parts for out-of-production aircraft, "which we can do efficiently", says Gronlund.

Field East in Toronto is in a different, and growing, niche - modifying aircraft for special missions such as surveillance, maritime patrol and flight inspection. "We are the de facto modifier of the [Bombardier] Dash 8," says Gronlund. By January next year, Field will have modified 10 aircraft for Surveillance Australia. Three maritime-patrol Dash 8s are to be delivered to the Swedish coastguard this year, and three to the Japanese coastguard by the end of next year. Bombardier builds a standard type-certificated aircraft, and Field does "the sophisticated hole-cutting", he says, with the company acting as equipment installer and integrator.

"This is an interesting and sustainable market," Gronlund says. "Military and paramilitary customers cannot afford big anti-submarine warfare aircraft if they are primarily looking for fish, catching smugglers or monitoring the environment. We look around the world and see growing use of aircraft in this category." It is a niche market that defines the industry in Canada, he says: "Its broad base is geared towards the civil market or the military use of civil assets."

Source: Flight International