The aerospace industry prides itself on being a fraternity of smart, passionate people pushing the frontiers of progress. But the bitter legal feud between Bombardier and Mitsubishi Aircraft has laid bare the rough and tumble of industry hiring practices.
After bubbling privately for years, the squabble made a dramatic public debut in October 2018, when Bombardier filed a lawsuit against the Japanese airframer, US-based flight-test company AeroTEC, and a number of former employees.
Bombardier claims the ex-staff members stole trade secrets about its CSeries programme (now the Airbus A220) that would be "invaluable" during the certification of its rival's MRJ regional jet. It even alleges that Mitsubishi Aircraft urged the employees to commit theft of intellectual property.
The Canadian company contends that staff emailed documents to their personal accounts prior to leaving – documents, it says, that would be vital to a fledgling manufacturer like Mitsubishi Aircraft.
But the Japanese airframer flatly denies Bombardier's claims. The employees had merely been working from home, it says. Besides, the information would be useless, given the differences between the two programmes.
In its view, Bombardier's move is not about righting a wrong, but stifling competition and limiting the movement of people within the industry. If successful, it will "chill" the marketplace for hiring talented individuals, Mitsubishi Aircraft argues.
Putting aside the merits of the specific case, the spat raises a crucial point: developing and certificating an airliner is among the world's most challenging technological endeavours. Building the skills for that task organically takes years, if not decades. This places a premium on talented aerospace professionals who understand the nuances of the whole process.
Aspiring airframers will watch the case closely. Beijing's determination to become an aerospace superpower suggests it will have few scruples about poaching. But other nations will approach the talent pool more warily in future, potentially denting their prospects.
Apart from complete aircraft, there are other areas where newcomers hope to make inroads, such as engines, avionics, materials and sensors – none of which can be achieved without the right staff members.
Demand for smart, experienced aerospace people will only grow. Companies can defend their assets, but not at the expense of artificially stifling that market.