This text is part of the special Aeronautics section
The industry wishes to become an innovation zone to remain competitive internationally and meet challenges.
“The health crisis, for us, has been extremely difficult,” says Mélanie Lussier, CEO of Aéro Montréal, a strategic consultation forum created in 2006. The organization brings together leaders from the Quebec aerospace sector, from the industry, educational establishments, research centers, as well as associations and unions. Its mission aims to optimize the competitiveness and growth of this sector.
The recovery in tourism and business travel is also reflected in aerospace. The sector recorded an increase of 18% in 2022 compared to the previous year, with 15 billion in revenue, according to the Ministry of Economy, Innovation and Energy. There were also around 60,430 people working in the field in 2022. “The industry is extremely resilient. We should be on track to return to pre-pandemic figures,” says M.me Lussier.
Unlike other economic sectors, aerospace has not experienced a significant drop in employment numbers. “Yes, there were slowdowns in pace, layoffs, but we are almost back to the level of 2019,” adds the CEO
“We worked a lot to keep the factories open,” says M.me Lussier. She nevertheless concedes that the pandemic “hurt”, with certain territories closed for a certain time, which had aroused fears among customers, who were reducing the number of their orders.
According to the International Air Transport Association (IATA), the year 2023 is expected to end with a total of 4.35 billion passengers. Proof that the sector has returned to a pre-pandemic level, believes Mélanie Lussier. “There, the challenge is to restart a machine extremely quickly,” she adds.
An evolution of challenges
While the pandemic caused logistical challenges, the industry is currently facing a labor shortage. “Before, the problem was getting the goods back to the factories. Now it’s the availability of this commodity, and this reality is caused by the lack of labor, says Mme Lussier.
This situation has repercussions even in supply chains. “We have aircraft orders to fill the books for the next ten years. Except that, to be able to produce these parts in sufficient quantity, it requires people who are still missing a little,” says the CEO of Aéro Montréal.
In 2022, Aéro Montréal, with some fifty companies in the sector, led a campaign to debunk the myths about the industry. “There is a mistaken belief that, for example, you have to be an engineer at all costs to work in aerospace, that it’s difficult to get into it, that you absolutely have to be good at mathematics and technology,” she says. However, aerospace welcomes many different professions, such as welders or painters. ” That [la campagne] made it possible to respond to this challenge of attracting labor,” explains Mme Lussier.
In the post-pandemic era, the aerospace industry also faces productivity challenges. “We have to produce faster and faster. We must therefore ensure that we automate our factories,” says M.me Lussier.
Towards a future zone of innovation?
In order to maintain a position of predilection on the international scale, the Quebec aerospace industry must continue to transform. “In what we call the air mobility of tomorrow, we must work on these innovations. In Quebec, we really have everything we need,” says Mélanie Lussier.
The CEO of Aéro Montréal would also like the Government of Québec to designate the greater metropolitan area as an innovation zone for the aerospace industry. “It will help us to keep this position. We are convinced that this is one of the things that will allow us to stay at the forefront,” she says. Such a zone would notably cover the Montreal-Trudeau, Mirabel and Saint-Hubert airports.
In addition to multinationals present in the region, such as Bombardier, Airbus, CAE, Bell Hélicoptère and Pratt & Whitney, Mme Lussier points out that the industry also includes hundreds of small businesses. “Aerospace here reflects the image of Quebec. Our industrial fabric is largely made up of SMEs. This strength of all the players working together ensures that we are well positioned,” she believes.
With the creation of such a cluster, aerospace companies could be better able to innovate, particularly with regard to vehicle autonomy. “They will be able to be driven without a pilot,” says the CEO of Aéro Montréal.
Mme Lussier also hopes that the sector will continue to obtain support from the federal and provincial governments. She also wants Quebec and Canada to imitate certain initiatives seen elsewhere in the world. “In the United States and France, they don’t hesitate to invest heavily in the industry,” she says.
Some countries sometimes use budgets allocated to National Defense to help aerospace develop. “They are going to give contracts to companies. People will create the technology as part of agreements with Defense, paid for by the State,” she explains. These innovations are then transferred and marketed in civilian life, which allows for “a good return on investment”, she believes.
If the Canadian Ministry of Defense already supports the sector, it does so less than elsewhere, says the CEO of Aéro Montreal. “The sums are much smaller and the opportunities for investment in defense are much fewer than in other countries,” she said. However, anything that would allow us to maintain this competitive advantage is really crucial for us. »
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