Created in 2006, Aéro Montréal is a strategic think tank that groups all the major decision makers in Québec's aerospace sector. Its mission is to mobilize Québec's aerospace cluster to support the growth of the industry and its excellence on the global stage.
Could you provide a brief introduction to Aéro Montréal’s role in Québec’s aerospace industry?
We were created in 2006 by the industry for the industry in order to mobilize companies, universities, research centers and unions around strategic issues to make Québec’s aerospace ecosystem more competitive. Our first strategic committees primarily focused on promotion of the cluster as well as innovation and the supply chain. This led to the MACH Initiative, launched in 2011, which was designed to optimize the performance of Québec’s aerospace supply chain and increase its global competitiveness. Another strategic area of focus has been to ensure the knowledge transfer to the younger generations of aerospace workers as the labor population–in the aerospace sector as in many other sectors of activity–is aging. Since the current average age of workers in the aerospace industry is about 50, it is very important to address the issue of intergenerational transfer.
How well positioned is Québec to provide the necessary talent to meet demand and enable the industry to stay competitive?
Based on the last 32 years’ annualized employment growth of 2.27%, we foresee that Québec will need 40,000 aerospace employees over the next 10 years to fill the 12,000 new jobs plus 28,000 vacant ones. 10 years ago, the Montréal Aerospace Institutes were created with an objective to match the best interns with the best available positions in the industry. In this way, we ensure that the industry attracts the best graduates from the various Montreal faculties. In addition, we work with Emploi-Québec, an arm of the Québec government, whose role is to focus on employment development with the perspective of establishing a closer alignment between industry needs and universities curricula. For example, we recently launched a program where postgraduate students can register for courses taught by industry specialists alongside their degree, which can then be showcased to their future employers. In a world where technology moves incredibly fast and changes in business needs evolve very quickly, we are there to make sure that the various educational institutions remains agile to adapt their programs rapidly.
How is Aéro Montréal helping companies transition to Industry 4.0?
Compared to industry sectors such as automotive, the aerospace sector is just starting on this trajectory. Our industry is generally more cautious, as lower production volumes make it harder to build the business case for return on investment. Companies such as Pratt & Whitney Canada are embracing the digital shift with intelligent cells and innovative business processes. Aéro Montréal launched the MACH FAB 4.0 Initiative to support SMEs by assisting some of the more advanced companies involved in the MACH program with their transition to Industry 4.0. Through adopting Industry 4.0 processes, SMEs become more digitally connected with their clients, which is a strong incentive for adopting these technologies. Companies that do not adopt these new processes will struggle unless they have a technological niche. Transition to Industry 4.0 supposes a new business model for many companies and a comprehension of the necessity to innovate–this can be a challenge. Our role is to ensure SMEs’ awareness of the importance to make the shift to 4.0 and to identify solution providers to support them in that shift.
SMEs are under pressure to integrate their services, which is a driving force for consolidation. Do you see this as a positive trend?
Consolidation will continue and Aéro Montréal encourages this trend. SMEs are currently too dependent on a limited number of customers; moreover, OEMs are no longer buying directly from SMEs but instead from integrators mostly located outside of Canada. Because SMEs must sell to international integrators, Aéro Montréal assists them in their internationalization strategies by encouraging them to integrate and adopt Industry 4.0 technologies. We also facilitate meetings between international OEMs and Tier 1s and Québec’s SMEs. These include, for example, regular meetings with Boeing and Lockheed Martin.
Québec does not have enough Tier 1s and we need to encourage Tier 3 and 4 companies to work together to fill that gap. This could be achieved through consortiums or joint ventures, not necessarily mergers. Consortiums are not commonly seen in Québec as companies are wary about partnering with competitors. However, there have been some positive developments, including through the MACH FAB 4.0 Initiative in which SMEs work together to develop automation technology. This is why an organization such as Aéro Montréal plays a catalyzing role.
How important are the OEMs in driving positive change in the industry?
We are the only province in Canada with OEMs. Four of them are located in the Greater Montréal area: Bombardier, CAE, Pratt & Whitney Canada and Bell Helicopter Textron Canada. They play a vital role in investing in innovation and stimulating research projects and inspiring talent in our universities. Québec is an ideal location for OEMs. For example, Bell Helicopter recently repatriated the production of its 505 helicopter model due to several factors, including the province’s strong talent pool, the industry’s flexibility and the support of the government.
Could you give examples of collaboration in the industry leading to advancement in innovation?
In 2011, Aéro Montréal launched the Coalition for Greener Aircraft program, SA2GE (Smart Affordable Green Aircraft), which aims to develop parts and systems in a more environmentally-friendly way as part of the fight against climate change and in compliance with new environmental regulations. Environmental impacts, including on climate change, are an opportunity for aviation to play a leadership role. We had great success with this initiative, with 27 SMEs, five universities and four R&D centers collaborating. The Québec government and private companies contributed C$150 million in five R&D projects. Héroux-Devtek, for example, worked on a project to launch more environmentally friendly surface treatment technologies. Advancements of this sort will place them in a strong position on new generations of aircraft with the OEMs. In 2016, we launched phase two of the SA2GE program, with five projects being selected. Between now and March 2020, Bombardier, CAE, Esterline CMC Electronics, Thales Canada and TeraXion (the latter being the first SME to lead an entire project) will undertake strategic initiatives for Québec’s aerospace industry as part of the SA2GE project. Their work will focus on manufacturing, avionics, optics and analyzing big data, among other areas.
What are Aéro Montréal’s main priorities over the next few years?
We need to bring more integrators to Québec, such as subsidiaries of large foreign companies. This will bring opportunities for our SMEs and foster supply links with our OEMs. Québec also needs to invest more in showcasing its capabilities to the global market and allocate more resources to help SMEs accelerate the digital shift. We have also recently launched a strategic defense committee to create a portal to advertise business opportunities in the defense sector. This will become more important given the federal government’s announcement in June 2017 to increase defense spending by 73%. Aéro Montréal will ensure it stays at the forefront of change in the industry whilst always responding to the needs of our members. The main challenges for our SMEs will be innovation, globalization and consolidation, and we will continue to work hard to maintain our position as a global aerospace leader.