The sight of various types of aircraft soaring through the sky, or a rocket being propelled in orbit, are some of the most recognizable images associated with the various sectors within the aerospace industry. However, these images don’t tell the full story of the vast and interconnected ecosystem that makes up this dynamic industry.
Virtually every aspect of our daily lives is touched by innovation driven by aerospace. Air and space technologies have powerfully transformed the world, in ways we often take for granted. For example, if you are reading this on a smartphone, innovation driven through aerospace, is at work. Canadian and international satellites are facilitating internet connectivity, weather monitoring, GPS networks, banking systems, and so much more.
Aerospace, and its resulting technology, has changed our world; not only in terms of how and where we travel, but how we conduct our daily lives. It has shrunk our vast geography and connected us in ways like nothing else has.
And the innovation continues at a rapid pace. In the years ahead, we’ll see even more breakthroughs when it comes to greener, more sustainable aviation, earth observation, technology to defend our borders, and innovations in our communications systems.
But will Canada continue to be at the forefront, or will we cede all of the gains that have been made?
This is an important question because as a nation, we are at a critical point.
The challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic have compounded serious issues already being faced by Canada’s aerospace sector. Looking towards the future, will Canada continue to be among the top international players as an aerospace leader, or will we stand by as our jobs and our talent seek other opportunities elsewhere?
Because when you get right down to it, what is powering all of these world-leading Canadian innovations, are people. Canada’s skilled aerospace workforce spans every region of the country. Overwhelmingly small and medium-sized businesses, they are the heart of this industry that generates nearly 235,000 jobs and over $28 billion in annual GDP.
For decades, the brightest minds from around the world came to Canada to work alongside our world-leading Canadian talent. Global investors took notice. We enjoyed a strong partnership with government and our industry thrived.
In fact, Canada’s aerospace industry grew to become 5th overall in the world. We ranked 1st in the world in civil flight simulation, 1st in small engine production, 2nd in business aircraft production, 3rd in helicopters, and 3rd overall in civil aircraft production. And with over 80% of our product being exported, we became a key part of a deeply integrated global supply chain with our companies operating around the world.
Not bad for a country of only 35 million competing against much bigger players!
However, the government partnership that was shown 80 years ago, and helped grow this industry into the leader it became, needs renewal. Because our rankings have fallen. Our talent has started to leave. Global investors are looking elsewhere. And few sectors have been hit harder by COVID-19.
A strengthened industry-government partnership through a national sector strategy is necessary. There is no way around it – Government has, and always will, play a central role when it comes to aerospace as a partner, investor, regulator and customer.
Supportive public policies and programs that were crucial in building aerospace up, are needed again.
All our competitor countries are taking action.
The UK, France, Germany and others are creating long-term strategies and establishing sector-specific supports — everything from R&D funding and favourable payment terms to public procurement and tax relief. France has invested $26 billion. Germany has invested nearly $10 billion.
They are positioning their sectors for the future to be leaders in this highly competitive field because they know that successful national aerospace industries are built on strong, determined government-industry partnerships.
So our question is – what are we waiting for here in Canada?
As the only aerospace nation without such a strategy for our industry, we’re missing out on key opportunities. Opportunities in driving new, high-value jobs, innovation, and leadership when it comes to the stated government priority of green aviation.
As Canada’s leading national aerospace association, we’ve started the heavy lifting. We laid the basis for a sector strategy over two years ago through our industry-led Vision 2025 initiative. Following months of extensive country-wide consultations, we produced a comprehensive report outlining priorities and recommendations for a path forward for the renewal of our industry.
As the government plans their next federal budget, we urge them to consider the plan we have put before them. Because ignoring Canada’s pursuit of leadership in aerospace, ignores several realities.
First, the strategic, export-intensive nature of this industry positions it to be a major driver of Canada’s overall economic recovery.
Second, all of the other countries with whom Canada competes, have strong, government-industry partnerships and are implementing national sector plans.
Finally, significant effort has built up Canada’s aerospace legacy and hundreds of thousands of jobs in every region of the country are dependent on its continued success.
Renewed Government partnership is needed now.
Mike Mueller is the President & CEO (Interim) of the Aerospace Industries Association of Canada, which represents over 90% of aerospace activity nationwide. Mike has extensive experience working on behalf of Canada’s aerospace industry. Prior to joining AIAC, Mike held leadership roles in the federal government navigating a wide variety of issues and policies.