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Aircraft deal a boon to once-thriving sector

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At its peak in the late ’80s, Air Canada’s two aircraft maintenance hangars on Saskatchewan Avenue employed close to 900 people.

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Opinion

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 16/03/2016 (2514 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

At its peak in the late ’80s, Air Canada’s two aircraft maintenance hangars on Saskatchewan Avenue employed close to 900 people.

The two hangars — one is much larger than the other — total 275,000 square feet and are capable of servicing up to six commercial aircraft at once.

But for the last four years they have been underutilized.

The settlement of legal action between the province and Air Canada over the airline’s obligation to keep a heavy-maintenance operation in Winnipeg — and the fact the facility was sitting there nearly empty — has led to the creation of a “Western Canada Centre of Excellence” for aircraft maintenance.

The deal that was put together by the province and Air Canada — it will include subletting maintenance space to Cargojet and two Air Canada suppliers — hinged on having that asset.

“It took the realization from all parties involved that these are employment assets for the community,” said Barry Rempel, CEO of the Winnipeg Airports Authority (WAA), which owns the hangars. “What is our competitive advantage? We already have the buildings.”

The hangars were about to come off lease. Even though Aveos, the company that took over Air Canada’s airframe maintenance business, has been gone since 2012, Air Canada continued to be responsible for the lease.

As part of the deal with the WAA, Air Canada agreed to lease the hangars for another 10 years. It will in turn, sublet to Hope Aero Propeller & Components Inc., Airbase Services Inc. and Cargojet Airways Ltd.

Rempel said WAA gets to approve who Air Canada sublets to. “It is the only way we would get anything back in the building in the short term.”

Paul Severin, the chief operating officer of the 70-employee Mississauga-based Hope Aero Propeller & Components Inc., is enthusiastic about the prospects for his company, which specializes in work on propellers, wheels, brakes and batteries, to expand.

“We’re going to get out there and hopefully employ some people,” he said. “This is about western growth and better support for our current customers that require coast-to-coast service. It will enhance what we have and open up new markets for us.”

The initial forecast is the three companies will employ at least 150 people beginning in 2017. All concerned expect the number will grow.

Ken Webb, executive director of the Manitoba Aerospace Association, said the development caught most of the Manitoba aerospace industry people off guard but is welcome news.

“Any time there are new jobs in the aerospace sector here is great,” he said. “That facility used to employ a lot of people. Getting 150 in there is a good start on recovering from that. We hope it will be much more than 150 down the road.”

There is no guarantee that will happen, but the strength of the Manitoba aerospace sector — the third largest collection of firms in the country — shows there is a track record here.

That StandardAero, one of the largest independent jet engine maintenance, repair and overhaul operations in the world, is in Winnipeg and knew nothing about this development does not take away from its potential.

But by calling it a “Western Canada Centre of Excellence” it seems reasonable to expect at some point the existing players in Winnipeg will somehow have some input in such a centre.

martin.cash@freepress.mb.ca

Martin Cash

Martin Cash
Reporter

Martin Cash has been writing a column and business news at the Free Press since 1989. Over those years he’s written through a number of business cycles and the rise and fall (and rise) in fortunes of many local businesses.

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