Farco: De Havilland announces aircraft complex west of Calgary

De Havilland Field will include a runway, aircraft assembly facilities, parts manufacturing and distribution centers, and a corporate head office.

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De Havilland Aircraft of Canada Ltd. will reveal. Today announced ambitious plans to build a major aircraft manufacturing complex and an airport east of Calgary, which is expected to eventually become home to 1,500 workers.

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The privately owned company, which moved its headquarters to Calgary from Toronto earlier this year, will announce Wednesday that it intends to build the project in Wetland County.

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The sprawling complex will be built on 1,500 acres of land south of the Trans-Canada Highway, about 15 kilometers west of Strathmore.

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De Havilland Field, as the project is called, will include a runway, aircraft assembly facilities, parts manufacturing and distribution centers, and maintenance repairs.

It also plans to create a general office for the company – it will be headquartered there – an educational space for staff training and a De Havilland fleet museum, a nod to the company’s deep roots in the Canadian aviation sector.

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“We will have anywhere from 12 to 15 different facilities…distribution centers and engineering offices. It’s the complete cache you’ll have for a manufacturing environment,” CEO Brian Chief said in an interview.

“I would say 1,500 jobs will be the beginning of what we are talking about. Our growth will depend in some ways on how quickly we get the resources.”

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The company, formerly Viking Air in the city, has renovated and upgraded older models of its well-known “Super Scooper” firefighting aircraft (Canadair CL-215 and CL-415) near Calgary Airport, employing about 1,000 people in six buildings.

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney speaks during the official announcement at the De Havilland hangar at Calgary International Airport on Wednesday.
Alberta Premier Jason Kenney speaks during the official announcement at the De Havilland hangar at Calgary International Airport on Wednesday. Gavin Young / Postmedia

In April, it gave the green light to start a new amphibious firefighting manufacturing program, building the DHC-515 Firefighter, after European Union countries signed letters of intent to purchase 22 new aircraft.

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Shaiv ​​said investment and construction in the De Havilland field will take place over the next 10 to 15 years as the various manufacturing lines grow. He did not disclose the expected capital costs, but said they would be “easily” in the hundreds of millions of dollars.

De Havilland expects construction to begin after the site is rezoned by the county, which could happen as late as 2023. The company said the complex’s first buildings could be operational by 2025. A press conference on the announcement is scheduled for 2 p.m.

In an interview, Prime Minister Jason Kenney said the project would stimulate the province’s growing aviation sector.

“This is one of the most important announcements for the Alberta economy in at least a decade,” Kenney said.

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De Havilland has expanded its presence in Calgary in recent years as it has been looking for a base to integrate different operations.

In February, the company announced the merger of Viking Air, Longview Aviation, Pacific Sky Training and De Havilland Canada under the De Havilland Aircraft of Canada operating brand. The company is owned by Westerkirk Capital, which is owned by billionaire Sherry Bridson.

About three years ago, Longview Aviation acquired the De Havilland Dash 8-400 manufacturing program from Bombardier, which had already decided to sell its Downsview manufacturing site in Toronto.

Scheif said the Calgary area has several factors working in its favor to host the new aircraft manufacturing complex, such as a lower cost of living for employees, a young workforce, and affordable housing prices.

“We had to get a new home. What we’re looking to create here you can’t really create something like that in the GTA (Greater Toronto Area) and be economical at this point in time,” he added, noting that the company would maintain its existing operations in Victoria. and Toronto.

“We thought it was a great area for us to grow our current footprint… the institution and the heartbeat would be here in Alberta.”

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The company has three aircraft lines that it is looking to build at De Havilland Field. The DHC-515 is already moving forward and De Havilland expects to begin cutting metal on firefighting aircraft within the next six months in its Calgary operations.

De Havilland also manufactures the DHC-6 Twin Otter and Dash 8-400 passenger aircraft; Production on both was paused at the start of the pandemic in 2020.

Shaif said the company is working to bring the other two planes back into production. Twin Otter is under review and a decision is expected in three to six months on the premium services aircraft.

Once complete, a review of the Dash 8 – a turboprop aircraft that can carry up to 90 passengers – will take about a year to complete.

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“I can guarantee you that our goal and mandate has been granted to me to return to production for all three of these platforms and perhaps some derivatives of some of the other platforms,” ​​he added.

“They are all driven by the customers who come to us.”

One of the main problems is finding enough trained personnel to fill the various jobs required in aircraft manufacturing, and Alberta is already facing a labor shortage.

The entire industry employs about 10,000 Albertans, according to the province. Shaif said the company is partnering with post-secondary institutions like SAIT to ensure it has enough skilled workers to fill the job pool.

Richard Gottfried, chair of the county strategic aviation advisory board, De Havilland Field said it can stimulate the formation and growth of building-related subcontractors and suppliers the new Planes.

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“That’s when you start building this ecosystem,” he said.

Industry Analyst in Calgary Rick Erickson noted that jobs in the airline industry are highly paid and in high demand. The ability to reproduce the Dash 8-400 will create many new jobs in southern Alberta.

“For the Alberta aviation industry, this is absolutely amazing,” he said. “This will be a tremendous opportunity in the Alberta Transportation and Logistics industries arm.”

The province previously identified the aviation sector as one of the primary industries that must grow as part of its economic recovery plan to exit the pandemic.

See Kenny de Havilland The field as an essential element of future diversification, Increasing primary manufacturing in the province Capabilities.

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“I have to admit, I was a bit skeptical when people suggested that aviation could be a big growth industry because you just don’t identify Alberta as a leader in aviation. But that puts us pretty much in the game,” Kenny said.

“We have always thought – as I think in our imagination – of building large products like aircraft as a central area of ​​Canada. That is no longer the case.”

The county said it does not offer any incentives to the company to build the new complex.

Wetland Reef Amber Link County said the flight center site is farmland, but the municipality expected it would be necessary for industrial or commercial purposes as part of its long-term plans.

The company will be eligible for the applicable Local Incentive Program, which provides a 40 percent exemption from municipal property taxes for up to three years on a major capital investment.

“This is huge, not just for Wetland County but definitely for Alberta,” Link said of Wednesday’s announcement.

“I sit here smiling from ear to ear . . . it is a pleasure to see them choose to interrupt us.”

Chris Farco is a columnist for the Calgary Herald.


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