Ottawa should be with Bombardier through the turbulence

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For Bombardier, federal involvement at this stage would give it the stability it needs to enter the lucrative 100-plus seat commercial jet market, writes the president of Unifor

By: Jerry Dias Published on Sun Nov 08 2015 in the Toronto Star

Truly great things are rarely achieved alone – or easily.

Whether in our private lives or in business, our greatest achievements are made in coordinated effort with others. This is especially true for long-term projects, the ones that take vision and commitment beyond the latest quarterly report.

This is the situation Bombardier is in right now.

It has taken on the massive task of entering the top tier 100-plus seat commercial jet business, currently dominated by Boeing and Airbus, with its C Series jet program.

It’s an ambitious goal, and much has been written about delays in the program. But such delays are not uncommon.

Boeing faced a difficult three-year delay bringing its 787 Dreamliner to market. It was a painful process for the company to go through, but it stuck with the aircraft, knowing it was a game changer that would set the company on a strong path – once the pain was over.

Airbus likewise endured multi-year delays getting its double-decker A380 to market, and has just this year brought its A350 to market after a two-year delay.

Bringing new jets to market requires massive influxes of capital up front – long before any money starts coming in through sales. Just getting though that turbulent phase is one of the biggest hurdles in getting a new aircraft to market.

Bombardier finds itself in the middle of that turbulence right now – made all the worse by dropping oil prices. That drop has cut deeply into one of Bombardier’s key aircraft products: private jets.

For years, Bombardier has been a leader in the private aircraft market. But the market for such jets and planes has been difficult for the past couple of years. The market slump of 2008-09 hit hard, and was followed by the dip in oil prices. That cut into the profits of oil companies and their executives, who responded by buying fewer things such as private jets.

So, just as Bombardier was setting out on a bold new venture, one that should make all of Canada proud, and transform the company and the entire aerospace sector in this country by building a homegrown top tier commercial jet industry, there was a sharp drop in Bombardier’s traditional aircraft product base.

Given the incredible challenges to bringing a new jet to market, it is heartening to see the Quebec government step up with its investment in the company. This is the sort of commitment needed to build key advanced manufacturing industries in this country, which in turn are needed if we are to create the kinds of jobs on which Canadians can make a decent living and build their lives.

It is time for Ottawa to show the same sort of commitment to industry and good jobs across Canada. Like other countries with a viable aerospace industry, government involvement is essential and standard practice to get companies through the long game of bringing new products to market. Just look at the role of France and Germany in Airbus, Brazil in Embraer, lucrative U.S. military contracts in Boeing, and China’s deep pockets behind state-owned Comac, which rolled out a competitor to the C Series just this week.

Bombardier will be in the long game with the C Series for some time yet, but the payoff will be access to a whole new market for Bombardier, and thousands of jobs with the companies that will supply C Series production.

The biggest risk for companies trying what Bombardier is trying is running out of money before the new jet even gets to market. That’s where government involvement comes in. The benefits of completing the C Series will extend well beyond Quebec, so it only makes sense that the federal government step up.

For Bombardier, federal involvement at this stage would give it the stability it needs to enter the lucrative 100-plus seat commercial jet market. For Ottawa, it means supporting good jobs across Canada at Bombardier and its many suppliers, at a time when our new government is committed to rebuilding the middle class in this country.

That begins with good jobs, and that means supporting the industries that provide them.

Jerry Dias is National President of Unifor, which represents 4,721 employees of Bombardier in Canada. He began his career at Bombardier’s Downsview aerospace plant.