Compare the global aerospace industry to a tree. Its branches reach into just about every country in the world; but, just like a tree, those branches cannot thrive without a strong, supportive root structure. That support comes from a nurturing environment – and in the case of aerospace, that environment must include several key ingredients. Among them: favorable business costs, an educated workforce, a business climate focused on innovation, and easy access to global markets.

Ontario's aerospace industry is the second largest in Canada, employing 21,000 people and realizing more than $6 billion in annual revenues. In fact, KPMG's Competitive Alternatives 2016 report found that it costs less to manufacture aerospace components in the Toronto area than it does in many larger U.S. clusters, including Seattle and Wichita. That report also found that aerospace manufacturing costs are lower in Canada than in any other G7 nation, and labor costs are among the lowest in the same group.

Ontario's aerospace industry is concentrated around specific clusters, including aerostructures, landing gear systems, avionics and flight management, turbine engines, environmental conditioning/electric power, space and maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO).  In fact, there are more than 200 Ontario aerospace companies with a wide range of specializations across aerospace design, manufacturing, and product support. 

"The core of the industry in Ontario is actually in our Tier 1 and Tier 2 companies – the systems integrator companies and the ones immediately below them," he said. "They make a product, or provide big work packages (to OEMs)," says Moira Harvey, executive director of the Ontario Aerospace Council (OAC).

"One of our best assets is Ontario's engineering expertise," says Harvey, referring to the over 40 university and college programs in Ontario related to aeronautics, aviation and space. "The number of schools in Ontario that graduate really well-trained engineers – nearly 40,000 STEM graduates a year – offers great support for research and technology development. And that’s what drives innovation in this sector." 

A good example of where Ontario’s aerospace industry is heading is the Downsview Aerospace Cluster for Innovation and Research (DAIR), opening in 2018, which will unite stakeholders from Ontario's strongest universities with aerospace industry leaders. DAIR’s working group includes education and industry partners who aim to create a global hub for aerospace research in Downsview, Ontario, such as the University of Toronto's Institute for Aerospace Studies, Centennial College, and prominent companies such as Bombardier and Honeywell, among many others.

Ontario is home to several aerospace-related firsts and notable accomplishments:

  • Ontario provides landing gear for 75% of Boeing and Airbus commercial aircraft programs.
  • Aeryon Labs is a world leader in small unmanned aircraft systems, with aircraft operating in commercial, military and public safety applications in more than 35 countries.
  • Honeywell’s COM DEV operations in Cambridge manufactures components that are used on 80% of commercial communications satellites launched worldwide.
  • Bombardier builds its popular Q400 regional turboprop and the Global series of business jets in Toronto.
  • MDA, which developed the robotic manipulators on the space shuttle and the International Space Station, Canadarm and Dextre, is leveraging its technologies into other applications from industrial automation to robotic surgery.
  • Neptec Design Group, which in 1992 built the first PC-based real time machine vision system for NASA, is a world leader in 3-D data collection and processing.

There are many other success stories. "What happened with Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (MHI), was amazing," says Harvey. "They went from zero to about 600 people in just seven years, and have already outgrown their initial facility. They chose to move it here from Japan, because a lot of it was for Bombardier."

In order to be closer to Bombardier, for whom it builds business jet components, MHI opened a Toronto-area manufacturing. In just four years, the company had moved to a new facility and doubled its size.

Although MHI brought its own production activity, Harvey says there are opportunities for companies that identify existing supply chain gaps and move to fill them.

"For example, there is a big need for aerostructures plating and processing capabilities today," she reports. "There is a shortage, so somebody could bring that capability and fit in there."

Businesses that locate in Ontario have direct access to the U.S. market, including government and military procurement programs. Ontario businesses have the ability to bid and work on U.S. military projects through special trade agreements and specific exemptions under U.S. International Traffic in Arms Regulation.

In the commercial aircraft sector, Ontario companies are active on virtually every passenger aircraft programs in the world.  Ontario is also home to the large majority of companies in the Canadian space industry - in fact, 2014 revenues from the Canadian space sector indicate that Ontario-based companies contribute the majority of the country's space sector revenues.

In a world where innovation is critical to survival, Ontario has created an ideal environment for aerospace. Access to skilled labor and a mature supply chain, a favorable tax structure, and collaboration across all levels of industry and academia are driving the success of Ontario aerospace.