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A row of De Havilland Dash-8 airplanes sit outside the Downsview plant in Toronto on Aug. 24, 2021.Christopher Katsarov/The Canadian Press

Airplane manufacturer De Havilland Aircraft of Canada Ltd. is set to open a large-scale manufacturing facility and airfield in Alberta that will employ an estimated 1,500 people.

The company announced on Wednesday that it plans to build a facility called De Havilland Field just east of Calgary in Wheatland County. The plans include a runway, parts manufacturing and distribution centres and repair operations, in addition to a training space, office buildings and an aircraft museum on about 600 hectares of land between the communities of Chestermere and Strathmore.

The Alberta government has been pushing to diversify the province’s economy away from an overreliance on oil and gas, with aerospace identified as a key sector with potential for growth.

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Owner Sherry Brydson said during a press conference in Calgary that the project will take up to 15 years to build, with construction expected to start in 2023. The company still needs to submit applications and receive approval for the development from Wheatland County. The facility is to be the site of final assembly for the DHC-515 Firefighter aircraft, DHC Twin Otter and the Dash 8-400 aircraft.

“There’s still a lot of work to do. We’re really just setting out on this long journey,” Ms. Brydson said. “But we’re really pleased with the work that’s been done to date to get us to this point.”

Premier Jason Kenney called the project “one of the biggest wins in Alberta’s modern economic history.” He said he had some skepticism that the province could become a hub for aviation when the government discussed its recovery plan at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Today, that dream comes true in technicolour with De Havilland Field – a cutting-edge, world-leading aerospace campus that over the years to come could employ up to 1,500 Albertans in high paying jobs,” said Mr. Kenney, who earlier on Wednesday revealed the project during an unrelated news conference on attracting new workers to Alberta. “This is a banner day for Alberta’s economy, for diversification in this province for manufacturing and most importantly for the aviation sector.”

Amber Link, the reeve of Wheatland County Council, called the project a game changer for the community of about 9,000, and said it will be “revolutionary” for the diversification of its economy.

“This is huge for Wheatland and for southern Alberta and for rural Alberta for a company to trust that it makes sense to move their headquarters to a rural municipality,” she said. “This will have a profound impact on the future of Wheatland County.”

De Havilland has been in operation since 1928 and produced more than 5,000 aircraft, about 3,000 of which are still in the skies, owner Rob McDonald said. The organization’s head office moved to Calgary earlier this year from Toronto.

De Havilland announced the DHC-515 water bomber manufacturing program in March, and said it would bring 500 jobs. The company said it builds on the history of the Canadair CL-215 and CL-415 aircraft, both of which are no longer in production but have been used for decades to fight forest fires in Europe and North America.

Adam Legge, president of the Business Council of Alberta, said the De Havilland project signals the province is in a strong economic position with room for growth. He said the development could spark interest from other companies that are looking to relocate or expand.

“Lots of people think of Alberta as just an oil and gas jurisdiction, but we’re so much more than that. There’s lots happening in the agriculture sector, the technology sector, and increasingly in the transportation and aviation sector,” he said. “This is a continued vote of confidence that Alberta actually can do more.”

Most companies in Alberta employ 50 people or fewer, Mr. Legge said, making the estimated 1,500 jobs at De Havilland Field significant. A Business Council of Alberta report from March showed small, owner-operated businesses dominated the province at the end of 2021. Of the approximately 527,000 businesses, 87 per cent had fewer than five employees and less than one per cent had more than 100.

Bram Tilroe of the Alberta Aviation Council said he has been lobbying for a massive project of this kind to come to Alberta for years and is happy one is starting to take shape. He said De Havilland Field could inspire more people to move to Alberta to pursue careers or education in aviation.