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Boeing Co. says it will play the made-in-Canada card as it tries to land a multibillion-dollar order for its 100-seat jet from Air Canada and three other carriers.

Air Canada is planning to order 85 jets with between 70 and 110 seats after it emerges from bankruptcy protection. The airline is planning to submit a joint order with other Star Alliance partners for up to 200 jets.

One of the aircraft being considered is the Boeing 717. The wings for that model are manufactured at Boeing's Toronto plant. Boeing officials say they will make sure influential people know that an order for Boeing could preserve Canadian jobs.

"We will certainly make government officials aware of the connection," said Allan Dequetteville, Boeing's vice-president for Canada. "To the extent that can help our campaign, I think we will want to make sure they understand that there are more elements of the 717 made in Toronto than, say, the Embraer product."

Seattle-based Boeing is making a presentation next week at Air Canada's Montreal headquarters, as are officials from the other three aircraft manufacturers under consideration: Montreal-based Bombardier, Embraer SA of Brazil and Airbus Industrie of Europe.

Mr. DeQuetteville said that because Air Canada is a private company, Boeing can't directly tie promises of jobs to aircraft orders as it did when the airline was a Crown corporation. But he said Boeing will work to remind influential people in Ottawa that Bombardier isn't the only company that makes jets in Canada.

Boeing directly employs about 2,000 people in Canada, of which 300 work in Toronto. About three-quarters of the Toronto work force are involved in the 717 project.

"You can appreciate that right now the production rate is thinned out about as low as it can to keep the production line viable while we wait for the industry to recover," Mr. DeQuetteville said.

Air Canada recently sent invitations to some frequent fliers inviting them to Montreal for presentations next week from the four potential suppliers and to tour the four aircraft.

"The views of various stake holders including those of our most valued customers will form an important part of the selection process," Air Canada spokeswoman Laura Cooke said yesterday. Air Canada is planning to submit a joint bid with Germany's Lufthansa, Scandinavian group SAS, and Austrian Airlines in order to enhance its negotiating position.

Industry observers expect the joint order, valued at up to $9-billion (U.S.), to be split between two manufacturers.

The carriers have asked plane makers for proposals in the 70- to 120-seat range, which straddles the line between full-sized and regional jets. Air Canada has said it will use the smaller jets to improve frequency and to add service to new destinations.

A win for Boeing could even pave the way for a new, stretched version of its 717.

"It's an aircraft we're looking at building," said Jim Phillips, vice-president for Boeing's 717 program.

"But it will be driven by a customer or group of customers purchasing enough to make sense for the program to go forward."

With files from Reuters News Agency

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