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Pratt & Whitney eyes Canada for Airbus contract

Canada has a chance to land a major investment by Pratt & Whitney Co. Inc., which is looking for a site to assemble engines for Airbus SAS. The engines are in the same family as those Pratt & Whitney will make in Quebec for Bombardier Inc.'s new C Series plane.

"We're trying to assess where the best location is for assembly [of the Airbus engines]," Bob Saia, Pratt & Whitney's vice-president, next generation product family, said Tuesday at a media presentation hosted by Bombardier in Montreal.

"What's really important is that we will be doing high volume. You want to get a lean process, talented people and you just create volume through that operation," he said, adding that a decision on where to assemble the engines will be made in the next 12 months.

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The size of the potential investment and the number of jobs it would create are unclear. But if Pratt & Whitney were to choose its new Mirabel, Que., plant as the assembly site, it would be another boost for Montreal's aerospace cluster.

Airbus has 1,066 orders for its A320neo plane, which offers airlines the choice of Pratt & Whitney engines or Leap-X power plants (built by a joint venture between General Electric Co. and Safran of France). About half of the Airbus orders are for Pratt & Whitney engines.

Bombardier has 138 firm orders for its C Series, plus 179 options, letters of intent and purchase rights. If all those are translated into additional firm orders, Pratt & Whitney would build 634 geared turbofan engines for Bombardier. The breakthrough engine is the only one offered on the C Series.

At the moment, Pratt & Whitney is scheduled to build 50-per-cent more geared turbofan engines for Airbus than for Bombardier's C Series. The engines for C Series planes will be produced at a factory adjacent to Bombardier's assembly line for the planes.

Senior Bombardier executives reiterated Tuesday that the company's $3.4-billion plan to enter the large commercial airplane market is on track, with the first flight of the C Series scheduled for December.

"The C Series program is on track," Michael Arcamone, president of Bombardier Commercial Aircraft, told reporters and analysts during a day-long series of briefings that included a tour of the test centre at Mirabel, where components and systems will be tested before the plane's critical first flight.

Analysts and other airlines have expressed doubts about whether that first flight will happen as scheduled by year's end – in part because recent Airbus and Boeing Co. airplane programs ran years later than originally scheduled.

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The really crucial deadline, Mr. Arcamone said, is a year later, when the C Series planes are scheduled to be delivered to airlines to start hauling passengers.

Bombardier's combination of 317 firm orders, options, letters of intent and purchase rights come from 11 separate customers. The transportation giant is hoping to broaden that base to between 20 and 30 airlines by the end of next year.

Bombardier has landed 66 per cent of the orders in the C Series market segment – planes carrying between 100 and 149 passengers – since the project was announced in 2008.

The company released a new forecast for that segment on Tuesday, showing that airlines are expected to order 6,900 planes worth $449-billion (U.S.) between this year and 2030. That was down slightly from last year's forecast of 7,000 planes in the 100-149 passenger segment, and part of an overall reduction of 2.3 per cent in sales expectations for planes ranging in size from 20 seats to 149.

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About the Authors
Auto and Steel Industry Reporter

Greg Keenan has covered the automotive and steel industries for The Globe and Mail since 1995. He also writes about broader manufacturing trends. He is a graduate of the University of Toronto and of the University of Western Ontario School of Journalism. More

Quebec Business Correspondent

Bertrand has been covering Quebec business and finance since 2000. Before joining The Globe and Mail in 2000, he was the Toronto-based national business correspondent for Southam News. He has a B.A. from McGill University and a Bachelor of Applied Arts from Ryerson. More

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