Tucked away in a hangar at the Canadian Aviation and Space Museum in Ottawa sits the last piece of what was once the future of this country's commercial aviation industry – a nose section of the Avro Jetliner.
The pioneering 36-seat Jetliner broke numerous passenger flight records in 1949, reaching speeds of more than 800 kilometres an hour and altitudes of nearly 40,000 feet. Airlines in Canada and the United States loved the plane. The federal government, which financed its development, did not, and pressured its maker, A.V. Roe & Co., to abort the project and focus on producing CF-100 jet fighters for the Korean War.
Someone at Bombardier should salvage a few spare parts from the C Series aircraft – the latest marvel of Canadian aerospace engineering. One day they too could be museum pieces.
The C Series risks being the end of the line for developing new commercial aircraft in Canada after Bombardier's decision this week to cede control of the aircraft to Europe's Airbus.
The Airbus rescue may save the C Series, giving the plane the marketing and financial clout that Bombardier lacked. It may also save Bombardier, allowing the company to focus its limited financial and management resources on its other businesses, including business jets, regional jets, turboprops and rail cars.
But for Canada, the sale of the C Series will kill the dream of developing another commercial aircraft in Canada for at least a generation. What sane Canadian CEO, engineer or banker would ever pitch the idea of making a new commercial aircraft after the tragedy of the C Series?
"It's very sad," acknowledged aviation industry expert Isabelle Dostaler, the new dean of the business school at Memorial University in St. John's. "From a technology standpoint, it was a successful adventure. It's not very often you see new planes created."
Technology is only half the battle. In the global aerospace industry, which wouldn't exist without heaps of government cash and other support, size and clout really do matter. Breaking into the market for 100-seat-plus places with the C Series was always going to be a challenge for Bombardier, which has none of the cost advantages of Boeing and Airbus. It needed to deliver the aircraft on time and on budget, and it didn't.
"It will take a long time before we would dare to get into another aircraft program," agreed Aziz Guergachi, professor and director of the Advanced System Modelling lab at Ryerson University's Ted Rogers School of Management.
Unfortunately, the spoils of the ultraquiet and fuel-saving aircraft will now go largely to Airbus. Larger versions of the C Series are probably in doubt, given that they would compete with Airbus's own A320neo aircraft.
The harsh reality for Bombardier is that it's better to have a minority stake in a successful plane than full control of an aircraft it could not sell.
The dominance of Airbus and Boeing in commercial aircraft is about a lot more than their good technology. Success also requires political leverage, market power, financial heft and cross-subsidization from defence contracts – things Bombardier lacked. Boeing's ability to get the Trump administration to slap massive tariffs on the C Series is Exhibit A of what political power gets you. In a similar vein, Airbus no doubt believes it can succeed better than Bombardier in landing orders for the C Series.
The lessons for Canada go beyond the C Series and Bombardier. Canada is great at inventing and developing things; sometimes less successful at selling them to the world and fostering globally competitive companies. Taking large-scale innovations from the lab or drafting table into the global marketplace requires a lot money, staying power and large, well-capitalized companies to do the heavy lifting.
It's a controversial notion, but creating Canadian-based global champions is less likely without supportive governments. Sometimes that means money, of which Bombardier consumed a lot over the years.
Fostering world-beating companies also requires sound and consistent government policy, such as Ottawa's effort to develop healthier industrial clusters in Canada. The model only works if there are anchor companies at the top of the food chain to invest in R&D, create successful end products and land customers.
Unfortunately, the sale of the C Series is a cautionary tale about thinking, and investing, big in Canada, making the emergence of another corporate champion less likely.