De Havilland to build aerospace manufacturing plant in Alberta

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

Aircraft manufacturer de Havilland Aircraft of Canada Ltd. will open a large-scale manufacturing facility and airfield in Alberta that will employ about 1,500 people.

The company announced Wednesday that it plans to build a facility called De Havilland Field just east of Calgary in Wheatland County. Plans include a runway, parts manufacturing and distribution centers, and repair operations, plus training space, office buildings and an aircraft museum on some 1,500 acres 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 the aerospace industry identified as a key sector with growth potential.

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

“There is still a lot of work to do. We are really starting this long journey,” said Ms. Brydson. “But we are very pleased with the work that has been done to date to get to this point.”

Premier Jason Kenney called the project “one of the greatest victories in modern Alberta 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 Technicolor with de Havilland Field, a state-of-the-art, world-leading aerospace campus that in the next few years could employ up to 1,500 Albertans in high-paying jobs,” said Mr. Kenney, who previously The Wednesday revealed the project during an unrelated press conference on how to attract new workers to Alberta. “This is a banner day for Alberta’s economy, for diversification in this province for manufacturing and, more importantly, for the aviation sector.”

Amber Link, Mayor of Wheatland County Council, called the project a game changer for the community of about 9,000 people, saying it will be “revolutionary” for diversifying its economy.

“This is huge for Wheatland and for southern Alberta and for rural Alberta that a company is confident that it makes sense to move its headquarters to a rural township,” he 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 planes, some 3,000 of which are still in the skies, owner Rob McDonald said. The organization’s headquarters moved to Calgary earlier this year from Toronto.

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

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

“Many people think that Alberta is just an oil and gas jurisdiction, but we are much more than that. There is a lot going on 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 really can do more.”

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

Bram Tilroe of the Alberta Aviation Council said he has been pushing for such a massive project to come to Alberta for years and is happy it is starting to take shape. He said de Havilland Field could inspire more people to move to Alberta to pursue aviation careers or education.

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