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B.C.'s aviation industry gets a lift from the province

B.C. Finance Minister Mike de Jong announced the first million of a $5 million investment in the province
B.C. Finance Minister Mike de Jong announced the first million of a $5 million investment in the province's aerospace industry Tuesday afternoon at Viking Air in Sidney.
— image credit: Steven Heywood

B.C.'s aviation industry wants to tap into a booming global market and the province is putting up $5 million to help them take off.

On Tuesday under the wing of a Twin Otter aircraft built by Viking Air in Sidney, Finance Minster Mike de Jong announced his government's investment of $1 million this year — the first payment in a commitment of $5 million over five years to the Aerospace Industries Association of Canada's Pacific Division (AIAC Pacific). The association plans to work with the B.C. government to increase industry collaboration and enhance access to international trade opportunities.

"Our modest contribution is a first step," said de Jong, noting there are billions of dollars up for grabs as the global aerospace market looks to double its demand for aircraft and aerospace resources over the next 20 years.

He said the future of aviation, especially in the Asia-Pacific region, will see calls for up to $1.9 trillion in investment — including an estimated 12,000 new aircraft over the next two decades..

"It's an opportunity for Canada and for B.C.," de Jong said, adding the province's contribution will help AIAC Pacific co-ordinate and expand industry efforts in this province to get its share of those dollars and the jobs it could create.

"Our goal is to align the national aerospace industry across Canada," said David Curtis, Viking Air's President and CEO. "We need to get our act together."

Curtis said there are disparate aviation industry associations across the country that should be coming together in the same way B.C.'s industry leaders have done, to better take advantage of global demand. He said $1 million from the province is a start, a way to get the supply chain growing.

Curtis said the challenge at Viking Air has been in finding enough qualified employees. Five years ago, they had 100 people working and today, they employ 600 and have produced approximately $4 million in aircraft and aviation supplies.

The aviation industry in B.C., noted de Jong, employs an estimated 10,000 people. Curtis said they spent their own money to create training programs in the region to help keep them in new staff to stay on top of demand. Accessing new global markets, he continued, could see a spike in new jobs.

Viking Air recently completed its 50th Twin Otter aircraft and the one on display during Tuesday's announcement was destined for a Malaysian regional carrier. Curtis said another 50 of the aircraft have been ordered by various countries around the world and now all they have to do is build them.

"I'd love to sell more of our aircraft in Canada," he said, "but the demand is outside of the country."

Curtis added the provincial investment of tax dollars will require the AIAC Pacific to define its successes within the industry.

Jim Quick, President and CEO of the AIAC, said this initiative with the province will help local industry take their share of global aerospace needs.

"It's about jobs, economic prosperity and building a pan-Canadian aerospace industry," he said.

The province first announced the $5 million investment in AIAC Pacific during its release of the budget back in February.

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