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North Bay on short list for seaplane assembly plant

North Bay Mayor Vic Fedeli said his northeastern Ontario city has “50/50 shot” of landing a world leading assembly plant seaplane company. The city's Aerospace Park is on a short list with St.
North Bay is one of two Canadian cities in the running to land an assembly plant for the seaplane manufacturer Dornier. (Photo supplied)

North Bay Mayor Vic Fedeli said his northeastern Ontario city has “50/50 shot” of landing a world leading assembly plant  seaplane company.

The city's Aerospace Park is on a short list with St.-Jean-sur-Richielieu, Quebec (a Montreal suburb) to be the final assembly site for the Dornier Seaplane Company's newly-certified 12-seat Seastar amphibious aircraft.

On a technical merit we think we've presented a truly remarkable case for (company president Joe Walker) and owner Conrado Dornier,” said Fedeli. “They've been to North Bay on multiple occasions and in my opinion they like what they see."
Fedeli and North Bay economic development manager Rick Evans were at the event as part of the Ontario government's aerospace booth joining about a dozen manufacturers and municipalities.

The business community has greeted them with open arms and really showed what a small community in Northern Ontario can offer.”

Dornier spelled the news in a press release Oct. 19 just prior to the start of the National Business Aircraft Association (NBAA) Annual Meeting and Convention in Orlando, Florida.
Evans first met Walker at the world famous Oshkosh (Wisc.) International Air Show in July and talks between them have been going on ever since.The final assembly plant would create 250 jobs, about 50 a year for five years.

The selected Canadian city would assemble the company's flagship and only aircraft model, the 12-passenger Seastar turboprop which made its North American debut last year on an exploratory tour of aviation trade shows to do marketing and tour possible production sites. Production would ramp up to making one aircraft per week. The aircraft is certified in Europe and the U.S. and is ready to go into production.

After the final decision is made in 90 days, the first delivery of aircraft to customers would be within 24 months. The company's winter flight headquarters are based in Punta Gorda, Florida. It's a three generation family-owned company with an impressive and innovative history stretching back to the mid-1910s in Germany with the tradition of building single engine seaplanes and massive multi-engine 'flying boats.' The engineering division remains in Germany.

In an interview with Northern Ontario Business, Walker said there are 25 letters of intent to buy the aircraft which has generated enough of an order book to start shortlisting assembly sites.
Potential buyers of the aircraft include owners of large business jet, people with waterfront residential properties, oil companies with off-shore operations, report operators, plus industrial clients, aviation charter firms and government agencies with coastal search, rescue and surveillance capabilities.

Walker said both cities have a number of factors working in its favour. Both cities have skilled talent pools, good access to supply chain and lakes close by to test out the aircraft which can land on either water or pavement.

They both make good sites. Either would work well for us,” said Walker.

Part of the city's sales pitch is that a privately-owned hangar is available for lease almost immediately. As well, Voyageur Airways, a neighbouring aircraft repair and refurbishment shop works with Pratt & Whitney's PT-6 engines used in the Seastar.
Just down the taxiway is Canadore College's aviation campus which could supply a pipeline of job-ready skilled technicians. As well, the city has a 10-year history of aircraft production with Bombardier. The abundance of lakes around North Bay is a “bonus” to demonstrate the aircraft to customers.

Fedeli hopes North Bay's small town hospitality plays a factor as well. Earlier summer, Fedeli said as soon as the federal government delivered $10 million to repave the 10,000-foot runway at Jack Garland Airport, the city would get aggressive about marketing the facility to aerospace firms.

Told ya,” he said laughing.

The city went looking for a company that didn't compete with or cannibalize workers from other aviation companies at Jack Garland Airport.

We're always looking for prospects and this is the kind of company that would fit our bill wonderfully,” said Fedeli.

At the rate that Dornier wants to ramp up production, the company would require additions of 10,000 to 20,000 square-feet a year. “They're going to be in the 100,000 square-foot zone by the time the full build-out comes.”

Fedeli said the prospects of attracting a nearly 100-year-old  company is a very special opportunity that doesn't come often.

The prospects of having a fully-certified aircraft coming to Ontario is very exciting,” said Fedeli, ranking this potential company with the likes of Parry Sound's Found Aircraft, London's Diamond Aircraft and Bombardier of Montreal.

With the decision shaping up to be a battle of Ontario versus Quebec, it will be up to Queen's Park and feds for support. The aerospace industry has always been a heavily subsidized sector requiring the kind of funding incentives available only to senior levels of government. Walker would not talk specifics about government funding incentives available, but the best incentive package may deliver a winner.

We're currently evaluating the packages of both sides on  the federal, provincial and local level.”

He said the 90-day evaluation period company will allow both cities to clarify their packages.North Bay has been very successful in recent years in expanding its aviation industry. The Aerospace Park at Jack Garland Airport consists of military hangars rescued by community volunteers from demolition by the Department of Defence in the 1990s.

As chairman of the all-volunteer Air Base Property Corporation, Fedeli wrote the business plan that convinced Bombardier to assemble its CL-415 water bomber in the Gateway City in 1998.