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Quebec's aerospace sector recovers jobs lost during economic crisis

MONTREAL - Employment in Quebec's aerospace sector has fully recovered from financial crisis despite ongoing economic challenges that are constraining aircraft orders, a provincial association representing Montreal-based aerospace companies, educational and research groups said Monday.

The industry employed more than 43,500 workers in the province last year, up 1,000 from 2012 and nearly nine per cent above the bottom reached in 2010.

"If you compare to 2008 we're back to even more than where we were back then, so that's good news," Aero Montreal executive director Suzanne Benoit said after the group's annual meeting.

With about 30 per cent of aerospace workers expected to retire over the next 15 years, the industry is working to encourage students, even in elementary schools, to study sciences and math and pursue aerospace careers.

She said the industry is cyclical and challenges such as Bombardier Aerospace's (TSX:BBD.B) decision announced in January to lay off 1,700 workers is just temporary.

Benoit said the economic slowdown in Europe is crimping aircraft sales while lighter passenger traffic has caused some airlines to postpone the purchase of new planes.

"It's not great (now) but I'm sure that in two years we should see . . . a (further) recovery," she said, noting that it takes years to educate aerospace engineers and technicians.

Benoit said the industry is optimistic that Bombardier's new CSeries commercial aircraft will drive a lot of economic activity and create thousands of assembly jobs.

Aero Montreal chairwoman Maria Della Posta said the last few years have been difficult but there are positive signs about orders and passenger traffic, with segments of the aerospace sector such as helicopters enjoying growth.

"I'm very optimistic about the future," said Della Posta, who is also senior vice-president sales and marketing at Pratt & Whitney Canada.

Meanwhile, federal Infrastructure Minister Denis Lebel announced a $1.58-million grant to Aero Montreal to promote an industry that is a main economic engine for the province and the country and which supports thousands of well-paying jobs.

"The Canadian aerospace sector is a source of pride for all of us and a symbol of our country's technological success," he told the annual meeting, calling the aerospace industry a pillar of the Quebec economy.

About 700 aerospace companies employ 66,000 workers in Canada and generated nearly $23 billion of sales in 2012, most of which are exported. Quebec, which is one of the world's top five aerospace clusters, accounts for more than half of Canadian sales.

Follow @RossMarowits on Twitter.

The Canadian Press


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