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De Havilland Canada confident in location for new manufacturing plant despite concerns

By Brent Jang | August 22, 2023

Estimated reading time 8 minutes, 5 seconds.

De Havilland Aircraft of Canada Ltd. is touting Wheatland County in Alberta as a well-chosen location for its proposed manufacturing plant as the company seeks to address concerns raised during an environmental review. 

The proposed site, to be located east of Calgary, would be used for final assembly of the DHC-515 Firefighter, DHC-6 Twin Otter, and the Dash 8-400. 

In 2018, Montreal-based Bombardier Inc. announced the sale of its Downsview property in Toronto to the Public Sector Pension Investment Board. That meant the writing was on the wall for eventually finding a new location to manufacture De Havilland aircraft. 

De Havilland Field would be used for final assembly of the DHC-515 Firefighter, DHC-6 Twin Otter, and the Dash 8-400 (pictured). DHC Image

In the summer of 2022, De Havilland confirmed it formally decommissioned the Downsview assembly plant that had been producing the Dash 8-400 regional turboprop, formerly known as the Bombardier Q400. Then, in September 2022, De Havilland announced a 1,500-acre location on private farmland in Wheatland County as its selection for a new manufacturing facility, to be called De Havilland Field.

Since then, the company has been busy with regulatory and preconstruction activities, including the summary of the initial project description submitted in April of this year by engineering firm WSP Canada Inc. on behalf of De Havilland. 

“After it was determined that finding the land for new production facilities in the Greater Toronto Area was not economically viable, the decision was made to locate production near Calgary,” according to WSP’s filing to the Impact Assessment Agency of Canada. 

The filing is part of the regulatory process in which De Havilland is seeking to address environmental, Indigenous, agricultural, and other concerns about its project. 

“The location of the De Havilland Field project is ideal as it has access to a large, young, and diverse labor pool,” said the filing. 

WSP added that the location is advantageous due to the “family-friendly cost of living, and access to major transportation routes such as Highway 1 and a world-class international airport that can support efficient parts distribution to [De Havilland’s] global customer base.” 

Assets that were run by different entities went under the umbrella of the De Havilland brand starting in early 2022 — notably Longview Aviation Capital Corp. and its subsidiary, Viking Air Ltd.; Pacific Sky Training Inc.; and De Havilland itself. 

De Havilland oversees the formerly named Viking production of the Twin Otter Series 400, a fabled twin-engine turboprop, with key components sourced from Victoria, British Columbia, and final assembly in Calgary. At the Paris Air Show in June, De Havilland announced the launch of the DHC-6 Twin Otter Classic 300-G

“De Havilland is undertaking reviews of the DHC-6 Twin Otter and the Dash 8 to ensure these products are meeting market demand,” WSP said. 

The engineering firm sang the praises of the new DHC-515 Firefighter, which is rooted in the history of the Canadair CL-215 and CL-415 waterbombers. The DHC-515 Firefighter is “a multi-mission amphibian and purpose-built aerial firefighting aircraft used to fight forest fires,” said WSP. “The predecessors to the DHC-515 Firefighter aircraft have been iconic among North American and European aerial firefighting fleets for over 50 years.” 

Supporters of De Havilland Field are impressed by the prospect of diversifying Alberta’s resource-based economy, and the creation of 1,500 well-paying jobs at the manufacturing facility once it is up and running. Nearly 400 construction jobs are anticipated as well. 

But while De Havilland is keen to press ahead, the Impact Assessment Agency of Canada has heard from an array of groups and individuals voicing their concerns. The federal agency has compiled the comments to help it decide whether the De Havilland Field proposal should undergo an impact assessment. 

Public comments include ones submitted by farming families. “We are operating a fifth-generation farm adjacent to the project and must unequivocally dispute this development unfortunately,” said Leah Mathieson in her submission titled, “Keep the Wheat in Wheatland.” 

An artistic rendering of De Havilland Field once complete from an aerial perspective. DHC Image

The Tsuut’ina Nation said the project is within its traditional territory, stressing that the proponents must keep Indigenous rights in mind: “We see this as a relationship built on communication, trust, mutual economic benefits, employment benefits, and meaningful involvement for Indigenous peoples.” 

In June, the Impact Assessment Agency of Canada issued its summary of key issues, including emphasizing the “need for opportunities for meaningful Indigenous engagement throughout the regulatory process.” 

The agency also reiterated the importance of “measures being considered to reduce the project’s greenhouse gas emissions on an ongoing basis.” 

In late June, De Havilland requested a temporary suspension of the regulator’s timeline for reviewing the matter in order to address the issues raised so far. 

If approved by the end of 2023, the project would be built in six phases, with the final segment slated for completion by 2033. 

The first phase, to be finished by 2027, would see the initial stage of the manufacturing facility and half the runway completed, as well as other features such as a stormwater management pond. 

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9 Comments

  1. Reading the “summary of key issues” and comparing those items with the location in question, it seems that a lot of those “issues” are stock/canned items as they don’t make sense in context.

    I worry for this country if this is representative of the level of care given in the regulatory process.

  2. Change and development are all part of growth, with both being required as population grows and jobs are created,

  3. Yay I think it’s wonderful. I wouldn’t even pay any attention to the Indians. Build away

  4. Build the plant. Don’t allow environmental terrorists to or Aboriginal leaches a chance to get in the way of something that will bring jobs and wealth to Western Canada!

  5. As good as this idea would be for Alberta, I don’t think Trudeau will allow any manufacturing to come to the west.

  6. This plant is a great opportunity for Wheatland County and Alberta . Sorry about the neighbours but it’s progress for many ! As for First Nations its none of their business ,remember the 1.5 billon Tsuut’ina got in 2022 , it has to end that First Nations can back into any land deal . The piece of land that is being used by De Haviland is marginal farmland and any environmental study other than a basic one is a waste of time and money . Let’s get this done ! E

  7. It annoys me that the impact assessment review by the Federal government contains so many negative sounding, biased, and irrelevant questions for a legacy Canadian company which has existed in the friendly environment of Toronto for 95 years. What has happened to Canada that federal employees are able to issue this sort of garbage in an attempt to stymie a clean and productive industry? Is this a blatant attempt to force this development to move to Quebec? I have to ask, was this sort of obstructive questioning forced on the Quebec cement plants? Go ahead DHC. . .

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