As MDA Corp. and Com Dev angle for business in the United States, Europe’s Airbus sees an opening in Canada

Airbus is looking to push into the Canada’s potentially lucrative space market, figuring the edge that MDA Corp. and Com Dev have has been blunted by recent events.

Simon Jacques, president of Airbus Defence and Space Canada, said his firm is looking for Canadian companies to partner with to pursue work on the country’s space projects. Jacques said while in the past Canada’s two biggest space firms, MDA Corp. and Com Dev might have had the inside track on bidding, such a situation might be a thing of the past because of recent developments.

“MDA was perceived as a Canadian company but they have a new CEO and he’s based in the U.S.,” Jacques said.

A similar situation had existed for Com Dev but Jacques noted the firm was purchased earlier this year by Honeywell International of the U.S.

“I don’t think they are as Canadian as they were before,” Jacques said of the two companies.

He said Airbus, which has about 2,000 employees and 570 existing Canadian suppliers for its commercial and military products, has a lot to offer Canada. “We’re looking hard to play here and bring what we have and find a local Canadian partner,” he explained. “This is what we are doing now. It’s a ramp up.”

Jacques noted that Airbus also does a lot of business with both MDA and Com Dev, both of which he described as excellent firms.

But having more competition to bid on space programs is not only good for the Canadian government but for the taxpayers, he added.

Don Osborne, MDA’s president of Information Systems, said his firm is the anchor for Canada’s space industry and has a coast-to-coast presence with over 1,800 employees. “We pay taxes in Canada and export from Canada,” he said in a statement. “All decisions on our Canadian business are made in Canada with our Canadian executive team.”

All major industrialized countries have designated anchor companies that hold a privileged position and build critical and highly sensitive space and defense systems for their home governments, Osborne explained.  MDA is that company for Canada, he noted.

“Airbus holds a similar privileged position with the Government of France and MDA does not have the ability to compete with Airbus for domestic space and defence systems,” Osborne pointed out.

He said under the firm’s new CEO, Howard Lance, a U.S. citizen who is based at MDA’s office in California, the company expects to increase its investments in Canada.

Steve Brecken, a spokesman for Honeywell International, said while Com Dev is now owned by a U.S. firm, it is still a leading space company on both the Canadian and international scene. “One of the reasons Com Dev is part of the Honeywell family is their history and their relations that they work, and more than anything their employees based in Canada,” he explained. “You can place that company anywhere and it would still have the expertise to win business anywhere around the world.”

Com Dev, Canada’s second largest space firm was sold to Honeywell International, with the CA$455 million ($332 million) deal going through earlier this year.

The firm employs 1,250 people in Canada, the United Kingdom, the United States, China and India. More than 800 of those are in Canada.

Many of Canada’s major future space projects rest with the Department of National Defence, including a tactical  narrowband sitcom program worth up to CA$1.5 billion and a next generation surveillance of space capability. The Canadian Space Agency will be looking for a next generation radar-imaging satellite constellation, something that Airbus could potentially become involved in, said Jacques.

He said having Canadian partners on any bids for such space projects is imperative. “There is no way we can come in and try to sell something directly from Europe because that will not work,” he said.

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nce and Space Canada President Simon Jacques (left) attends a 2015 signing ceremony in Ottawa with Canada’s Provincial Aerospace.