Evidence of meeting #34 for Transport, Infrastructure and Communities in the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was aircraft.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

9:45 a.m.

Conservative

Pierre Poilievre Nepean—Carleton, ON

That was in about 1909?

9:45 a.m.

Curator, Canadian Aviation and Space Museum

9:45 a.m.

Conservative

Pierre Poilievre Nepean—Carleton, ON

You have a replica at your museum. It looks sort of like an oversized kite.

Five years later Canada was manufacturing large quantities of warplanes. Do you believe in that instance it was the world war that drove Canadian industrial innovation and productivity in such a short period of time?

9:50 a.m.

Curator, Canadian Aviation and Space Museum

Rénald Fortier

If I may be allowed to give a little background here, before the First World War, you had small aircraft industries, especially in Europe and the United States, because you had the military market. You had sportsmen pilots who bought airplanes, but they bought one or two. There might have been many of them but the main buyers were the military. That's pretty much a fact of life. It's been pretty much like that as far as military aircraft are concerned. They certainly had a lot of investment.

As far as Canada is concerned, it was the First World War that changed everything. There were some people who manufactured one-off airplanes. The factory was about the size of this room here with two people, a hammer, and a saw. That was pretty much the extent of the industry in Canada because there was no market here.

The First World War changed all that. The government at the time was very busy because the army was the main contributor in defence. The British set up the factory in order to produce aircraft for schools. The aircraft were of American design. Canadian involvement, except for the workers and some engineers to sort of tweak the airplane a bit, was rather minimal at the time. But it certainly gave experience to some engineers for after the war, but in limited numbers.

9:50 a.m.

Conservative

Pierre Poilievre Nepean—Carleton, ON

Basically government's only role at that point in the development of aircraft and aviation technology was in buying it in very large quantities.

9:50 a.m.

Director General, Canadian Aviation and Space Museum

Stephen Quick

If I could speak to that, when I spoke earlier, I talked about a holistic environment. It's really important to understand that these things don't sort of—well, they do sprout out of the ground. Most of them are made out of wood, but that's another part.

The industry, itself, doesn't spring from nothing; there certainly is a market demand. But without investment in education, without bringing engineers—

May 3rd, 2012 / 9:50 a.m.

Conservative

Pierre Poilievre Nepean—Carleton, ON

If I may, that's what the American government did with Samuel Pierpont Langley in giving him the largest-ever war department grant for R and D. He produced an aircraft that shot up in the air, shot down into the Potomac River, and lodged in mud, at which point he gave up and said his life was a failure.

The Wright brothers, by contrast, funded all of their R and D from the proceeds of their bicycle repair shop, had zero government help, and produced, for one-seventieth of the cost, the first heavier-than-air powered, piloted aircraft ever. That would seem to contradict what you're saying.

By the way, they didn't even have a college education, whereas Pierpont Langley was the third secretary, I think, of the Smithsonian.

So sometimes these things do sprout from the ground, don't they?

9:50 a.m.

Curator, Canadian Aviation and Space Museum

Rénald Fortier

If I may, there were a lot of people who worked on airplanes before the First World War. You had a number of them. There were probably hundreds of them. The Wrights happened to be the ones who got it—and it's wonderful, although one has to.... Being very innovative, they got it right. But they did not invent the airplane; they invented a control system.

There was certainly a great deal of work being done. Most of the people who developed airplanes before the First World War made little hops, a bit like what Mr. Langley did. They made little hops or none at all, and they sort of got disappointed and pulled out of it. So most aircraft designs are never produced; they remain on paper. So there is certainly an aspect of private enterprise.

As far as the United States is concerned, definitely.... With some government assistance in some cases, through contracts, or through access to research facilities, the equivalent of our National Research Council for wind tunnel research.... But as far as other countries are concerned, there is much more government involvement.

9:50 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Merv Tweed

I have to stop you there and go to Monsieur Aubin.

9:50 a.m.

NDP

Robert Aubin Trois-Rivières, QC

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

Welcome, Mr. Quick and Mr. Fortier. Thank you for sharing your incredibly valuable insight with us.

My first question has more to do with the historical aspect. We are going to take advantage of your expertise. If the past is any indication, as they say, we will draw our own conclusions. I won't ask you to predict the future.

Correct me if I am wrong, but you seemed to say, at the beginning of your presentation, that public sector contributions had been critical to technological advancement. Could you give us an approximate idea of what those contributions have been like over the past century, especially in the field of aviation? How much funding has come from the public sector versus the private sector? Is the split 50-50, 70-30?

9:50 a.m.

Curator, Canadian Aviation and Space Museum

Rénald Fortier

I could not say. There are investments in research. For instance, the National Research Council of Canada provides government equipment. There are also investments as far as tools go, meaning assistance is provided so an industry can develop its potential. Investment in the area of contracts is also made. So there are various forms of assistance.

In Quebec, the industry can access electricity at very low rates. The government can get involved in different respects. But it can also choose not to get involved, or to do harm, taking detrimental measures. It is incredibly vague. Putting a percentage or dollar figure on the investments is extremely tough.

My sense is that it is massive, just in terms of aircraft purchasing contracts alone. If you look at government investment and the money spent by airplane manufacturers or Canadian engines, I would say the industry has invested less in research, probably just as a result of the size of the contracts. For instance, if you are buying 1,000 planes—

9:55 a.m.

NDP

Robert Aubin Trois-Rivières, QC

I appreciate that, but it really takes numbers.

9:55 a.m.

Curator, Canadian Aviation and Space Museum

Rénald Fortier

At the end of the day, the industry is making a genuine investment that tends to increase over time. In the beginning, it was zero. Then, the industry recognizes the size of a project and the time it takes to build an aircraft, and the industry becomes more involved, even though it receives government assistance in a wide variety of forms.

9:55 a.m.

NDP

Robert Aubin Trois-Rivières, QC

I want to stay on the topic of research, if you don't mind. Is it accurate to say that a private company will agree to invest heavily in applied research to develop greener airplanes, for example, even though the word “green” does not necessarily mean that they will actually be better for the environment?

I also want to know about biofuels. The responsibility of doing the basic research falls more on the public sector's shoulders. Does the private sector conduct any basic research?

9:55 a.m.

Curator, Canadian Aviation and Space Museum

Rénald Fortier

It all depends on the industry. Take aerospace, for example, where you have engines, electronics and planes. That is a sector that can do basic research. Look at Bombardier. In terms of its planes, the basic research can involve materials. In the case of certain alloys or metals such as aluminum or lithium, the research usually comes from companies like Alcan or Rio Tinto, aluminum manufacturers that sell to a variety of customers, including Bombardier and Boeing.

If you look at fuel-related materials, the industry does not carry out that research either.

Research in the field of aerodynamics, which has to do with the shape and body of the aircraft, can come from the industry, but it can also come from external sources. Very often, information from external sources, such as NASA, is used.

To my knowledge, the industry does not have any wind tunnels, but it can request access to them. Nowadays, however, research around the shape and body of an aircraft is increasingly done by computer, eliminating the need to go to the National Research Council of Canada or use the big wind tunnels in Ottawa. You can push a button on your computer and it will give you the result.