MONTREAL -- Canadian aerospace companies are pushing back against the idea that a Bombardier Inc. contract win to replace aging military patrol planes would be best for the sector, saying that a deal between Ottawa and front-runner Boeing Co. could be at least as lucrative.

Bombardier has been demanding the federal government allow for open competition on the successor to the Royal Canadian Air Force’s 14 half-century-old CP-140 Aurora aircraft. The Montreal-based business jet maker has argued that its surveillance planes will, once they start rolling off the line early next decade, offer a cheaper and more high-tech product that will be manufactured in Canada. So far the government has not said whether it will go with a sole-source contract or an open bid. But its procurement department has stated that Boeing’s off-the-shelf P-8A Poseidon is "the only currently available aircraft that meets all of the CMMA (Canadian Multi-Mission Aircraft) operational requirements" — particularly around anti-submarine warfare, intelligence gathering and surveillance.

Martin Brassard, CEO of Quebec-based landing gear maker Héroux-Devtek Inc., points to Boeing’s massive production capacity, which would generate business for parts providers and maintenance and repair outfits across Canada. There are 81 suppliers for the Poseidon already based in this country.

"I’m not criticizing the Bombardier solution, because I don't know the solution. One thing I know is they don't have a solution ready. And this one is ready," Brassard said, adding that a contract win could open other doors at Boeing for Canadian companies. "I believe with all the programs that the U.S. (government) is doing, we’re talking thousands of airplanes."

Brassard stressed the importance of a fast, reliable procurement process, pointing to past delays around military plane selection — for the CF-18 Hornet in the 1970s and more recently for the F-35 stealth fighter jet, whose competition process dragged on for more than seven years before being chosen in 2022.

“I don’t want that history to repeat itself with the CP-140, with all the political debates that now Bombardier is doing. It should not be a political decision; it should be a (Defence Department) decision."

Ontario Premier Doug Ford and Quebec Premier François Legault this month echoed Bombardier's calls for an open bid, renewing their demand from the summer to "level the playing field" with a request for proposals.

Company spokesman Mark Masluch has warned of an "undue urgency" around securing a replacement for planes that don't have a hard retirement date, calling it a "fallacy."

Bombardier has said a deal would add $2.8 billion to the country’s gross domestic product, citing a PwC report commissioned by the company. The potential multibillion-dollar contract would furnish 22,650 jobs directly — nearly 11,000 in Ontario, 6,550 in Quebec and close to 4,200-plus in Atlantic Canada — the report found.

A Boeing-commissioned study by Ottawa-based Doyletech found that a Boeing contract would generate nearly $10 billion in domestic economic activity over a decade and directly support more than 230 Canadian businesses.

Tracy Medve, CEO of KF Aerospace, which does plane repair and overhaul in British Columbia and Ontario, has worked on Boeing's Poseidon planes for decades.

"KF and other Canadian companies will benefit," she said, noting it will be available for delivery as early as 2026. "I believe personally it's the right choice for Canada, because it's a proven Boeing platform and because the P-8 has been in service in so many other areas."

The fact that Canadian allies operate the P-8 Poseidon could make it an easier fit for the Canadian military as well as domestic suppliers already familiar with the product.

“Should your aircraft be down, you want to be able to go to your allies and be able to say, 'Hey, by the way, do you have that part?' The airlines do it all the time," said Lorenzo Marandola, president of Quebec-based M1 Composites Technology, which specializes in aircraft maintenance "This is extremely important in terms of sustainment and in terms of mission operability."

The other members of the Five Eyes Intelligence alliance — the United States, United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand — as well as India, Germany, Norway and South Korea all fly the P-8, or plan to do so.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 24, 2023.