How will Quebec’s aerospace industry react to the sustainability trends that are influencing the market?

Written by: Gabriel Ionita
Date: 2021-07-22


Abstract: The 2021 pandemic has led the aerospace industry into a green and sustainable transition. Quebec is well poised to undertake the efforts needed to transform its industry for the 21st century.


The 2021 pandemic had a major impact on the world. Countries closed down their borders to prevent the spread of the virus resulting in supply chain issues for multiple industries and a dramatic decrease in demand for certain products and services. Multiple governments throughout the world created programs that were designed to help companies that have been impacted by the pandemic through subsidies, loans, grants, etc.

In the aerospace industry, talks about sustainability are not recent. Companies in the industry agreed that measures have to be taken to reduce the carbon footprint of the industry through innovation and better processes. However, during the pandemic, most of the monetary aid given by the governments to companies have sustainability conditions set. For example, the government of France pledged approximately 15 billion Euros to its aviation industry and 10% of that bill will be allocated to research and development of carbon neutral aircraft production by 2035. Air France announced that by 2030, they will cut their CO2 emissions by 50% from 2005 levels.

Furthermore, the pandemic enabled airlines to retire their older and less efficient planes as the decrease in demand for air travel would not come back to pre-pandemic levels until 2023 according to experts. This gives them the opportunity to optimize their fleets and by doing so decrease their overall emissions once travel goes bck to normal. As an example, Air France’s optimized and newer fleet will be able to reduce emissions by 20 to 25%.

There are three possible paths for the aviation industry: hydrogen, sustainable aviation fuels, electricity. Airbus is investing heavily in development of an aircraft that can operate on hydrogen by 2035, Boeing announced that they will focus on sustainable aviation fuels and smaller aircraft manufacturers are starting to develop electric aircrafts.

Sustainable aviation fuel is the most attainable and realistic way of reducing CO2 emissions in the aerospace industry as an all hydrogen fleet would require at least investments  of $11 trillion USD until 2050 to meet production demand. For this reason (and others), aircraft fleets will most likely be a mix between hydrogen, sustainable aviation fuel and electric aircrafts and be used according to their respective strengths. For example, long haul flights will most likely use SAF fuels whereas short-haul flights will use hydrogen and hybrid methods.

In Quebec, the green transition is well underway. Enerkem, notably, is working on two SAFs. The first of them uses municipal waste to create a mix of hydrocarbons using methanol from the waste. Furthermore, they are exploring the possibility of creating SAFs with forest biomass.

In the East end of Montreal, SAF+ Consortium wants to produce green energy by recycling CO2 emissions from the chimneys of large industrial companies. They partnered up with Air Transat, Aeroports de Montréal and Hydro Québec to make this happen and expect their factory to produce 3 million litters of SAFs in 2025 and 30 million in 2030.

The Quebec aerospace industry is more than ready for the transition towards sustainability. Multiple universities such as the University of Sherbrooke and École de Technologie Supérieure (ETS) are working on battery densification that will lead to electric flight. On the SAF end of the transition, the Quebec university of Trois-Rivière, Pratt & Whitney and Hydro-Quebec are deploying considerable ressources into the field.

The Canadian federal government announced a CAD $1.75 billion aid in the next 7 years for the aerospace sector. This will help the digital transformation of the industry, but will also help in its sustainable transition. However, the amount pales in comparaison to what the European and American aerospace industry will receive.

More recently, in July, the provincial government of François Legault and the federal government of Justin Trudeau have announce CAD $700 million for the aerospace industry. This will lead to the creation of 12,000 jobs and more than 6800 internships across Canada. In Quebec, Legault announced that these investments will create more than 1000 jobs with an average salary of 80,000$. The aid is aimed at transitioning the Canadian aerospace industry into a greener and more sustainable industry.



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