Suppliers could lose contracts if feds abort F-35 purchase

If Canada abandons the purchase of F-35 fighter jets it could have negative consequences for companies that currently supply components for the costly aircraft, the head of landing gear company Heroux-Devtek said Tuesday.

The Quebec-based company has about $150,000 of content on each plane for the landing gear door uplocks it supplies. That's down from about $750,000 before it sold its aerostructure business this summer.

Gilles Labbe said he's confident about retaining the existing work but said winning additional contracts will be "very difficult" if the federal government instead purchases a different aircraft.

The Harper government is reviewing the planned purchase of 65 Lockheed Martin fighters after a KPMG report warned that the planes could cost as much as $45.8 billion over 42 years including maintenance and other costs. That's far more than the $9 billion set aside by the Defence Department.

"I'm a believer that this is a great program," Labbe said following a special meeting where shareholders approved a $157 million special dividend.

Labbe said he believes more than 3,000 airplanes will ultimately be sold and noted the Canadian aerospace industry gained access to work on the plane after joining the program early on.

But if Canada changes course and other countries such as South Korea and Israel decide to purchase the aircraft, they will want a piece of the economic benefits.

"We'll see what the client decides. It's possible that we will have less work in the future but we are pretty confident to keep what we already have."

Labbe declined to say what decision he thinks the government will make, but noted there could still be economic benefits to the Canadian industry if it selects a different plane.

Ottawa-based GasTops won a US$48-million contract in May 2009 through Pratt & Whitney to supply sensors for the F135 engine that will be aboard the F-35.

The following April, Mxi Technologies announced an extension of an agreement with Lockheed-Martin to include its autonomic logistics information system in the F-35.