Early mornings on McGill’s downtown campus are typically subdued. But on September 22, just past 7 a.m., over 70 sharply-dressed students from all academic disciplines and graduate levels were eagerly waiting for a sign their journey was about to take flight. A few moments later, Karl Moore rounded the corner, compelling students to board the two coach buses idling along Sherbrooke Street. The destination: Airbus Canada’s headquarters in Mirabel.
“Outside of Europe, Canada houses the most important Airbus headquarters, in large part due to its acquisition of Bombardier’s C Series. Airbus leaders, formerly with Bombardier, agree the synergies have made it an ideal match,” said Moore, an associate professor at the Desautels Faculty of Management. “And now thanks to its success, Airbus Canada needs to hire hundreds of employees. Naturally they turned to McGill.”
Opportunities and challenges
The seed for this trip took root late last year when Airbus Canada CEO Benoît Schultz visited McGill to take part in the Desautels CEO Speaker Series.
“A year was too much. Next time we’ll do better,” Schultz joked as he and nearly 20 other Airbus officials welcomed students.
During his speech, Schultz outlined the opportunities and challenges facing Airbus Canada, emphasizing the importance of collaboration, innovation, and adaptation. He also answered student questions on competitive strategy, the growing importance of analytics, and how sustainability guides long-term objectives.
Students also heard from McGill graduates now in senior leadership roles at Airbus Canada. They included Senior Vice President A220 Customer Satisfaction Rob Dewar (BEng’86), and Chief Financial Officer Tony Marcovecchio (BCom’92, DPA’94).
“I’m not sure what I was looking for, but I found it at Airbus. It’s full of challenges and full of ways to make a difference,” Marcovecchio told students.
Students say the firsthand accounts were helpful as they consider future career prospects and opportunities.
“Airbus is a big company, but it’s composed of people who were trained and educated at McGill. It’s nice to see McGill’s footprint, not just in Quebec, but around the world,” said Ricardo Restrepo, MBA ‘24.
Initially, the visit was intended for Desautels and Engineering students, but news of the event spread. Desautels Graduate Student Society organizers began fielding student requests from a wide range of faculties, spanning both undergraduate and graduate levels.
The interest was mutual. An Airbus official, Amélie Forcier, says McGill alumni eagerly stepped up to help within minutes of sending an email asking for volunteers. They included:
- Jennifer Olmstead, TCCA DAD Occupant Safety Flammability, ABICC2 – Engineering Specialist, WP4 Interiors (BSC ‘90, MSc ‘94)
- Nan LI, Airworthiness Specialist, Airworthiness (‘22)
- Elias Gaouro, Analysts, Business System (‘23)
- Aaron Levy, Mechanical Engineer (‘19)
- Jean Perron, Computer System Training Specialist – Information Management (IM) (‘89)
- Liang Yu Xiong, Engineering Professional (‘06)
- Mario Lipari, Engineering Professional – Mass Properties A220, Engineering and Product Development (’21)
Following the presentation, students were grouped and guided through the Airbus factory floor, witnessing the full lifecycle of an aircraft – from a fragmented and skeletal fuselage to a fully painted, ready-to-fly plane. As the tour progressed, students commented on the sheer scale of the operation, the intricate choreography, and the meticulous planning that underpinned it all.
“A lot of what we learn is on the theory side, so it’s interesting to see it being applied. You could see each stage and really imagine how it goes from ideation to a final product.” Carolyn Pethrick, Mechanical Engineering PhD ‘26.
“Getting a behind-the-scenes look was eye-opening. It’s not about manufacturing, it’s about managing a complex global supply chain. It’s impressive how seamlessly they put the parts together to produce these modern marvels.” Sameer Kamal, MBA ‘24.
“It’s great to see that what we are learning in school can be applied to the design of the airplane. It was a great experience.” Pranshul Thakur, Computational Aerodynamics PhD ’26.
At the end of his speech, Schultz described an ambitious plan to more than double output in the next few years. Airbus Canada continues to ramp-up A220 production and expects to produce 14 aircraft per month in the middle of this decade. But to realize this goal, Schultz alluded to one resource essential to Airbus Canada’s success.
“We do not need more buildings; we do not need more space. We need more people.”