People tour the Bombardier Global 7000 aircraft and facility in Toronto. (Photo by THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Bombardier puts Toronto aerospace facility in Downsview up for sale

MONTREAL — Bombardier is shopping around its sprawling aircraft manufacturing site in Toronto’s high-priced real-estate market.

The transportation company said it put its 152-hectare Downsview Airport location north of the city’s downtown up for sale a couple of weeks ago as part of its financial turnaround plan.

Spokesman Olivier Marcil said the unique land with a runway is larger than the company needs and no final decision has been made regarding a sale or relocation of its operations. Only 14 hectares of space is regularly used.

“We think that there’s a better use for the land than a current airport and that could be to the benefit of not only the company but the city of Toronto and the people,” he said in an interview.

The Montreal-based company (TSX:BBD.B) has been on the site since it purchased de Havilland Canada in 1992 but the airfield was built in 1929 to test de Havilland aircraft.

The land was used for the papal visits of John Paul II and served as a military base during the Second World War.

Bombardier used to run a shuttle service to transport employees between Toronto and Montreal, Wichita and Mexico. However, that was suspended as part of the transformation.

The land near subway stations, universities and Highway 401 is potentially very valuable.

Marcil said the company is working with professional advisers and has met with some potential buyers to assess interest. He declined to say how much Bombardier expects to receive from a potential sale.

Bombardier owns several hangars where Q400 turboprops and several business jets are assembled by about 3,500 workers.

Toronto Coun. Maria Augimeri says she will oppose the sale of the prime land.

“Got it on good authority that you’re secretly courting developers in scheme to turn Downsview plant into a massive housing project,” she tweeted. ”Over my dead body.”

Marcil said Bombardier has started to assess all of its global locations as part of its turnaround plan but declined to say if the company has identified any other sites that could be sold.

“We’re not ready to announce anything yet to any other sites that we have in the world.”

Bombardier said it will maintain a presence in Toronto even if it sells the site. It has talked to Pearson International Airport about relocating to the country’s largest airport because it requires runway access.

The company is also committed to Ontario and the Downsview Aerospace Innovation and Research Initiative even if it relocates, Marcil added.

Bombardier is about halfway through its five-year turnaround plan that is designed to improve its financial health after nearly going bankrupt over development of its CSeries commercial jet. Bombardier has signed a deal to sell a majority stake in the program to Airbus.

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