President, Rolls-Royce Canada Limited
Annie Christa-Lee Fortier
Director of Supply Chain Planning & Control, Rolls-Royce Canada
Over the course of three-quarters of a century in Montreal, Rolls-Royce’s most storied international aerospace facility has been pushing the envelope in the fast-paced and mission-critical world of aircraft engine repair and overhaul. In 2022, the Spirit of Innovation at Rolls-Royce Canada remains as strong as ever in their core services, but they have also committed to blazing a trail in the essential domains of sustainability, diversity, and inclusion.
The future is coming more quickly than ever before, and no industry can face it standing still. The aerospace sector least of all. With the power of the world’s most respected aircraft engines pushing them ever forward — literally through the skies and metaphorically into the future — Rolls-Royce’s Canadian operations are addressing the pressing issues of the 21st century with eyes and minds open.
Pioneering tomorrow’s green aviation
Climate change, of course, tops almost any list of global concerns today, and Rolls-Royce is well aware that the aviation industry will need to adapt in unprecedented ways to meet its bold net-zero goals. The transportation sector, in its entirety, is a significant contributor to carbon emissions worldwide. And, while aviation is only a small part of that whole, players like Rolls-Royce are committed to finding every avenue for sustainability. “I think people perceive aerospace as being possibly a larger polluter than it truly is,” says Denis Giangi, President of Rolls-Royce Canada Limited. “Still, the industry accounts for about two per cent of global emissions. That’s smaller than people might think, but it’s still a number which we’re working very hard to get down.”
As electrification of ground transportation surges forward in every country, aviation has long been seen as profoundly impenetrable to the electric revolution. Rolls- Royce is dead set on challenging that preconception. Last year, the company’s all-electric Spirit of Innovation aircraft more than doubled the previous speed record of 213 km/h over three kilometres for an electric plane, eventually reaching a top speed of 623 km/h (Mach 0.5), making it not only the fastest electric aircraft in history but the fastest electric vehicle of any type.
It bears mentioning, of course, that this technology is still some years away from providing a solution for commercial air travel. But the Spirit of Innovation is clearly showing that our longstanding assumptions about electric aviation are past due for reconsideration, even as more immediately attainable developments in sustainable fuels transform the industry today.
“There are a lot of really cool and novel power provisioning electrical architectures that are being developed now across the group,” says Giangi. “As for having a larger aircraft being powered by batteries tomorrow, the batteries just aren’t at that level yet. However, things look different for smaller commuter aircraft or flying taxis, so-called eVTOLs. The challenge ahead has been taken up, and the full attention of the global company has been put on making sure that we achieve net zero by 2050. Last year Rolls-Royce invested £1.2 billion in R&D, and three-quarters of that was focused on lower carbon growth. We’re focusing on more efficient, cleaner solutions for the world. A lot of research is being done by Rolls-Royce locally here in Canada, with Canadian universities, putting us in a better position to make that a reality.”
Enabling innovation through diverse experience
Just as sustainability is the critical arena for the advancements that will ensure the future of the planet, diversity and inclusion form the essential field on which we will secure the future of our society. Canada is a country built on diversity, and that richness has always proved to be one of our greatest strengths. When creativity, agility, and compassion are required, as they very much are in the aerospace sector, businesses that want to thrive must leverage the full spectrum of experience and perspective that Canada’s diversity has to offer.
For Rolls-Royce, this imperative is felt keenly, and they have made significant efforts to interweave it with the very DNA of their operations. “If we get 10 people that are thinking the same way around a table, we’ll always get the same end result,” says Giangi. “I think that having different perspectives helps every business make the best decisions. At Rolls-Royce Canada, I’ve personally seen that many times across our team.”
Across all industries, but especially in sectors like aerospace, fostering inclusion requires more than just removing barriers. True progress on this front necessitates the intentional opening of doors and transformation of culture, lest historical biases and trends continue to reinforce themselves passively. The road to diversity and inclusion demands endurance and dedication from those who would walk it, and the journey is not over in a day.
“We have inclusion targets at every level in the company, and we’re very dedicated to them,” says Annie Christa-Lee Fortier, Director of Supply Chain Planning and Control at Rolls-Royce Canada. “We recognize that there’s a positive impact from having a diverse group of people and also from having gender parity. As an example of what we’ve achieved, 30 per cent of our engineering team is now women, which is remarkable in an industry that is, and has been, very male. We have very precise stretch targets for getting to parity in every group, from engineering to leadership.”
A place people want to work
In the competitive labour market of Montreal, especially, it takes a lot to stand out above the crowd as an employer of choice. For Rolls-Royce Canada, this has meant not only cultivating an inclusive and welcoming environment with opportunity for the city’s multifarious population but also understanding that a diverse workforce has diverse needs. “Work-life balance is extremely important,” says Fortier. “Even on the shop floor, where people can’t really work from home, we have flexible start times and a flexible working policy. We look at providing this flexibility as an opportunity to attract and keep the talent that we value.”
It’s a very different world and a very different Canada than it was when Rolls-Royce first opened the doors of their Montreal facility 75 years ago. The aviation industry, the workforce, and the global business environment have evolved in many cycles over the decades. Rolls-Royce Canada has always stayed ahead and above by anticipating and embracing these changing circumstances and needs. In this moment of sustainability and inclusion, they have once again shown that they’re ready to lead the way.