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Interview with Francesco Norante, President of Leonardo Canada

Interview with Francesco Norante, President of Leonardo Canada

Leonardo is among the top ten world players in Aerospace, Defence and Security, with a significant industrial presence in Italy, the UK, Poland and the USA.

For more than 50 years, it has also been a trusted partner of Canada where it is expanding its presence and strengthening its governance by the subsidiary in Ottawa. Centro Studi Italia Canada interviewed Francesco Norante, head of Leonardo Canada, about the activities in which Leonardo is engaged overseas and the opportunities for collaboration with local industries and government.


Francesco Norante is Head of Leonardo Canada and, in this role, he is leading Leonardo’s commercial activities in Canada across all businesses. Previously Francesco Norante held senior executives positions within Leonardo such as Vice President, Strategic Marketing & International Sales - Major Sport Events and Vice President Smart Cities and Major Events in the United Kingdom. Norante led the successful campaign to deliver Perimeter Security systems for the Commonwealth

Games 2014 in Glasgow. Before joining Leonardo he was Director of Security Integration and Strategic Planning for Vancouver 2010 and Turin 2006 Olympic Games.


What are Leonardo's priorities in Canada?


Leonardo is a leading provider of capabilities through innovative technologies and integrated services


Purpose built to serve the Canadian market, Leonardo’s Canadian team leverages and draws upon the full strength and depth of the global company.


Canada is a key market for Leonardo, with interests and opportunities spanning from helicopters to airport solutions such as parcel handling systems and air traffic control systems.


A major contract was signed in 2016 to replace the legacy Air Traffic Control (ATC) radars at 12 major Canadian airports including Toronto, Montreal, Ottawa, Vancouver and Calgary.


Within the country, there are 50 civil, military and parapublic helicopters flying alongside 40 ATR aircraft. The Company has 5 authorised helicopter service centres. Furthermore, there are 400 people working across five sites in Canada.


In addition to the above, Leonardo is investing in innovation, technology transfer, intellectual property, research and development, and long-term relationships and partnerships with the Canadian Government, Canadian industry including small to medium enterprises.




In which way do you interact with the local economic and entrepreneurial system?


We are working on being fully connected with Canadian industry and we are looking at synergies and opportunities to provide the best benefits to the Canadian Government.


Leonardo supports business development and promotes local partnerships, manages offset (with industrial and technological benefits), delivers growing levels of support services, and local programme management.


We have strong partnerships with several of Canada’s leading aerospace and defence companies.


All commercial activities in Canada are coordinated through the Ottawa-based team, including those activities related to Defence and Defence Systems, Aeronautics programmes for Air Traffic Control, Cyber Security and Automation with a focus on solutions for airports, postal operators and couriers.


We also look to develop new job opportunities and technologies which will contribute to the Canadian economy across all sectors (i.e. unmanned technologies for homeland security, law enforcement, cargo and parapublic requirements).


Leonardo welcomed the continued commitment made, in August 2019, by Canada’s Minister of National Defence, the Honourable Harjit S. Sajjan, to modernise and expand Canada’s primary rotary search and rescue helicopter fleet through the Cormorant Mid-Life Upgrade (CMLU) programme.

The AW101/CH-149 “Cormorant” has enabled the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) search and rescue (SAR) crews to successfully complete thousands of rescues, including several that received international recognition for their heroism.


Leonardo is very proud that the Cormorant has been trusted to provide the capabilities to ensure these rescues were possible in any weather condition, anywhere in Canada or offshore and with this announcement, will continue to do so for decades to come.


The Cormorant provides an unmatched capability in meeting Canada’s SAR requirements that allows the conduct of operations in areas not accessible by other helicopter types. 


The CMLU programme will upgrade the Cormorants to the latest AW101-612 standard, currently being delivered to Norway, providing a low risk upgrade path with a modern, proven solution, including capability enhancements and equipment improvements enabling the Cormorants to spend less time searching and more time rescuing stranded Canadians.


Leonardo, as "Team Cormorant” prime contractor, is working closely with IMP Aerospace and Defence to deliver the CMLU program in Canada, with the work undertaken by Canadians.


  • CAE will deliver Canada’s first AW101 full motion simulator and other synthetic training capabilities.
  • GE Canada will provide the new engines and Collins Aerospace will provide the new cockpit displays and avionics.
  • Other Canadian suppliers will be engaged through a robust Industrial Technological Benefits (ITB) and Value Proposition program which will deliver the maximum value of the CMLU and fleet expansion to Canada. 


A modern Air Force needs a modern, innovative training solution based on cutting-edge technology, focusing on early streaming, and better output standards at lower costs. Why Leonardo is the right technological partner to ensure that?


Leonardo is keen to bring to Canada its leading high technology solutions.


In 2018, it was selected among the few Qualified Suppliers allowed to compete, for FAcT, (Future Aircrew Training), the Government of Canada program to renew aircrew training services to help maintain a multi-purpose and combat capable air force.


In relation to the Future Aircrew Training (FAcT) programme, Leonardo can offer a modern and comprehensive solution


Drawing on more than 70 years of aircrew training experience from around the world, Leonardo is a leading provider of civil and military fixed-wing, rotary-wing and mission training services ready to offer an innovative and comprehensive turnkey solution to meet all the Royal Canadian Air Force training requirements.



Leonardo is setting the standard for future air crew training.


Our Integrated Training Systems deliver solutions that can guarantee the highest quality standard at every training stage for pilots, ground crews, operators and maintainers.


Leonardo is unique amongst the qualified suppliers in having both training aircraft and helicopters within its portfolio of products (the M-345, the TH-119 and the AW109 Trekker).


Furthermore, among the qualified bidders, Leonardo is uniquely positioned with the potential to offer its own fixed- and rotary-wing platforms as part of a complete service solution.


Leonardo-in-Canada can also provide systems, services and high technology solutions in other sectors as well, such as cyber security, radar systems, defence electronics, rotary- and fixed-wing unmanned air systems and remote sensing services.


According to the Mid-Project Status Report published by the Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC) in February 2020, the Canadian Weather Radar Replacement Project, led by Leonardo, is fully in line with the scheduled time and cost frames. What does this contract provide?


The Canadian Weather Radar Replacement Project, which was awarded to Leonardo in 2016, comprises the design, manufacture, supply, installation, commissioning and training, as well as maintenance and technical support during the warranty phase, for 20 Klystron S-Band weather radars – plus 13 additional radars in options - including infrastructure for existing and new radar sites running from Holyrood on the East Coast to Vancouver Island on the West Coast of Canada.


The positive overall results stated at Mid-Project term underpin Leonardo’s strengths and excellence in contract execution even in most challenging weather radar projects.


The Canadian Weather Radar Replacement Project is one of the largest and – especially in terms of technological complexity, infrastructure and environmental requirements - most demanding projects ever awarded to the weather radar industry.


Leonardo is the sole industrial participant in ARCSAR – the Arctic and North Atlantic Security and Emergency Preparedness Network - that involves 13 countries and is led by the Joint Rescue and Coordination Center of Northern Norway. What are the objectives and important features of the Programme and what is Leonardo’s role?


ARCSAR is a five-year EU programme funded through the Horizon 2020, which aims to promote collaboration in security, emergency-response activities and sustainable technology development in the Arctic region.


As part of ARCSAR, Leonardo contributes with its unique heritage, expertise and innovation in areas including SAR helicopters such as those already used by Canada, Denmark, Norway and the United Kingdom, radar systems, maritime patrol systems, communications, satellite imagery and analysis, and integrated solutions that can control and mitigate the effects of climate change.


The Leonardo’s local presence as a technology leader in Canada is also provided through DRS Technologies Canada Ltd., subsidiary of Leonardo DRS, that has recently joined NGen, Canada’s Advanced Manufacturing Supercluster.


Leonardo DRS is a wholly owned subsidiary of Leonardo S.p.A.

DRS Technologies Canada Ltd is subsidiary of Leonardo DRS and is a leading Canadian defence electronics company, headquartered in Ottawa, Ontario, that specializes in:


  • military voice and data communications systems;
  • electro-optics (EO) and infrared search and tracking systems (IRST);
  • flight data recorders;
  • emergency locator beacons;
  • avionics systems engineering;
  • and defence/space electronics manufacturing.


In October it was announced that DRS Technologies Canada Ltd. has joined the NGen, to position the company’s advanced manufacturing capabilities as a technology leader in Canada and around the world.


NGen is the industry-led not-for-profit organization that leads Canada’s Advanced Manufacturing Supercluster. Its mandate is to help build world-leading advanced manufacturing capabilities in Canada for the benefit of Canadians.


NGen works to strengthen collaboration among its membership of more than 2,800 manufacturers, technology companies, innovation centres, and researchers, and provides funding and business support to industry-led initiatives that aim to develop, apply, or scale-up transformative manufacturing solutions in Canada for commercialization in global markets.


The Supercluster is an industry-led organization focused on leveraging Canada’s technology and industrial strengths to accelerate the development, adoption, and scale-up of world-leading capabilities in Canadian manufacturing.


As a member of the Supercluster, DRS Technologies Canada Ltd. will benefit from participating the development of advanced manufacturing standards and practices in Canada and in helping bring technologies to market.


As you said, Leonardo can support Canada to achieve fundamental public purposes in areas where international collaborations and innovative technological advancements are requested, such as safety and security.

How does Leonardo contribute, concretely?


In addressing public safety and security – ranging from counter-terrorism to the fight against organised crime, from emergency management response to critical infrastructures protection – Leonardo delivers comprehensive solutions integrating cyber intelligence, data mining, mission critical communications, video surveillance and video analytics, access control and anti-intrusion devices.

These ‘systems of systems’ are tailored for a variety of complex security environments, connecting multiple sites and thousands of sensors.



We also provide systems and services to foresee and prevent cyber threats against the Canadian government, its critical infrastructures and enterprise organizations. We support law enforcement in proactive forensics gathering and investigations. We provide on premises solutions based on the monitoring and analysis of large amounts of open source data, in the deep web and dark nets, aimed at detecting cyberattacks being prepared and information illegally stolen and published on the web.


The space field as well is highly skilled and embraces cutting edge technologies. How does Leonardo fit in the Canadian space scenario?


Leonardo is ready to contribute to Canada’s future in space leveraging our capabilities in the Electronics Division and the joint ventures of Telespazio and Thales Alenia Space, which together form the Space Alliance (the strategic partnership between Leonardo and Thales).


Through the Space Alliance, we invested in NorthStar Earth and Space Inc., a Montréal based information services company, we bring together our business and technical expertise.


Together, through the first part of the programme, we provided solutions for the design and future realization of a unique satellite constellation to provide Space Situational Awareness and Geo Information services.


On 27 October 2020, Thales Alenia Space, the Joint Venture between Thales (67 %) and Leonardo (33 %), signed the first phase of a contract with NorthStar Earth and Space Inc. to start the development and production of the first three smallest satellites that are part of the world’s first and most advanced commercial space-based environmental and near-space monitoring system.


Today, the industrial journey begins for the Skylark constellation, with Thales Alenia Space being responsible for the space system activities by providing the payloads alongside with LeoStella (a joint venture between BlackSky and Thales Alenia Space) providing the satellite platform and the assembly, integration and test facilities based in Tukwila for final assembly and delivery.


The ability to view, understand and map the physical location of natural and man-made objects in orbit around the Earth (currently there are more than 600 thousand objects in low Earth orbit with billions of dollars of space assets at risk from collisions) is now becoming a real concern for all private or governmental satellite owners and operators.


Tracking resident space objects from space with optical sensors will enhance and complement existing systems. By observing from multiple perspectives in space, Skylark satellites will significantly improve tracking of objects, the number of detected debris and the ability to predict potential collisions. 


Photos and video by courtesy of Leonardo.


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