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AAM in Canada: Not the first, but a fast follower

By Treena Hein

Published on: September 7, 2023
Estimated reading time 13 minutes, 46 seconds.

Vertical recently caught up with JR Hammond, executive director of the Canadian Advanced Air Mobility Consortium, to learn about the state of the AAM sector in Canada.

Canada will not be the first to implement advanced air mobility (AAM), but the country is poised to be a fast follower, according to JR Hammond, executive director of the Canadian Advanced Air Mobility Consortium (CAAM).

Jaunt Air Mobility is participating in a research project through the Consortium for Research and Innovation in Aerospace in Quebec that focuses on an unmanned aerial system using Jaunt’s slowed rotor compound technology. Jaunt Photo

Vertical recently caught up with Hammond, who on that day was at Vancouver International Airport for a round of discussions on AAM in Canada. 

“We’ve established close relationships with the overall leaders at our international airports across the country, as well as leaders of the three departments most relevant to AAM, that being sustainability, infrastructure and operations,” he explained. “We have also developed strong relationships with Transport Canada and Nav Canada, along with OEMs [original equipment manufacturers], airlines, helicopter firms, regional airports, municipalities, utilities and more.”

Transport Canada is a federal agency addressing all federal transport issues, and Nav Canada manages the 18 million square kilometers (6.9 million square miles) of Canadian civil airspace and the North Atlantic oceanic airspace under Canada’s control.​​

Hammond and his team believe that this integrated approach to AAM development will get Canada to the goal line.

“We’re going to put extensive existing infrastructure to use and continue to have ongoing communication and partnerships,” Hammond said. “It may take a little longer here compared to some other countries, but we are building an integrated multimodal transportation system in Canada, and we feel it will be one of the most robust on the planet.”

The CAAM staff is nimble and located across the country with headquarters in Vancouver.

“We don’t envision growing the CAAM team much,” Hammond said. “Our work nowadays comes from pulling in our partner organizations, which are at 89 now and include Helijet, Air Canada Cargo, CAE and the National Research Council as current national board members.”

Cargo first, then passengers

Similar to other countries, eVTOL usage in Canada will likely start with cargo transport by remote operation. Across the country, over 230 projects are underway to investigate various cargo uses (and while some of these aircraft are drones, the larger ones are technically eVTOLs due to their weight and size).

“We’re at a point,” Hammond said, “where it’s difficult to track all the projects.” 

For example, there are several projects testing transport of goods from international airports to private sector distribution centers. Medical uses are being explored in B.C., as well as the Toronto area, where there’s a project that involves moving radioisotopes between healthcare centers.

Passenger transport is not expected to gain traction in Canada until around 2030, Hammond said.

Most Canadians live along the U.S. border, with some scattered in cities and towns north of that region, and other smaller numbers in rural and remote areas — some very rural and very remote. It’s expected that eVTOL use will start in and around large cities like Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal, likely with some sightseeing flights and transport between regional airports, existing heliports and international airports. (These three locations are also in that U.S. border zone, as south and as warm as it gets during Canadian winters, with cold temperature a performance concern with eVTOL tech.)

B.C.-based Helijet is looking at how it might use different eVTOL models in these three urban zones, how to implement charging infrastructure at its heliports, and other aspects of implementation.

“As a company, Helijet is very interested in eVTOL,” said Danny Sitnam, Helijet president and CAAM board member. “Our plans are to look at three uses: first responder, urban and remote operations. I believe that if these aircraft are going to be quieter and cost of flights is lower than conventional aircraft, acceptance should be very positive.”

He said Canadians are generally environmentally conscious and Helijet’s customers have already expressed strong interest in eVTOLs.

“We transport a great deal of leadership types each year and those people are influential and focused on sustainability,” Sitnam said. “That has prompted us to study this marketplace and how these vehicles will integrate into our existing ecosystem. AAM has a great future in Canada.”

Sitnam stressed at the same time that instrument flight rules (IFR)-certified operations will be key to the success of Helijet’s use of eVTOLs.

“That’s a long way off although it will come,” he said. “We also need longer range, but that will come, too. I believe where there’s a will, there’s a way.”

B.C.-based Helijet is looking at how eVTOLs might be used in first responder, urban and remote operations. Heath Moffatt Photo

Squeaky wheels

It was important for Sitnam to be involved with CAAM from its early days.

“We knew we had to raise the awareness of AAM in Canada at the regulatory level, and at the supply chain and community level,” he explained. “We need to educate the ecosystem and ourselves as to where the squeaky wheels are. As an organization, we are learning as we are growing. We are talking to associations, companies and government at all levels, finding out what the sticking points are, who the influencers are, and so on.”

In Sitnam’s view, one “squeaky wheel” in Canada is type certification timelines. Hammond reported that a decision on which eVTOL path to certification Canada will take will likely not be announced until mid to late 2024, with certification starting sometime after that point.

“There was a lot of enthusiasm at the start to get these aircraft to fruition, but the regulation needs to catch up,” Sitnam said. “Technology always moves faster than regulation, so that’s nothing new, but we’re trying as an organization to make certain investors in Canadian AAM see progress is happening and that timelines are met. It’s positive that Transport Canada is already working with FAA [Federal Aviation Administration] and EASA [European Union Aviation Safety Agency] to standardize global vertiport criteria and aircraft and pilot certification. That sort of close collaboration on worldwide regulation is a new development in Canadian aerospace as far as I know, and very positive.”

Another issue in Canadian AAM is infrastructure. Sitnam said this needs more attention from everyone — real estate developers, government and industry.

“There’s much more to do to think through how vertiports should be located, and how they should be integrated into the train and light rail networks in B.C., Ontario and Quebec,” Sitnam said. “There is a lot of that transportation infrastructure in place in Canada, so we need to look at how we can work with that in both the rural areas and urban areas.”

Other projects in Canada

Jaunt Air Mobility is participating in a research project through the Consortium for Research and Innovation in Aerospace in Quebec (CRIAQ). CRIAQ encompasses companies of all sizes, universities and research centers, created in 2002 with financial support from the provincial government in Quebec to increase the competitiveness of the aerospace industry. Jaunt has offices in Dallas, Texas, and Montreal, Quebec, and plans to have manufacturing in Quebec.

The project focuses on an unmanned aerial system using Jaunt’s slowed rotor compound technology, which will additionally provide valuable data directly related to the development of the Jaunt Journey.

Jaunt Air Mobility Canada is also partnering with Global Partner Solutions to create a sustainable supply chain for its Journey aircraft, with a focus on engaging Quebec-based suppliers.

Over the next three years, the companies expect an investment of C$10 million (US$7.3 million) to establish, enhance, and utilize the supply chain ecosystem to support Jaunt Air Mobility’s growth — in that process up to 35 jobs will be created, the companies said.  

Canadian AAM evolution

When asked to reflect on where things started and where they are now, Hammond recalled that two years ago, he and his staff were the AAM thought leaders in Canada, trying to excite people to consider and develop the possibilities.

“We started creating a national AAM plan in 2021, but we found out quickly that Transport Canada and Nav Canada weren’t ready to participate,” he said. “Now they are fully engaged. At this point, government and industry players have surpassed CAAM in thought leadership.”

He added that “CAAM’s focus now is on working with all parties to keep everyone informed as we support making AAM operational, not just with eVTOLs but with hydrogen, electric and hybrid propulsion systems in fixed-wing aircraft, connecting ground transportation with AAM, and much more.”

Hammond was pleased to report that this fall, Innovation Gateway, Canada’s national aerospace strategy (of which CAAM is supporting) will be launched, and that C$350 million (US$255.9 million) in funding will be used to start building a national sustainable aviation innovation network.

“Overall, there’s a tsunami of interest and support for AAM that I would never have dreamed of a few years ago,” Hammond said. “It’s very exciting to be a part of it.”

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