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How is Canada Approaching Advanced Air Mobility?

By Kelsey Reichmann | May 13, 2021
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The Canadian Air Mobility Consortium (CAAM), a nonprofit promoting the sustainable, beneficial use of eVTOL aircraft and drones throughout the Vancouver region, released a white paper exploring the path to Vancouver’s potential emergence as the first “Advanced Air Mobility [AAM] City in North America.” Pictured here, is a proposed concept for takeoffs and landings with larger eVTOL aircraft. (AAM)

One in five aircraft in Canada will be flying with zero emissions by 2040, JR Hammond, executive director of the Canadian Advanced Air Mobility Consortium (CAAM), said during a panel at the Vertical Flight Society’s Forum 77 on May 12. Making this goal a reality will require collaboration between industry and regulatory bodies to make advanced air mobility (AAM) not only environmentally sustainable but also economically sustainable and accessible to everyone involved, industry professionals said.

“We are really playing that role in taking all of the work coming out of the drone or RPAS [remotely piloted aircraft systems] industry, transitioning into this vertical advanced mobility industry, and critically, having that technology, build and build on energy capacity as we move into the commercial aviation side,” Hammond said. “Our work on advanced mobility, yes, encompasses the retail side, but it’s critical for moving people, cargo, and the performing of various services within urban and regional areas that were previously not served or underserved by aviation, all with that thread of sustainability under zero-emission aviation.”

Part of making AAM sustainable is making sure that the demand for these technologies is inclusive, Teara Fraser, lead executive at Iskwew Air, said during the panel. Fraser said that when she started Iskwew Air she was conscious of the very diverse communities in Canada and focused on how aviation might be an answer to some of their unique challenges.

“When I started Iskwew Air, one of the things I really cared about and that I wanted to contribute to was ensuring that those communities could access food, medical supplies, and the services that they needed,” Fraser said. “So, I’m really curious and committed to exploring how can these emerging technologies uplift indigenous land, story, sovereignty, and stewardship. How can these technologies be used in service of people in service of community?”

Engaging communities that have not traditionally been served by these technologies will also help with the public acceptance challenge which has been cited as a barrier to AAM, Danny Sitnam, president and CEO of HeliJet, said.

“If we can protect communities, protect families, help rural and remote communities develop their own initiatives with these technologies, we are going to get tremendous acceptance,” Sitnam said. “We have to break the stereotypical situation that is around us once in a while where these technologies are for the rich and famous.”

AirJet Helicopter is developing an aircraft that uses compressed air to perform many mechanical functions making it less expensive and more reliable than traditional components, Clifford Dickman, co-founder of AirJet Helicopter, said. Dickman said the design and performance is comparable to a helicopter, however, the AirJet aircraft offers economic benefits by avoiding maintenance and repair expenses.

“There’s been no sacrifice in terms of performance, but the operating costs, clearly, are reduced, and at the same time everyone is striving towards having an environmentally friendly and low impact aircraft on the environment, both in terms of noise, and carbon footprint,” Dickman said. “I think the AirJet concept goes a long way towards achieving both.”

Sitnam said when thinking about AAM technologies it is important to operate on a cost per seat mile model. He said part of his thinking on this is investing in long-haul, high speed, high altitude hybrid technologies for connecting trunk routes and smaller lighter low altitude technologies to feed hubs to and from suburban destinations.

While some new AAM technologies are transformative for the aerospace industry, Sitnam said they should not try to “reinvent the wheel” for every aspect of operations.

“With these new technologies, I think a key component is not reinventing the wheel,” Sitnam said. “There’s a lot of infrastructure already in place that we need to take advantage of. Existing heliports, specifically say the Vancouver harbor heliport, is a huge economic driver for the city and the province, and they can accommodate future technologies, at some point in time. So, I think we need to look at rules and regulations today, of existing facilities, and see how we integrate the infrastructure that’s coming ahead without reinventing the wheel and building more infrastructure when there’s something already there.”

Craig Bloch-Hansen, project manager of RPAS Technical Standards at Transport Canada, said the regulator approach to these technologies is three-pronged and includes focuses on personnel, procedures, and products. To achieve their regulatory objects they will need to coordinate research and development and then work to advance to operational trials.

“Our challenge is to understand those technologies, understand the risks associated with them, and provide a regulatory framework, that really allows for industry to grow to become sustainable and to support technology innovation, sustainable development, and ultimately, supporting safety,” Bloch-Hansen said.

The operational trials will be important so regulatory agencies can explore how these new technologies can integrate into existing infrastructure while also making it more sustainable, Bloch-Hansen said.

“We’re also working with Canadian industry to define, test, and deploy new infrastructure to support operations,” Bloch-Hansen said. “We also see a need to expand those [existing infrastructure] to support efficiencies within our operations, and to find ways to continue to drive sustainable development, both economically and environmentally within the regulatory structure and with support of the operators nationally.”

The panelists also emphasized the sentiment that AAM is not something that is happening in the future but right now.

“Some people may think it is going to be in the future, maybe one day, maybe our children, no no no no,” Nicolas Chabee, vice president of marketing and sales at Pratt & Whitney Canada, said. “We are going to show that it’s actually coming today. There’s some technology that is available today. There are some resources that are already flying today. We all have the same objective to increase advanced mobility to make it more accessible and democratic.”

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