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

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).

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.”