The government has pledged $350 million to support sustainable aviation R&D in Canada — including electric vertical take-off and landing eVTOL technology, a multi-billion-dollar sector in the making
Air travel remains one of the most carbon-intensive methods of transportation for goods and people. But in Canada distances between major cities can be thousands of kilometres. Air travel is essential to get from A to B.
It follows, then, that Canada is becoming a global hotspot for developing electric Vertical Take-off and Landing (eVTOL) technology.
It’s an industry potentially worth US$30.7 billion by 2031 with 430,000 air taxis in operation, according to Allied Market Research. And, in June, Canada’s status as a leader in the technology was recognized by the federal government.
At the Paris Air Show, minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development François-Philippe Champagne announced a $350-million investment into Canada’s new Initiative for Sustainable Aviation Technology (INSAT).
INSAT is a pan-Canadian aerospace network aligning to accelerate sustainable research and development in air travel and transportation. Currently, global air travel accounts for two per cent of annual greenhouse gas emissions.
“Our mission is to coordinate and accelerate the development of sustainable aviation technologies in Canada — technologies in our products and services, for our OEMs, SMEs, airlines and airports, and in conjunction with adjacent sectors such as Transportation, Energy, and IT,” said Walter Di Bartolomeo, interim chairman of the board for INSAT, in a press release.
“INSAT is a key vehicle to strengthening Canada’s aerospace sector by supporting this cross-industry collaboration, IP generation, and talent development.”
eVTOL in Canada on the Horizon
It would be easy to miss Horizon Aircraft when driving up to cottage country north of Greater Toronto.
The City of Kawartha Lakes Airport sits on the west side of Highway 35, just outside of Lindsay, Ont.
One could be forgiven for assuming it’s a rest stop for road-weary travellers or a small flying club for enthusiasts. After all, Lindsay is not a municipality that leaps out as a likely epicentre of cutting-edge Canadian aviation technology.
However, the airport’s compact runways and hangers housing two-seater biplanes is also the location of Horizon Aircraft’s Cavorite X5 prototype. It’s an impossibly futuristic-looking aircraft that, says the company, could revolutionize the industry.
“A few years back, electric motor and battery technology started to cross the threshold from an engineering perspective,” says Brandon Robinson, CEO and co-founder of Lindsay-based Horizon Aircraft, in an interview with Electric Autonomy.
“You could start to explore novel aircraft architectures; to build aircraft that were cheaper to own and operate over shorter ranges and could really be underpinned by solid business cases. We started exploring electric, vertical takeoff and landing aircraft.”
The Cavorite X5
Fully conceived, the Cavorite X5 is a four-passenger, 500-km range hybrid-electric aircraft capable of flight on 0 metres of runway. It can operate as a MedEvac aircraft, an air taxi service, cargo transport and disaster relief.
“We can make these kind of novel new machines that have carefully curated set of capabilities that are going to make them pretty useful,” says Robinson.
He describes the current version as “a legitimate large-scale prototype” that is giving them very useful info.
“This aircraft is fully stable and hovers,” says Robinson. “There’s some really nice aerodynamics that are making it perform much beyond what we had thought. A lot of the learning that we’re doing on this half-scale will be directly applicable to making the full-scale aircraft safer and more efficient.”
Best case scenario, Horizon is targeting the Cavorite X5 to be fully certified and in service by 2027.
But meeting that timeline will depend on Canada’s aviation industry moving in pace with the development of technology.
Sustainable aviation on Canada’s agenda
Currently, Horizon is in consultations with Transport Canada. Horizon is trying to advance certifications for aircraft like theirs, which, it says, offer immediate emission reductions to an industry that is not yet able to transition to fully electric powertrains.
“Canada has a number of advantages for eVTOL,” says Robinson.
Given that Canada’s aerospace industry accounted for 210,000 jobs and exported over $18.7 billion in products in 2022, it’s not entirely surprising.
“From a Canadian perspective, there’s the geographical advantages. The talent in southern Ontario is pretty significant. And Transport Canada, again, there’s an advantage there. The Federal Aviation Administration is trying to look at 500 companies or 500 prototypes. Up here there are a lot fewer. It’s an opportunity to work closely with Transport Canada to expedite certification in a very safe manner.”
As part of Canada’s Aviation Climate Action Plan 2022–2030 the government is targeting 2050 to bring the industry to net-zero.
“Our government is committed to making Canada a leader and a strategic partner of choice when it comes to sustainable aviation,” said Champagne in a press release about the INSAT funding.
“[The] $350-million investment to support the Initiative for Sustainable Aviation Technology will help drive and accelerate the green industrial transformation of Canada’s aerospace industry, generating high-value jobs while strengthening supply chains and supporting the transition to a net-zero economy.”
Are we there yet?
For Horizon, the government’s investment in INSAT is a vote of confidence in the viability and near-term realization of made-in-Canada aerospace engineering and technology.
“If you backed up maybe two or three years, there was a big question of if any of these aircraft could be certified. Now, the question is: ‘When they will be certified and enter service?'” says Robinson.
“You can always overestimate what can be accomplished in five years and underestimate what can be accomplished in 10. It’s a lot closer than people think.”