A group of stakeholders this week released multiple studies on the benefits of bringing advanced air mobility (AAM) to Vancouver, concluding the sector will create more than 2,000 permanent jobs by 2040 — about half of those in aerospace — and generate approximately $2 billion CAD for the local economy over the next 20 years.
Funded by the Canadian Advanced Air Mobility Consortium (CAAM), the Vancouver reports, accessible here, examine some of the economic, environmental and social impacts of future eVTOL operations for policymakers and the public in British Columbia to consider.
The economic impact assessment, produced by NEXA Capital Partners and Crown Consulting, focused on six uses for eVTOLs: airport shuttle services, on-demand air taxis, regional transport services, medical applications, business aviation and air metro in the style of public transit. Combined, these operations are expected to produce $167 million in total tax revenue for municipal, provincial and federal governments over the next 20 years, while producing a significant catalytic effect on the economy of the Vancouver region and other parts of the Canada relevant to the industry’s supply chains.
The report also predicts that a growing air taxi operator base in Vancouver may attract eVTOL manufacturers to the province, creating additional jobs and economic impact.
Beyond raw numbers, the report offers Translink — the public company that runs much of Vancouver’s transportation system — an alternative way to expand its capacity and reach beside digging through granite to expand the city’s subway system at a cost that could approach $1 billion per mile.
Michael Dyment, managing partner of NEXA Capital Partners, told eVTOL.com the infrastructure investment opportunity for advanced air mobility in Vancouver, like many other cities, has a high enough return-on-investment to be funded entirely by private capital — unlike most public transit projects, especially rail.
“With its growing population, built-out land, and hemmed-in geography, Vancouver’s transportation network will require continued and creative improvements in the years to come,” the economic impact assessment states. “AAM holds the promise of substantial economic benefits for the Vancouver area, and not just in terms of reducing congestion as part of a seamless, multi-modal transportation system. Its implementation will require entirely new products and services that rely on investment and development, which in turn will spur economic growth.”
The report also predicts numerous “catalytic impacts” of bringing AAM to the Vancouver region, including greater connectivity and trade across the international Cascadia Corridor, which includes Seattle, Washington and Portland, Oregon. The Cascadia Innovation Corridor, a regional advocacy group, predicted in its Vision 2050 report it will face worsening livability in the coming decades as booming housing prices continue to outpace wages and population growth increases pressure on existing transit systems.
“A lack of affordable housing, crippling traffic congestion, and unacceptable greenhouse gas emissions are re-shaping life in many mega-regions, including Cascadia,” the Vision 2050 report states. “The average commuter spends over 11 full days in traffic each year, and our teachers, nurses, and first responders cannot afford to live in the communities they serve.”
CAAM’s economic impact analysis offers eVTOL-based transportation as a tool to policymakers that can help control the region’s skyrocketing housing prices, cater to rapid growth in mega-commuting and reduce transportation-related carbon emissions.
Other predicted catalytic impacts of AAM include increased opportunity for Indigenous populations, heavily constrained by remote locations and poor connectivity, including bolstering cultural tourism. The report also suggests a burgeoning AAM sector will accelerate the B.C. region’s clean hydrogen industry, which the provincial government is keen to support. Hydrogen fuel cell pioneer Ballard Power Systems, headquartered in the province, recently sold its unmanned aircraft systems unit to Honeywell.
Reducing emissions and increasing healthcare availability at the same time
The environmental analysis released by CAAM, produced by consultancy Brightspot Climate, analyzed the life cycle emissions impact of a very specific application of eVTOLs: transporting a radioactive, time-sensitive isotope from downtown Vancouver to Victoria Royal Jubilee Hospital, located across the water on Vancouver Island.
The isotope, Fluorodeoxyglucose — or 18F — enables the hospital’s cancer clinic to provide PET scans, where the radioactive glucose compound is injected into the body to detect abnormal levels of metabolism, often indicative of cancer. Like many rural healthcare providers, Royal Jubilee has not invested in the expensive cyclotron, chemistry facilities and staff necessary to produce 18F and other radioisotopes on-site. With a half-life of 110 minutes, the cost and speed of healthcare logistics defines the availability of 18F, and therefore potentially life-saving PET scans, on Vancouver Island and many other remote areas.
Typically moved in a 50-pound lead case, Brightspot analyzed three methods of transporting 18F: a conventional route, which requires ground transportation on both ends plus ferry transport; use of a Sikorsky S-76 operated by Helijet moving 10 other passengers, which also requires ground transportation on both ends; and a crewed eVTOL — expected to be a battery-powered electric quadrotor type — flown directly from the helipad at Vancouver General Hospital (VGH) to Royal Jubilee Hospital (RJH).
“The findings indicate that the total emissions resulting from utilizing eVTOLs for the transportation of cancer isotopes between VGH and RJH is lower than the conventional ground transportation and helicopter transportation pathway,” the environmental analysis states.
Not only were the estimated life cycle emissions drastically lower for the eVTOL route, but Brightspot expects the transportation method will increase the availability of PET scans at RJH given the same number of trips, as the isotope would arrive faster and therefore be capable of servicing more patients. Through eVTOL transit, each isotope delivery is expected to serve 20 patients, rather than 14 if delivered via the helicopter route or 11 via ferry. Over the course of a year, that equates to 4,750 patients treated via eVTOL delivery, compared to 3,290 via helicopter delivery and 2,580 via ferry.
Social impact and community acceptance
By providing these reports to municipal and provincial government — as well as the public — CAAM hopes to shed light on the opportunity AAM offers the British Columbia, laying the framework for investment, necessary government support and community acceptance.
In May, Kevin DeGood, director of infrastructure policy at the left-leaning think tank Center for American Progress, warned that eVTOLs will not only fail to reduce congestion, but threaten to undermine democracy and the environment, exacerbating societal divides by increasing the ability of the wealthy to rely a transportation network separate from the majority of less well-off citizens.
“Flying cars represent a political danger because they will allow wealthy elites to further opt out of common institutions and everyday experiences, deepening social segregation,” DeGood wrote in a policy paper, predicting that eVTOLs will essentially broaden the current availability of on-demand helicopter transit beyond the uber-rich but fall short of providing public transportation utility.
Many investors and industry advocates see DeGood’s conclusions as unfairly predeterminate, with many public policy levers available through which communities can influence outcomes. Though CAAM’s social analysis did not directly address the concerns raised by DeGood, the organization — working closely with municipal and provincial government as well as Translink — recommended in a white paper released last month setting aside up to 15 percent of AAM passenger capacity to “guarantee low- or no-cost access for the region’s most vulnerable residents.”
A public engagement strategy also released by CAAM outlines plans to engage heavily with the Vancouver public and numerous mobility, environmental, Indigenous and labor organizations through virtual town halls, civil literacy building, public technology demonstrations and presentations to governing bodies.
“The impact that we at CAAM intend to have for the release of these reports is centered around our attempt to raise the bar of required questions and insights that need to be answered and evaluated in work towards operationalizing the advanced air mobility industry globally,” JR Hammond, executive director of CAAM, told eVTOL.com.
Hammond hopes the approach taken by his stakeholder group, incorporating from the beginning societal impacts well beyond economics, will inspire other communities and early actors to similarly take a broad view of the technology’s impact.
“We know that the advanced air mobility industry will become a globally interconnected industry,” Hammond said. “CAAM is taking a leading stand by putting in our time, effort and resources to ensure this technology continues to champion the Triple Bottom Line framework of Environmental, Economic and Social opportunities and impacts.”