Alberta’s aerospace industry is growing, and UCalgary is ready to play a key role in its future. PrairiesCan has announced $2.5 million in funding for UCalgary’s Aerospace Innovation Hub (AIH) via the Aerospace Regional Recovery Initiative. The AIH will be operated by UCalgary’s innovation transfer and business incubator centre, Innovate Calgary.
“The Aerospace Innovation Hub will light the path from lab to industry impact,” says Dr. Ed McCauley, president. “A beacon for researchers and budding startups, the hub will attract aerospace and advanced manufacturing innovators from around the world to Calgary and create a critical mass of industry activity that anchors and catalyzes our city’s aerospace ecosystem.”
- Photo above: Ben Hewitt, centre right, and Seyedarmin Seyed-Agha-Zadeh, right, Schulich School of Engineering students and members of Student Organization for Aerospace Research (SOAR), show components of a rocket to Minister Dan Vandal and MP George Chahal at the funding announcement on June 26, 2023.
The AIH will support the growth of the aerospace and advanced manufacturing industry in Alberta by unifying its existing components, including research groups like the UCalgary Aerospace Network (UCAN).
UCAN is an interdisciplinary network with over 30 members from the Schulich School of Engineering and the Faculties of Science and Arts. They are developing the technology and expertise to drive progress in the aerospace industry and foster new entrepreneurial opportunities.
“UCAN has diversified expertise in a wide range of aerospace topics and access to world-class aerospace facilities,” says Dr. Craig Johansen, PhD, professor in the Schulich School of Engineering and co-founder and co-director of UCAN. “We excel in aerodynamics and propulsion, space systems, numerical methods and computing, and big data and machine learning.”
“Our government is growing Canada’s aerospace industry from coast to coast, that is why we are investing in Calgary’s talented innovators to support the development of the next generation of aerospace technologies and create high-value jobs for Calgarians,” says François-Philippe Champagne, minister of innovation, science and industry.
Drone research ready for growth
One area Johansen cites as particularly rich for growth in Calgary is the unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) sector — what we colloquially refer to as drones.
Globally, UAVs are a fast-growing sector in aerospace, thanks to widespread adoption for civilian applications like real-time monitoring, remote sensing, search and rescue, delivery, security and surveillance, agriculture and beyond.
“Alberta is a hot spot in Canada for UAV companies, being home to a large percentage of Canada’s UAV firms,” says Johansen. Calgary was also the first major city in North America to allow mass testing of commercial drones, and is just a few hours’ drive from the Foremost UAS Test Range that offers over 2,400 square kilometres of flight space.
“UCalgary has the expertise and facilities to contribute to UAV technologies and is located in a province that already leads the UAV industry in Canada,” says Johansen.
Innovation hub model has proven track record
The AIH will operate on the same successful hub model as UCalgary’s Life Science Innovation Hub, Energy Transition Centre, and Social Innovation Hub, also operated by Innovate Calgary.
“The hub model is a complete suite of support for startups,” says Adam Cragg, executive director of the University Innovation Quarter. “It ensures that from lab to early rounds of venture capital, a startup has the support it needs to succeed and scale quickly.”
The hubs bring together researchers, physical space, expert support, non-dilutive funding, corporate partnerships, and ultimately, venture capital.
“From drone companies doing visual inspections of infrastructure to satellite companies improving agricultural yields, there are innovators putting Calgary on the map,” says Cragg.
“With large local companies like WestJet, Raytheon, and Lockheed Martin, and the arrival of De Havilland, there is an opportunity to connect the dots and allow the ecosystem to move more quickly.”
Researchers and students excited for future of aerospace in Alberta
The creation of the AIH signals to the UCalgary aerospace research community that there is a “serious commitment” to advance the industry in Western Canada.
“With the new and popular aerospace engineering minor at UCalgary, students are being trained with the skills to meet the demands of this innovative field,” says Johansen. Many of these students are already connecting with industry via student clubs as they share their innovative designs at international competitions.
“Many UCalgary graduates want to stay and work in Alberta after finishing their degrees,” says Johansen. “The support and growth of aerospace in Alberta are exactly what students want and what the province needs to diversify the economy.”