Silicon Valley-style innovation clusters to include aviation companies

Avatar for Ben ForrestBy Ben Forrest | February 23, 2018

Estimated reading time 6 minutes, 33 seconds.

Canada’s aviation and aerospace industries will play a key role in the creation of innovation superclusters similar to Silicon Valley.

Worker loads cargo into Air Canada jet
Air Canada plans to use artificial intelligence to develop new tools that allow it to better manage cargo capacity. Air Canada Photo

Air Canada and PAL Aerospace are among hundreds of companies involved in creating five superclusters across Canada, with a $950 million investment from the federal government that will be matched dollar-for-dollar by the private sector.

“We think this is important for Canada,” said Catherine Dyer, chief information officer for Air Canada, in an interview with Skies.

“We really view ourselves as a leader in this space, and to build capability in this part of the country, and more broadly for Canada, are two things that we think go very nicely together.”

Air Canada will be part of the Quebec-based SCALE.AI supercluster, which aims to use artificial intelligence and robotics to build intelligent supply chains, making Canada a world-leading exporter.

“Our hope around this is that it will help us become more efficient in how we deal in our operations excellence program, as well as in our cargo business,” said Dyer.

“But from my perspective it has got probably further-reaching opportunities in terms of how we enable employees and customers in creating that Air Canada experience that we’re all very focused on.

“So most immediately it’s going to be focused on the logistics components of our business. But we do believe that artificial intelligence, more generally, has got some fairly broad-reaching implications for our company.”

Workers load cargo into Air Canada jet
Air Canada was a key player in creating the supercluster submission in late 2017. Air Canada Photo

Air Canada was a key player in creating the supercluster submission in late 2017 and sees its involvement as a step toward becoming a global leader in supply chain management.

SCALE.AI includes 120 partners across Canada from a wide range of industries, including transportation, telecommunications, mining, food, and oil and gas.

“We [Air Canada] would be looking at how we could use artificial intelligence to help us see things maybe we don’t see when we’re looking at it with human brains,” said Dyer.

“That really is the purpose of artificial intelligence, is to take the collective wisdom of many people, and the computing power of machines, and apply it to the business problems that we have today.”

Air Canada plans to use artificial intelligence to develop new tools that allow it to better manage cargo capacity, resulting in better customer service.

“Timeliness is essential when shipping fresh products and employees will have better tools to forecast the need for space in temperature controlled facilities, facilitate tracking and ensure timely delivery,” said Isabelle Arthur, senior media relations manager for Air Canada, in a statement.

“Air Canada already uses artificial intelligence in revenue management, to forecast aircraft maintenance, in marketing, in elevating customer experience and communications by partnering with government, universities in Toronto and Montreal to help Canada retake a leadership position.”

PAL Aerospace will be part of the Ocean Supercluster in Atlantic Canada, which plans to use innovation to improve competitiveness in ocean-based industries like fisheries, oil and gas, and clean energy.

Force Multiplier in flight
PAL Aerospace’s Force Multiplier is a modified Bombardier Dash 8 Q300 with a full mission system suite. The company is part of the Ocean Supercluster in Atlantic Canada. PAL Aerospace Image

The company will design and execute projects that encourage collaboration with other supercluster members, small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and academic institutions, said Derek F. Scott, vice-president of program development for PAL Aerospace, in a statement to Skies.

“We aim to use supercluster initiatives to advance our digitalization objectives in our modern ocean surveillance programs such as the ice management services we continue to provide the oil and gas industry today,” he said.

“In addition, we intend to use the program to advance opportunities to strategically insert other entities such as SME companies into our solution and supply chain for our domestic and international customers.”

He noted Canada has the longest coastline in the world, which spans some of the most challenging ocean environments, including the North Atlantic.

“Innovation is a solution to challenge, and Canada has an ocean of opportunity to drive innovation into technologies and capabilities that contribute to Canada’s economic growth, sustainability and export growth,” said Scott

“PAL Aerospace is a leading example of how ocean innovation contributed to its success and the Ocean Supercluster initiative will now give us an opportunity to capitalize on that strength and create even more success for PAL Aerospace and for those companies and entities that work with us on the program.”

Along with the SCALE.AI and Ocean superclusters, three others are planned:

  • The Advanced Manufacturing Supercluster in Ontario, which aims to connect Canada’s technology strengths to its manufacturing industry;
  • The Protein Industries Supercluster, based in the Prairies, which intends to make Canada a leading source for plant proteins; and
  • The Digital Technology Supercluster, based in British Columbia, which will use big data and digital technologies to unlock new potential in sectors like healthcare, forestry and manufacturing.

More than 450 businesses, 60 post-secondary institutions and 180 other participants are involved in the five supercluster initiatives, according to a government news release.

It’s expected the superclusters will create 50,000 middle-class jobs and grow Canada’s economy by $50 billion over the next 10 years.

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