JR Hammond at CoMotion Los Angeles: part 1

November 30, 2021

CAAM and CoMotionJR Hammond is the Founder & CEO of the Canadian Advanced Air Mobility Consortium (CAAM), and during November 16-18, he represented CAAM at the CoMotion Los Angeles.

The conference brought together global mayors and policymakers, leading technologists, public transport operators, venture capitalists, start-ups and other public and private sector partners to discuss the future of transportation.

After the conference, I sat down with JR to chat a little about his experience at CoMotion. For readability reasons, the interview has two parts.

In this first part, we’ll talk about companies, investors, progress, and more. And on the second part, JR will talk about AAM in Canada and the zero-emission future.

Without further ado, here is part 1 of my debrief with JR.

Who are the big names that were there?

Wisk, Supernal (formerly known as Hyundai), UP Partners, and Starburst Aero. Those are the four main ones that I want to bring attention to.

Why do you think it’s important to mention “Wisk?”

This would be the first time ever that the Wisk Cora Aircraft was displayed publicly in North America. So it brought tangibility to the Advanced Air Mobility (AAM) market.

And why is it relevant to mention Supernal?

Supernal is a massive, massive, massive company! Like globally in cars, shipping, energy, this and that. Three years ago, they made a multibillion-dollar investment into launching an AAM team.

So, three years ago, it was just Hyundai Urban Air Mobility (UAM); they started hiring tons and tons of professionals across the world to join this team. They wanted to develop their own aircraft, their own vertiport, and their own ecosystem on the technology side. And since last week, they renamed themselves Supernal, giving them this new exciting brand to bring forward AAM to North America.

And why is it important that Supernal was at CoMotion? They are our main partners to help to develop the Canadian AAM Masterplan. So we’re bringing a global powerhouse behind Canada to create a future vision of how AAM can be in our country.

In short, Supernal is a global powerhouse in the AAM world, helping to craft the Canadian AAM Masterplan.

Do you think the rebranding is directly associated with their venture into AAM? Or do you think there are other aspects to it?

It’s a rebrand that brings more strategy and resources around AAM and the ecosystem they want to create.

And how about the investors? Why do they matter, and why is it worth highlighting them?

They are the next phase of AAM development in Canada. Once we have the marketplace, once we are developing projects, we then have to be welcomed into the capital world. So seeing the capital world already there as part of the conversation gives us more credibility that Canada will be open for business.

Sitting at the table with them ensures that Canada is open for capital investment into the AAM world!

It’s almost like money means business…

You’ve reached a point where you’re not funding it yourself, but you’re attracting other dollars into the industry. That’s when the ecosystem really takes a life of its own, and it’s not all contained to just cap or Federal Government helping to support with grants.

What felt like progress in the AAM industry for you?

The progress that I saw was seen global AAM stakeholders come together to discuss best practices. And that was airports, capital, non-profits, and transportation agencies.

Having all these global stakeholders discussing best practices, can we say that AAM is already starting by fixing, or at least not committing past mistakes like lack of sustainability?

Yes! And I’d add that starting with best practices conversations, we don’t have to recreate a model for every single place around the world. We can understand and learn by watching what Los Angeles is doing, what Paris is doing.

We can take the best of that and critically showcase what we are doing in Canada to raise the bar from the overall global industry. And I think that’s one of the most important things I want to bring from this experience at CoMotion.

AAM is a novelty. Because of this, and considering that conversations are happening before the industry is consolidated, do you think you’re changing the status quo in terms of not trying to fix mistakes but avoiding them?

Very much so. That’s a critical piece! Because we’re not operational yet, we have the opportunity to forecast and reduce to eliminate fatal errors that could send our industry back decades and decades at a time. And a great example is, we do not have any margin of errors in aerospace compared to ground transportation via cars, buses, etc.

If somebody dies from an aircraft incident, not only does everything gets shut down industry-wise, but it also sets back that public engagement, that public safety perception at least ten years.

So the industry is really banding together in saying, “when we do become operational, we have to have the safety requirements, not only in the safe-level that current aviation already has but continuing to exceed those.”

This reminds me of the Malaysia Airlines incidents years ago* when the Malaysian government had to save the company from bankruptcy after two incidents. If people can so easily distrust traditional air companies, a novelty like AAM will struggle even more.

Exactly. Exactly. And that’s where many AAM manufacturers like Lilium, Joby, Wisk, Supernal… are very concerned that if we don’t have the highest level of safety standards, they’ll get dragged down regardless of whether it’s their aircraft that crashes or somebody else’s.

It makes sense because the public has to trust everyone, not only X, Y, or Z.

Exactly! The public has to trust the whole industry.

Come back tomorrow to read part 2 of my chat with JR about CoMotion Los Angeles. Tomorrow we’ll talk about Canada and the zero-emission future.

See you tomorrow!

By Giovani Izidorio Cesconetto

 

*On March 8, 2014, Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 disappeared mid-flight. And on July 17, 2014, Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 was shot down while flying eastern Ukraine. In August 2014, the Malaysian government renationalized the company to save it from bankruptcy.

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