Edmonton Int’l Turns Tech Partnership into Business Opportunity

Edmonton Int’l Turns Tech Partnership into Business Opportunity
Mindy Hamlin
Published in: 

At Edmonton International (YEG), strategic partnerships with technology companies are helping the airport tackle common industry challenges such as wildlife management, perimeter security and ground support services. One venture led to the development of a new portable diesel heater to keep jet bridges and parked aircraft warm during cold Canadian winters. 

Investing in aviation-based technology is one way the Alberta airport is carrying out its mission to drive regional economic prosperity through aviation and commercial development.    

“Several years ago, we launched a strategy to develop our land into an airport city, leveraging the airport and airfield to bring on companies and manufacturing that would support the airport and the region,” explains Steve Maybee, YEG’s vice president of operations and infrastructure.


Project: Technology Partnerships

Location: Edmonton (AB) Int’l Airport

On-Site Training/Innovation Facility: Alberta Aerospace & Technology Centre

Key Partners: Canadian North; Canadian Helicopters; Edmonton Economic Development Corp.; government of Alberta

Commercial Venture: Airport is partnering with Absolute Combustion Int’l to sell ACI-SM1000 portable aircraft/jet bridge heater it developed 

Key Product Benefits: Faster heating; operates at -50 C; smaller footprint than standard units

Products in Development: Robird, a peregrine falcon drone by Aerium Technologies used to scare geese & seagulls off airfield; driverless all-terrain vehicle used for perimeter security developed in cooperation with the Alberta Centre for Advanced Microprocessor & Nanotechnology Products

In June 2015, the Alberta Aerospace and Technology Centre opened at the airport to provide aerospace training, and support aviation research and innovation. YEG partnered with the airline Canadian North and Canadian Helicopters, Edmonton Economic Development Corporation and the government of Alberta to launch the new facility.  

New Aircraft Heater 

One of the most promising innovations to come out of the Alberta Aerospace and Technology Centre is a piece of ground support equipment. Some involved with the project predict that the portable diesel heater could change the way airports and airlines take the chill off parked aircraft.  

Three years ago, the airport began working closely with Absolute Combustion International, an Edmonton-based company known for developing unique heating technology for the oil, gas and recycling industries. Regional economic developers wondered if its technology could be adapted for aerospace applications, and the airport began talking with company personnel about aircraft heaters. 

“We started with the question ‘What if?’ and went from there,” explains Maybee.  

Soon, YEG officials invited the company to locate at the on-airport technology center; and engineers began creating a prototype. After three years of prototype development and testing with Canadian North, YEG and Absolute Combustion announced it would begin selling the ACI-SM1000, a portable diesel heater designed to operate in extremely cold temperatures. Their main markets are airports and airlines that want to heat aircraft parked at gates.  

“The heater we developed is a much more efficient way to distribute heat in the aircraft,” explains Koleya Karringten, chief executive officer of Absolute Combustion. “If you have fuel under pressure and a long flame, it is not very efficient and creates a high level of emissions. We have complete combustion within only 8 inches, and the burner is so efficient it does not produce carbon monoxide.”

The heater also requires less space. “Since we only have an 8-inch flame, we can use a unit that is smaller than a traditional heater and is able to use less BTU to produce the same amount of heat,” adds Karringten.

Moreover, the ACI-SM1000 uses 50% to 70% less fuel and requires no assistance from auxiliary power units to heat aircraft on the tarmac.

One of the biggest benefits, notes Karringten, is that it can operate in temperatures as cold as -50 degrees Celsius, and bring the cabin of a Boeing 737 from -30 C to 20 C in just 30 minutes. Conventional systems typically take more than 90 minutes to accomplish the same task. 

Karringten credits YEG with providing critical input and feedback throughout the design and development phases. “Our incredibly strong partnership with YEG has allowed us to make the challenging quantum leap from research to commercialization,” says Karringten.

In return for its investment of several hundred thousand dollars, YEG maintains a revenue sharing agreement with Absolute Combustion. They will derive revenue from the mechanical patent, which it shares with Absolute Combustion, and the sale of the ACI-SM1000. 

Absolute Combustion and YEG declined to provide the cost of the heater and sales projections.

The airport purchased the first three units manufactured and will begin marketing the heaters to airports and airlines. Maybee sees strong market potential for the product. He notes that beyond heating jet bridges and aircraft, the product could also be used to keep construction shelters and runway pavement warm.

Drone Technologies

YEG is working with two other companies to develop and test products specifically targeted for airport applications. One focuses on wildlife management, the other on perimeter security. Both leverage drone technology.

Robird is a drone created by Aerium Technologies to mimic the predatory peregrine falcon. Its purpose is to scare geese and seagulls off airport property and reduce the risk of wildlife strikes for aircraft. 

Although Robird is manufactured in the Netherlands, the company operates from the Alberta Aerospace and Technology Centre; and YEG is its primary tester. “We are testing the drone to prove that it can work at airports even while they are operational,” says Maybee.

“The drone program has been very effective in our operations and effective at hazing and scaring birds away,” he adds. “We have experienced the birds leaving and not returning, and we continue to test and utilize the Robird as part of our day-to-day bird and wildlife program.”

In a similar vein, the airport unveiled a driverless all-terrain vehicle last year to monitor the perimeter of its property. The vehicle’s five cameras supplement existing perimeter security measures and wildlife detection efforts by informing airport staff of activity. The drone vehicle was created for YEG through a partnership with the Alberta Centre for Advanced Microprocessor and Nanotechnology Products.

“We continue our trial testing of the security vehicle and are upgrading systems to be more effective in our conditions,” reports Maybee. “It’s primarily used to patrol the fence line looking for anomalies in the base conditions.” 

Overall, he says that airports work well to incubate startup companies. “We see the bigger, overall picture and overall operations,” he explains. “We see where efficiencies can be made.”

In doing so, YEG is helping chart a course for how the industry can leverage technology. “YEG has developed a whole digital strategy around technology,” Maybee adds. “We are working to determine how we can embrace technology and leverage it instead of having to react to it. We want to be part of the disruption instead of being disrupted. We are trying to break the mold.” 

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