Chief Sustainability Officer at CAE Talks Carbon Neutrality, Flight Simulators, & More
CAE, a leading flight training and simulation company, has highlighted its commitment to ESG activities, next-gen technologies, and sustainability in its recent FY23 Global Annual Activity and Sustainability report. The report showcases progress across all three of CAE’s units—Civil, Defense, and Healthcare—in 2023.
Avionics International spoke with Chief Sustainability Officer (CSO) and Senior Vice President of Stakeholder Engagement, Hélène V. Gagnon, to learn more about the recently published report and her perspective on sustainability in the aviation industry.
“For civil aviation, we do a lot with pilot training and flight simulators,” she remarked. “Now, we are much more than that—through acquisitions, we offer digital solutions to help airlines with their operational support. We help them with crew management on the ground and in the air, managing catering, and optimizing their flight plan to make sure that they have the most direct route.”
“We decided to make the pledge in the fall of 2019 to become carbon neutral. Despite the collapse of aviation in March 2020, we remained true to our commitment. We started compensating our residual emissions for Scope 1, buying some renewable energy certificates for 200 sites around the world, and also compensating for the business air travel of our employees (partial Scope 3). That’s how we became carbon neutral in 2020, and we remain carbon neutral. We’re trying to raise the bar every year on everything that we do in sustainability.”
Gagnon added that offsetting carbon is often seen as the last resort, but CAE prioritized carbon offsets from the beginning. “By becoming carbon neutral, and by starting to offset right now, we’re forcing ourselves to reduce at the source much faster,” she said. “Nobody likes to see the invoice of carbon offsetting, or the invoice of renewable energy certificates for electricity. So all the leaders in the organization are now very aware of our carbon and our energy costs.”
According to the Global Annual Activity and Sustainability report, the Civil unit outperformed past results despite the pandemic’s impact on global passenger traffic. The Defense unit secured contracts including a $455 million contract for Flight School Training Support Services at Fort Novosel, Alabama, and a $110.6 million contract for the U.S. Air Force’s Initial Flight Training – Rotary Wing (IFT-R) in Dothan, Alabama.
Strategic partnerships have been key for CAE. Notable collaborations include a joint venture with AEGEAN to establish an advanced flight training center in Athens, Greece, and an exclusive 15-year agreement with the Qantas Group to develop a pilot training center in Sydney, Australia. Furthermore, CAE has expanded its network with new business aviation training centers in Savannah, Georgia, Las Vegas, Nevada, and plans for a Vienna, Austria center by 2024.
CAE also integrated Sabre’s AirCentre portfolio, leading to an increase in customer touchpoints and a reduced carbon footprint for airlines utilizing their solutions. This was accompanied by various technological advancements such as the deployment of Virtual Reality and Artificial Intelligence-enabled Digital Solutions with the Japan Air Self-Defense Force (JASDF), the appointment of a Chief Technology and Product Officer, and the launch of mixed-reality training solutions.
Despite geopolitical shifts, CAE’s Defense & Security sector, leveraging commercial aviation innovations, achieved a $2.0 billion order intake in FY23 and is poised for future growth. The company also continues to prioritize sustainability, becoming Canada’s first carbon-neutral aerospace firm, developing an electric conversion kit for Piper Archer aircraft, and joining the Climate Group’s RE100 initiative.
“Although we do a lot of simulation, we also own a fleet of small aircraft—mostly Piper aircraft—to give the initial pilot license to cadets,” Gagnon shared.
She also explained that the RE100 is a group of companies that are committed to being powered by renewable energy by 2050. “In our case, because we have our renewable energy certificate, we’re almost there already—it’s proof that you are powered on the grid by renewable energy,” she noted. “We pay the premium for the electricity, where it’s not already directly powered by renewable energy. Being admitted to that select group of companies was also one of the achievements that we’ve highlighted in our report this year.”
CAE’s five-year ESG roadmap sets precise objectives for tracking progress. The company’s Flight Operations Solutions aim to reduce fuel consumption and waste, further supporting the decarbonization of the aviation industry.
Key partnerships include a 10-year agreement with Frontier Airlines for next-gen flight operations solutions, collaboration with Vertical Aerospace to develop training for the VX4 eVTOL aircraft, and extended agreements with TAG Aviation and Global Jet for business aviation pilot training. CAE also continues to provide integrated training services through its Cygnet Aviation Academy, in collaboration with Chorus Aviation.
eVTOL developer BETA Technologies and CAE announced a partnership in 2021 to develop a program for pilot and maintenance technician training for BETA’s ALIA aircraft.
To meet global demand for pilots and maintenance technicians, CAE is expanding its training capacity in Toronto and Burgess Hill Training Centres with the addition of Boeing 787 and 737 MAX full-flight simulators. This expansion aims to produce an additional 45,000 business aviation pilots and 66,000 business aircraft technicians by 2029.