Who among us has not experienced that feeling in our lifetime of having missed an early opportunity to get on board with something new? At this very moment that same feeling should be sending out alarms! We are on the cusp of a revolution in air transportation of cargo and passengers. Now is the time for Distributors and MROs to aggressively forge ties with the emerging firebrands of this movement, and to creatively develop new methods to support it while the distribution of spares and performance of maintenance is still in the formative stages.
This revolution is characterized by the simultaneous development of emerging technology and operations, herein briefly summarized:
Tech: Electric Propulsion replacing conventional engines Tech: Hybrid Propulsion- Combination fuel and electric Tech: Autonomous Operation of aircraft and drones (See the “Certifying AI…” paragraph) Tech: A little too early but keep a watch on Hydrogen Fuel cells and Hydrogen powered aircraft development. Operations: Cargo delivery by drone Operations: Urban Air Mobility-Point to point passenger flights
This new and emerging technology has of course, created many new acronyms. Among these:
UAM: Urban Air Mobility
UAS: Unmanned Aerial System
UAV: Unmanned Air Vehicles
UCAV: Unmanned Combat Air Vehicles
VTOL: Vertical Takeoff and Landing- Helicopters are the traditional VTOLs.
eVTOL: Electric Vertical Takeoff and Landing
SC-VTOL: Small Category Vertical Takeoff and Landing
Here is actionable intelligence:
At the end of this article, after considerable effort, is a listing of companies in this new space which distributors and MROs should research for possible opportunities; throw
that challenge to your business-development staff!
Design and certification of aircraft, creation of new operations procedures, integration of these new aircraft into the existing aircraft operations environment, and certification of pilots are all occurring at a frenzied pace with now daily press releases of firms seeking to impress investors, and regulators informing us of their efforts to instill a modicum of standardization and order for these processes.
An interesting and creative hint of how some of this may manifest is in Joby Aviation’s deal with the U.S.’ largest parking garage operator allowing it to secure long-term rooftop leases for vertiport (UAM takeoff and landing) sites. The companies will focus initially on Los Angeles, Miami, New York and the San Francisco Bay Area. Converting the rooftops of underused parking garages into vertiports is seen as an early opportunity to expand the infrastructure for urban air mobility beyond the limited number of heliports now available
Investment and Airline Involvement:
Consider that in just the first months of 2021, investors contributed $4.5 Billion into the blossoming advanced air mobility industry. The goal is that commercial aerial ride-sharing will become a reality in 2024
Airlines have taken notice and with typical fanfare have placed significant orders with these upstart manufacturers as illustrated below
And this just in, Japan Airlines is also jumping into the eVTOL market with their buys going to Volocopter
Another headline as I write: “DHL to pilot use of large cargo drones in Europe.
Developer Dronamics is establishing 39 droneports across the continent. DHL said Monday it could use up to 4,000 heavy-cargo drones operated by Dronamics for its logistics and parcel network in Europe.” 8
“ Right now carriers are stuck buying the latest version of 30 or 50 year old twin engine airplanes. The History of technology suggests that, at some point, there will be radical disruption, and airlines want to be part of that when it happens.” 1
Certifying Artificial Intelligence (AI): The way to profitability:
If Urban Air Mobility takes off in 2024 as planned, there is no doubt that the flights will be crewed by a pilot (take notice I’ve succumbed to the PC demand to use genderless references by using the term ‘crewed’ as opposed to that pesky legacy term, ‘manned’). In addition, since these initial aircraft will be small and carry a very limited amount of passengers, there are some who question the profitability of these initial operations. On the other hand, when these flights are able to be flown autonomously (read that pilotless), a new level of profitability will take hold. If so, Artificial Intelligence will be a key enabler of autonomous passenger flight
. Note that Machine Learning (ML) and AI are often equated with each other and mentioned in the same sentence. 4
EASA has taken notice of all this and appears to be positioning itself to certify the first AI/ML software
which would be key to facilitate autonomous operations. Research is underway to define this process . This is all particularly interesting for two reasons: 6
Currently AI/ML is being applied on an experimental basis or into novel applications and a single regulatory or industry standard has not arisen. Public discussions have centered on the moral, social, and ethical implications of such technology. Today’s existing airborne software undergoes rigorous development and certification as embodied by the RTCA’s DO-178 titled “Software Considerations in Airborne Systems and Equipment Certification” and is the primary document by which the certification authorities such as FAA, EASA and Transport Canada approve all commercial software-based aerospace systems (note that there are other supporting standards with DO-178 listed in the link). Will AI/ML roll up into these existing standards or will there be new regulations or guidance material? 7
For those of us who want to dig a little deeper into the brave new world of electric propulsion, the following article nicely introduces us to the new techno-speak; it’s titled “What are the main challenges to using electric propulsion in commercial aviation?
The world will see the first attempts to regulate or certify AI/ML, in this industry. There will be a battery technology breakthrough soon. There will be many mergers and acquisitions of the firms listed in the table below. Fractional ownership of these new vehicles will likely arise as a funding model. Automobile and Aircraft Manufacturers will arise to take an active role in manufacturing.
BTW: A good source for UAM news is at this site:
Here’s the listing of companies I researched and put together in alphabetical order for your biz-dev department:
Make it happen!
Roy ‘Royboy’ Resto
1 What Do Airlines Want from eVTOLS?; Aviation Week & Space Technology, June 28-July 11, 2021, page 64.
2 Vertical Ambition; Aviation Week & Space Technology, June 28-July 11, 2021, page 66.
3 Joby Eyes Rooftop Vertiports; Aviation Week & Space Technology, June 28-July 11, 2021, page 70.
4 Certifying Artificial Intelligence Is The Key To Automating Air Mobility; Aviation Week & Space Technology, June 14-27, 2021, page 36.
8 https://www.freightwaves.com/news/dhl-to-swarm-europe-with-4000-cargo-drones 9 https://aviationweek.com/special-topics/sustainability/what-are-electric-propulsion-challenges-commercial-aviation