Superior Air Mobility: What Must Go Proper

The Promise of AAM for Business Aviation

This year, the National Business Aviation Association (NBAA) showcased advanced air mobility (AAM) at its annual Business Aviation Conference and Expo (BACE). One such panel, moderated by Robin Reidel, McKinsey and Company, included Tim Arel of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), Dan Dalton from Wisk, Dan Elwell of Elwell and Associates (representing Joby as a Board Member) and Oliver Reinhardt from Volocopter. The group highlighted the promise of AAM for the business aviation industry and society as a whole. This article synopsizes the discussion. (*Note – the words are those of the author and not verbatim).

Reidel (Moderator): Where are each of today in your progress towards AAM?

Reinhardt (Volocopter): At Volocopter, we are flying here in Vegas during all three days of the conference, at Henderson airport. Seeing is believing. This is a reality. We are in the middle of the type certification process for our 2-seater piloted aircraft for urban missions, the VoloCity. We are targeting EASA approval in the middle next year, with FAA certification to follow. We are ready to operate late next summer in the Paris Olympics, followed by operations in Rome, then at the World Expo in Osaka, Japan and in Saudi Arabias futuristic city, Neom.

Elwell (Joby): Joby is going to get flying in 2026, with commercial operations globally by 2028. Jobys been flying full scale models since 2017. We have flown 30,000 miles, with the vast majority of those remotely operated. We have plans to go into service with a pilot and 4 passengers. We recently delivered our first production aircraft to U.S. Air Force. We are breaking ground on our first manufacturing plant in the U.S. in Ohio. We have regulatory hurdles to get over, but we will get past them and demonstrate to the global flying public what eVTOLs are all about.

Dalton (Wisk): Unlike these other companies who will have a piloted aircraft initially, we are developing the fully autonomous air taxi from the start. After 13 years and 5 previous generations of aircraft, we will be undergoing type certification with our 6th generation Cora.

We have been super focused on airspace integration and community engagement. One key challenge is how to tie what is happening at the national level with the end users. We flew at OshKosh this year and are looking to do more flight testing soon. We will be doing some of that testing in LA at the commercial airport there.

Arel (FAA): We continue to take the crawl-walk-run approach so we can integrate these aircraft in a responsible manner. In a way, its a  little easier with AAM, than with drones. eVTOLs can talk and squawk and be seen on our surveillance systems and talk to other aircraft. We are ready to take those aircraft and integrate them. Initially, we will likely have eVTOLs use helicopter routes, like we do with Ospreys.

Wisk at the NBAA BACE event.

Reidel: There are many challenges for AAM. What needs to go right in the next 2-3 years to make AAM a reality?

Reinhardt (Volocopter): The devil is in the details. We started in 2011. By 2016 we were doing some flying with a pilot. From the technology standpoint, using a pure multirotor design, weve got that covered. On the operational side, there are hurdles. For example, for Paris, where we will be connecting between 2 big airports with crossing runways, we plotted out 32 different variants of possible flight routes, once we started planning. Alternate landing sites can present physics and battery life issues. This is why Volocopter is building a complete ecosystem, including maintenance, charging and more. Building up this complete network is manageable but challenging.

Elwell (Joby): I dont view infrastructure as a challenge. We have heliports, large parking lots, rooftops and even open spaces in clover leafs on highways. As long as we have a charging  capability, any of these places can work. Our vision by creating a partnership with Uber is this: the Uber will pick you up, take you to the vertiport in 5 minutes, our aircraft will fly you to your destination and there will be an Uber hookup on the other end. That said, one challenge is dispelling the myth that this is just for the wealthy. For conventional aviation, the biggest expenses are pilots and fuel. We are electric and will eventually be pilotless. Anyone should be able to go 25-30 miles in a Joby eVTOL for the price of an Uber Black. We plan to save a billion people an hour a day. To do this, the flights need to be between points that are prohibitive right now or quicker.

Dalton (Wisk): Im going to turn the challenge question into one about opportunity. We see opportunity in autonomy and decided to take autonomy on, right from the beginning. We have included autonomy in the product and tech development, have been working with regulators to ensure it is safe, reliable and that we will be a good partner in the airspace. All of that proves the business case. Weve made great progress with the technology, while working closely with the regulators at the same time. On the business side, we have so much capability as a fully owned subsidiary of Boeing. This allows us to tap into Boeings holistic business model globally. Autonomy will enable us to offer air taxi services to more people, which will ultimately reduce the price.

Arel (FAA): For the FAA, its all about equitable access to the airspace. These companies are moving at great speed relative to aviation. Getting to scale will be a challenge. We have congested runways already. So, how do you manage that? We recently published Innovate 28 to outline some of the requirements. We also have AAM testing efforts around the country aimed at a fully integrated system in time for the LA basin Olympics.  Some will be individual efforts and some will be mixed aviation trials.

Volocopter showcases its VoloCity at the CoMotionLA event

Reidel (Moderator): What works and what doesnt work to entice the public with regard to AAM?

Reinhardt (Volocopter): The key is going out and flying the aircraft. We have been flying in Texas and will be flying in Florida. When we fly, we conduct dedicated studies with the universities in the area with regard to the perception of the public. We ask the same questions before and after our fights. After the flights, the answers have been overwhelmingly positive. So what we need to keep doing is to fly publicly and visibly. That is the clear way to convince everyone there is nothing to fear. We have flown in Helsinki and in South Korea with Air Traffic Control (ATC), to learn and train. Thats what we need. Thats what helps to build positive and supportive perception. Then it feels positive and smooth.

Reidel (Moderator): Noise seems to be one of the main issues for the public, in introducing new aircraft. What are your thoughts on that?

Arel (FAA): Its more about safety, to gain public trust. And when it comes to noise, the question is: Are you a responsible member of the community? Where do you operate and how do you operate? Companies need to consider flight profiles that are best for the community from landing, takeoff, point A to point B, flight altitudes and the profile of aircraft they are flying. I also cannot stress community engagement enough.

Reidel (Moderator): AAM is unique in that the OEMs are going to be the manufacturer and the airline or the ride sharers. How will this work?

Elwell (Joby): We can do this like a legacy airline. Legacy systems are in the cloud also. So you dont need that infrastructure. But at least for the first decade or more, the creators will be the ones who will need to operate them. Maybe in the future, OEMs can hand the operations off.

Reinhardt (Volocopter): One of the key reasons Im with Volocopter is because they were looking at AAM holistically, in the full vertical. I thought, Yes, I can trust in that project, I can believe in it.” It was not about building a fancy aircraft and hoping others will believe in it. We are

doing something new, so we controlled the operations, at first. We have been selling them to emergency medical services in Germany. Also, as soon as we leave our own territory, ownership restrictions for out of country OEMs will require someone locally to operate it. We designed our digital platforms to be easier to handle this. We are all electric so we can manage all the operational data and predictive maintenance etc. using our VoloIQ.

Dalton (Wisk): For Wisk, the value proposition to our partners is huge. We are providing mobility as a service. Our partners can offer this to their customers on a contract. They dont need to build their own flight departments etc.

Reidel (Moderator): What changes might come about due to these new technologies?

Arel (FAA): NextGen is NowGen. We have data communications that improve efficiency and the safety of current operations. We also have legacy systems. We have to serve systems from Piper Cub to the VoloCity. We have started a conversation about getting a few things across the finish line and then hitting the reset button. We cant keep meeting with drones, eVTOLS and space separately. They need to be addressed together. We are focused right now on clearing the backlog of traditional operations. After that, its time to hit that reset button.

Joby Aviation

Reidel (Moderator): What are the technologies that are next generation and how do they impact the entire system?

Dalton (Wisk): With a clean sheet aircraft, you can build in all of those NextGen technologies from the start. Autonomous flights like ours are going to be predictable and boring. They will just go back and forth across ATCs screen like Pong. The game changer will be controller pilot data link conditions (CPDLC), because this can reduce the possibility of miscommunication that you get with analog radios etc. (Note: CPDLC is a two-way data-link system by which controllers can transmit non urgent ‘strategic messages to an aircraft as an alternative to voice communications. The message is displayed on a flight deck visual display.)

Reinhardt (Volocopter): You need to decouple systems of today from NextGen. We have the unique ability to get big data from the data stream. This provides full lifecycle data in a highly granular way across the full value stream. Connecting this to principles of SMS (safety management systems) will give us a unique opportunity to collect trends, especially with AI algorithms. Things like data in the cloud, AI/ML are key and present interesting challenges that we will need to address with the civil aviation authorities.

Elwell (Joby): Im going to focus on people, not tech. We have the biggest pilot shortage in history right now. Im excited about what we are going to do to entice people to fly these vehicles. We will have young people fly and do 6 turnarounds and sleep in their own beds at night while getting paid a decent wage. We have a simulator, a flight control system designed by F35 engineers, that shows our human machine interface is the easiest weve ever seen. The lack of moving parts and the redundancy of the battery packs is all very exciting.

Arel (FAA): There has to be a cultural shift from ATC to ATM. The biggest challenge is to have standardization across the industry. We need everyone to work together in that new airspace. Cooperation and coordination has got to come together now that we are getting out of the propriety piece.

Reidel (Moderator): What is the biggest misconception out there about eVTOL and AAM?

Dalton (Wisk): That autonomy is in the future. No. Autonomy is right now.

Reinhardt (Volocopter): That all of these 100s of eVTOL vehicles will come into the market. There are 100s of designs, but are they even possible? We see some overpromising. No animal can do everything at once.

Arel (FAA): That the FAA is inhibiting these ops and not letting people fly. Nothing could be further from the truth. We are actively working with responsible operators to accommodate, test and integrate these aircraft.

Elwell (Joby): That this is not going to be a safe endeavor.  Ive never been more sure of the methodical approach to safety than what Ive seen in this industry. Our aircraft are going to be every bit as safe, if not safer than the airlines you get on and fly today without a second thought.

To see panels like this live, plan now to attend next years NBAA BACE, Oct 22-24th in Las Vegas.

Dawn M.K. Zoldi (Colonel, USAF, Retired) is a licensed attorney with 28 years of combined active duty military and federal civil service to the U.S. Air Force. She is the CEO & Founder of P3 Tech Consulting and an internationally recognized expert on uncrewed  aircraft system law and policy. Zoldi contributes to several magazines and hosts popular tech podcasts. Zoldi is also an Adjunct Professor for two universities, at the undergraduate and graduate levels. In 2022, she received the Airwards People’s Choice Industry Impactor Award, was recognized as one of the Top Women to Follow on LinkedIn and listed in the eVTOL Insights 2022 PowerBook. For more information, follow her on social media and visit her website at: https://www.p3techconsulting.com.

Miriam McNabb is the Editor-in-Chief of DRONELIFE and CEO of JobForDrones, a professional drone services marketplace, and a fascinated observer of the emerging drone industry and the regulatory environment for drones. Miriam has penned over 3,000 articles focused on the commercial drone space and is an international speaker and recognized figure in the industry.  Miriam has a degree from the University of Chicago and over 20 years of experience in high tech sales and marketing for new technologies.
For drone industry consulting or writing, Email Miriam.


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