With more than 200 companies actively engaged in the space, advanced air mobility (AAM) is one of the hot topics at EBACE 2022, and aspects of the subject were discussed during a newsmaker’s session on Tuesday. Introducing the event, NBAA president and CEO Ed Bolen noted, “Business aviation has always been about on-demand air mobility. It’s getting people where they need to be, and when they need to get there.” Now, the business stands at the dawn of a new age, in which “distributed electric propulsion is the key.”
Moderated by journalist Lisa Stark, a panel comprising Christian Bauer (Volocopter), Sebastien Borel (Lilium), Diana Cooper (Supernal), Christian Mundigler (FACC), and Verity Richardson (Vertical Aerospace), talked over some of the important issues, notably those of certification, safety, and public acceptance of these new forms of transport, as well as their application in tomorrow’s world.
Regarding certification, the process is much clearer now than when vehicle development got under way. The certification path—at least in Europe—is now fixed, providing developers with a much better idea of what they must achieve. The goal is to certify air vehicles to similar standards as commercial airliners, making global certification easier. Moreover, these standards can provide a blueprint for the electrification of aviation beyond the AAM sector.
Most of the vehicles employ multiple rotors for vertical lift, which by their nature greatly increases redundancy. The Lilium Jet, for example, has 30 engines and 10 battery packs, and single or small numbers of failures do not necessarily impact safety. The same is true for guidance systems for autonomous vehicles, which typically take cues from numerous satellite sources, as well as maintaining continuous connections to the ground.
Public acceptance of these vehicles is already encouraging, but will be reinforced by high certification standards and can be increased by further engagement with potential users, underlined by demonstrations of safety in the event of component failures.
While these views drew mostly universal agreement across the panel, the question of autonomous versus piloted operation did not, at least for initial operations. The problems of introducing new technology, and with public acceptance, have led many to the belief that pilots are needed at first. However, there was also some enthusiasm for autonomous operations from the outset, with suggestions that autonomous flying would be achieved before fully autonomous driving.
The panel represented a diversity of intended operations, from city-center flying to reduce ground congestion, to more regional operations that would enable areas that are under-served by ground transportation to be more connected. The point was made that the installation of an AAM solution had a much lower environmental footprint than, say, new rail infrastructure.
There is also a desire to use these new vehicles to extend mobility to economically-deprived communities and also to make them more accessible to those with disabilities than current transportation.