NOTICE: Advanced air mobility in commercial aviation may be in start-up mode now, but the future awaits
The support challenges – from design, to production, to operation and maintenance – that await organizations looking to enter or further establish themselves in a high-growth industry.
In 2021, Advanced Air Mobility (AAM) and Advanced Air Vehicles (AAV) attracted $7 billion in new investment, a record year, more than double the total disclosed investments made in the previous decade. There is no doubt that the AAM industry is at a turning point in commercial aviation.
But Rob Mather, vice president, Aerospace and Defense Industries, IFS, explains that most AAM organizations have a “start-up” mentality and it’s those organizations that look beyond design. and prototyping, and put in place a full-scale commercialization strategy and ongoing operations. who have the most to gain. This includes the software they use to manage every stage of each AAV’s lifecycle.
The industry is full of acronyms related to Advanced Air Mobility (AAM) and Advanced Air Vehicles (AAV).
So let’s start going through the “acronym salad” by defining industry terms within the commercial aviation ecosystem:
- There is a plethora of high-tech start-ups making rapid progress with all types of Advanced Aerial Vehicles (AAVs) with commercial and civilian applications
- The phenomenon of urban air mobility (UAM) – think flying taxis for short passenger trips or cargo deliveries – is made possible by electric vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) aircraft, up to completely wireless aerial vehicles. pilot (UAV) much larger than your typical drone, which will be used for last mile and mid mile cargo delivery
- But AAV is not just about air taxis or unmanned aircraft, it also applies to aircraft with new forms of propulsion, such as hybrid electric aircraft (HEA) and all-electric aircraft (FEA) to reflect the electrification of more traditional cells or new hybrids. or all-electric aircraft
- Take all of these vehicles and all the infrastructure and policy to support them together and you have Advanced Air Mobility (AAM).
AAV certifications are on the horizon on both sides of the Atlantic
Here, we explore the latest technologies driving the future of air travel:
Advanced aerial vehicles are not a distant future technology from the Jetsons; they’re coming sooner than you think and certificates of airworthiness are fast approaching. Consider this 2021 assessment from the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA): “Urban air mobility is expected to become a reality in Europe within 3-5 years. New technologies such as electric propulsion and improved battery capacity, applied to vertical take-off and landing systems, make this possible. The first commercial operations should be the delivery of goods by drones and the transport of passengers, initially with a pilot on board. Later, remote control or even autonomous services could follow. Several pilot projects are underway and some European manufacturers have already applied for certification, including for piloted vehicles for passenger transport. EASA is working with them on vehicle airworthiness.
In North America, the FAA is already focusing on infrastructure to support AAM. This year, it released interim guidance, via Engineering Brief, to support the design and operation of facilities that electric vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) aircraft will use for initial operations. He states, “The FAA includes AAM and UAM in our planning efforts, and our work is organized around five areas of activity – Aircraft, Airspace, Operations, Infrastructure, and Community.”
A major player in AAM, Joby Aviation recently received a Part 135 Air Operator Certificate from the FAA, ahead of schedule, allowing Joby to begin on-demand commercial air taxi operations. The Part 135 Air Operator’s Certificate is one of three FAA approvals required for Joby to operate its revolutionary eVTOL aircraft as an air taxi service in cities and communities across the United States.
The main objectives of AAM – where the environmental benefits are greatest
McKinsey estimates that short-haul flights account for more than 17% of total airline CO2 emissions, making it an important target for decarbonization efforts. Replacing these conventionally powered flights with low-carbon technologies, such as green propulsion, could actually help reduce emissions from aviation, and that’s before you consider replacing emissions from ground transportation for similar routes.
With today’s emerging technologies, AAM has the greatest potential to disrupt travel over distances of up to 1,000 miles, distances currently served by local ground vehicles and a high number of aircraft flights. short haul. The conversion from ground to air transport will represent a whole new market, but for airlines the impact is most felt with short-haul and regional electrification and hybrid use. The potential to revolutionize short and medium travel is imminent, but it will take longer for AAM to have an impact on long-haul and transoceanic flights.
Rising fuel prices are increasing airline interest in AAM. In fact, Aviation Week reports that a third of current AAV orders have been placed by airlines.
At IFS, we currently have two customers who are excelling in the electric propulsion market. Cape Air will become one of the first carriers in the world to go electric in the sky. The company is working closely together to develop and operate the Eviation Alice electric aircraft, a nine-seat all-electric aircraft that was designed from the ground up to be the perfect short-haul aircraft.
On the OEM side, Rolls-Royce, in addition to all its work on the Trent family of engines running on sustainable aviation fuels, is also aiming for electrification. At the end of 2021, the Rolls-Royce, “Spirit of Aviation”, supported by its partner Electroflight, set three new world records for an all-electric aircraft.
Positive societal implications – We are already seeing a groundswell of government
There are huge societal benefits to be gained by making regional transport more accessible for transporting people and goods. A recent UK government report found that two in three people believed that improving transport links would have a positive impact on people’s ability to access employment opportunities. Not only can AAM positively impact commuting opportunities, but from a freight perspective, it could provide a better connection to rural communities by delivering vital supplies and services to underserved areas.
In the United States, AAM legislation has also just won House approval. A bill that passed the House in June will provide $25 million in grant funds to support AAM in fiscal years 2022 and 2023. The Advanced Aviation Infrastructure Modernization Act ( AAIM Act), HR 6270, authorizes funding to plan and then build new AAM infrastructure using existing heliports and airports, the creation of new “vertiports” and associated charging infrastructure. But a crucial focus of the legislation is the need to involve communities in the planning process and to bring new technologies to a diverse set of communities, while creating hundreds of thousands of new green jobs.
We’re just getting started – but AAVs are lifelong assets to be supported
There really is a “Silicon Valley mindset” in the AAM movement right now. The AAV landscape is currently dominated by disruptive start-ups or spin-offs and joint ventures between major aviation players, with certification targets ranging from 2022 to 2028.
Despite this varied landscape, every AAM organization will face the same fundamental challenges: taking a next-generation asset from design and proof-of-concept, through prototyping, large-scale operations, and ongoing maintenance. Unlike traditional aircraft manufacturing, many organizations involved in AAV production seek to become a one-stop-shop for their assets, well beyond the initial sale. From design, manufacture and initial delivery, through to spare parts support, parts management and maintenance of this AAV asset throughout its life cycle. Many, like Joby, even seek to act as the operator of their aircraft, which means they will also be responsible for maintaining the airworthiness of each aircraft.
Lifetime support starts with the right software
AAM market leaders will make software central to their scalable growth to assert their authority in a maturing market. An asset of tomorrow requires software support that can support every step of its journey. The ability to effectively manage a complex asset throughout its lifecycle requires an underlying data thread to create, operate, maintain and support that asset.
With such rapid expansion expected, it is essential for AAV organizations to have a 360-degree view of business processes to make informed, data-driven business decisions.. This requires supporting software to aggregate, analyze and act on this data, as well as to evolve alongside the company’s growth strategy, from initial design and engineering to manufacturing and maintenance.
This will also emphasize the breadth of support software functionality, with relevant modules to be deployed as per business requirements. This could cover features such as supply chain sourcing, HR, payroll, finance, project management in design and production phases, transition to manufacturing execution systems, regulatory compliance frameworks, export control in the manufacturing phase and MRO, asset management and workforce management. for ongoing maintenance and support.
There’s more to AAM than AAV – there’s a big picture to consider
While the AAM industry is still in its infancy, there is a unique opportunity to capture market share. Going from manufacturing an AAV to operating an air taxi business opens up a whole new set of business processes that will require support, including performing maintenance planning, configuration management, and more. .
AAV makers shouldn’t choose systems that are only good for them today, but will shut down when they reach capacity, which means the maker then has to find and install software that can allow him to take his business to the next level.
Instead, they need a solution that will grow with them, which means putting a system in place from the start that can support an AAV business as it moves from prototype to operation and commercialization.