With the sudden unexpected onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the future of the aerial mobility sector was very much in question during early mid-2020. According to a recent article from AIN Online, with the start of a new year, while the general fallout from the pandemic did hinder some progress from smaller aerial mobility companies, several notable aerial mobility firms...
With the sudden unexpected onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the future of the aerial mobility sector was very much in question during early mid-2020. According to a recent article from AIN Online, with the start of a new year, while the general fallout from the pandemic did hinder some progress from smaller aerial mobility companies, several notable aerial mobility firms such as Volocopter, Lilium, and Joby Aviation continued to forge ahead.
The start of a new year could see several companies pull ahead from the rest, as the consensus among independent observers seems to be that no more than a dozen or so of these new aircraft will see the commercial light of day. As the pandemic dies down during the course of this year, there will also be more scrutiny as to whether many of these aircraft developers will meet the timelines proposed when first introducing their aircraft; the earliest dates for commercial release is near the end of 2023, just 24 months away.
2021 will also likely clarify the regulatory outlook for these new aerial mobility aircraft, giving developers a clearer path to type certification. As 2020 closed, there were reasons for optimism that leading regulators FAA and EASA were edging closer to defining safety means of compliance to cover new architectures and propulsion systems. While the consensus for approval of operation for these new aircraft are not yet resolved, optimism is high.
The continued development of the aerial mobility industry also saw a slight shift in focus away from solely focusing on urban air mobility models, as several companies began looking at a broader range of applications that may be easier to implement in the short-term, such as operations in less densely populated areas for emergency medical support or freight deliveries. These applications also seem to favor fixed-wing designs using conventional or hybrid propulsion for which the technology risks of getting to market are lower. It also saw the more inclusive designation advanced air mobility increasingly vie for favor with the more specific urban air mobility.
Another trend to be alert to is more of the long-anticipated consolidation involving start-ups either being acquired by larger entities with deeper pockets or disappearing after running out of financial runway. 2020 began with Japanese carmaker Toyota spending $394 million to partially acquire Joby Aviation as part of a $590 million Series C funding round. No sooner had that happened than Korean rival Hyundai announced it had allocated $1.5 billion to buy a place in the eVTOL stakes with a direct investment in a new aircraft program. This trend seems likely to continue.
Why it’s important: 2020 brought many changes to the aerial mobility industry, and 2021 looks to be similar. With the COVID pandemic as well as the general growth of the aerial mobility industry, we are quickly seeing how the aerial mobility industry develops, as well as which companies look to be the most promising.
Source // AIN Online
The Manta aircraft, developed in Switzerland, works on a flexible hybrid-electric canard aircraft design capable of both vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) and ultra-efficient short take-off and landing (STOL) operations. A one-third scale model has been built, and the team is preparing for its first flight tests. Manta’s hybrid eVTOL takes off and lands vertically when needed, but also can...
The Manta aircraft, developed in Switzerland, works on a flexible hybrid-electric canard aircraft design capable of both vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) and ultra-efficient short take-off and landing (STOL) operations. A one-third scale model has been built, and the team is preparing for its first flight tests.
Manta’s hybrid eVTOL takes off and lands vertically when needed, but also can operate from airstrips as short as three vertical landing pads lined up for a considerably higher payload capacity. In practice, this means it can fulfill the same mission requirements as either a small helicopter, or a slightly larger airplane. This cross-functionality makes it an extremely versatile and well-rounded aircraft.
The ANN1 and ANN2 aircraft are single- and tandem double-seat versions of the same airframe: a carbon composite-bodied plane shape with a small V tail, a large reverse wing at the rear, and a smaller canard wing at the front. Forward propulsion is provided by four ducted electric fans hanging under the front edge of the rear wing, and for VTOL operations, these can tilt to face upwards.
Why it’s important: Manta has evaluated the efficiency of VTOL flight dynamics and made a practical design choice for adding conventional takeoff and landing capabilities to its prototype. Operating as an eSTOL allows for heavier payloads, and uses significantly less energy, which could also assist in maximizing range for longer journeys. Although the Manta may not be best suited for commercial air taxi use due to its limited passenger capacity, its versatility gives it great potential for a wide array of short-landing and VTOL mission types.
Source // New Atlas
The Specification for Express Delivery Service by Unmanned Aircraft (the “Standard”) issued by the State Post Bureau of the People’s Republic of China will be effective in the country starting on January 1st, 2021. The Standard was jointly formulated by industry-leading players including EHang (Nasdaq: EH), JD.com (Nasdaq: JD), and ZTO Express (NYSE: ZTO). As China’s first industry standard for express delivery...
The Specification for Express Delivery Service by Unmanned Aircraft (the “Standard”) issued by the State Post Bureau of the People’s Republic of China will be effective in the country starting on January 1st, 2021. The Standard was jointly formulated by industry-leading players including EHang (Nasdaq: EH), JD.com (Nasdaq: JD), and ZTO Express (NYSE: ZTO). As China’s first industry standard for express delivery service by unmanned aircraft, the implementation of the Standard is of great significance for improving last-mile delivery service, ensuring the safety of operations, and promoting the development of aerial logistics for the eventual passenger aerial mobility industry.
The Standard is applicable to express delivery services by unmanned aircraft with a maximum empty aircraft weight of 116kg (255 lbs), a maximum takeoff weight of 150kg (330 lbs) , and an airspeed of no greater than 100km/h (62mph). Moreover, it specifies the service entities, conditions, procedures, assessments, safety issues and compensation of express delivery by unmanned aircrafts, which provides a standard reference for postal express companies and drone operators to engage in drone delivery services.
As one of the world’s leading autonomous aerial vehicle (AAV) technology platform companies and an aerial mobility industry pioneer, EHang has proprietarily developed a complete suite of intelligent aerial logistics solutions, including the EH216L heavy-lift AAV for short-to-medium-haul aerial transport, the Falcon medium-sized AAV for urban express delivery, the unmanned aircraft systems, take-off and landing control sites and intelligent self-express service machines. With abundant operating experience, service workflow and practical data, EHang made significant contribution to the groundbreaking for the Standard based on its industry expertise and valuable insights.
Why it’s important: With the implementation of this Standard, EHang will continue to accelerate regular operations of its intelligent AAV technologies for aerial logistics, and provide customized solutions for clients from various sectors including logistics, retail, e-commerce and more. Establishing this infrastructure and setting a standard for unmanned vehicles will help lay the groundwork for EHang’s eventual passenger aerial mobility services.
EHang has announced the launch of its urban air mobility services with recently disclosed strategic partner Greenland Hong Kong Holdings Limited. The new services, which will be conducted firstly on a trial basis, include an aerial sightseeing program and aerial media shows. Both of these services will be deployed in the Greenland Hong Kong Forest Lake project located in Zhaoqing, a...
EHang has announced the launch of its urban air mobility services with recently disclosed strategic partner Greenland Hong Kong Holdings Limited. The new services, which will be conducted firstly on a trial basis, include an aerial sightseeing program and aerial media shows. Both of these services will be deployed in the Greenland Hong Kong Forest Lake project located in Zhaoqing, a popular tour destination city in Guangdong, China. EHang’s press release stated that they intend to work jointly with Greenland Hong Kong over time to offer aerial tourism services using EH216 AAVs in additional cities.
The first stage of the partnership is a base for EH216 operations in Forest Lake, which will be independently run by EHang. This base will serve as the launch point for aerial sightseeing services to passengers. Forest Lake is located close to the new Zhaoqing-Pearl River Delta-Hub Airport, still under construction. The area offers abundant tourism attractions, including 7 natural lakes and wetlands covering 3 million square meters.
EHang claims that aerial sightseeing has strong demand and huge market potential relative to urban aerial mobility. In early 2017, the Chinese Ministry of Transport, the Ministry of Culture and Tourism and the Civil Aviation Administration jointly issued “Suggestions on Promoting the Integrated Development of Transportation and Tourism”. This directive supported the development of aerial sightseeing by encouraging key tourist cities and eligible scenic spots to carry out pilot programs for civil aviation tourism as well as to open low-altitude flight routes. Low-altitude tourism in China could reach 4.2 billion passengers in coming years, leading to a market size of RMB58.5 billion, according to forecasts from the China Air Transport Association.
Why it’s important: EHang’s quoted advantages of their EH216 autonomous aerial vehicles when compared to conventional single-propeller helicopters include higher safety levels, lower noise levels, lower costs, and zero emissions during operation. If these advantages are supplanted by operational data that supports their validity, vehicles such as EH216 AAVs have the potential to become more widely used for low-altitude aerial sightseeing applications and more in the near future.
Elroy Air, the developer of a fixed wing, fully autonomous, cargo VTOL has been awarded a Phase 3 Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) contract from the U.S. Air Force. The contract was awarded by Agility Prime, a branch of the U.S Air Force dedicated to developing eVTOL technology for both military and civilian use. Financial and flight testing assistance from Agility...
Elroy Air, the developer of a fixed wing, fully autonomous, cargo VTOL has been awarded a Phase 3 Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) contract from the U.S. Air Force. The contract was awarded by Agility Prime, a branch of the U.S Air Force dedicated to developing eVTOL technology for both military and civilian use.
Financial and flight testing assistance from Agility Prime has proved vital for many of the top aircraft in development in the aerial mobility market, most recently including Joby Aviation, which has now received an airworthiness certification through Agility Prime. The organization has given companies like Joby Aviation and Elroy Air direct and indirect funding, access to testing facilities and programs, and has allowed them to begin operations of their aircraft within the military, which will help them prove out their technology for commercial use.
Elroy Air’s advanced eVTOL delivery technology has been in development for several years, and is aimed at delivering cargo to locations that are difficult to access by other means. Use applications include tactical delivery missions, disaster relief, and humanitarian aid. The aircraft can carry up to 500 pounds of cargo, travel up to 300 nautical miles on a charge, and can be remotely or autonomously piloted.
Said David Merrill, CEO of Elroy Air, “We are enthusiastic to expand our existing partnership with the US Air Force. The Agility Prime program has a mandate to field a substantial fleet of electric and hybrid-electric VTOL aircraft systems in the next three years, to address operational situations that are challenging with today’s aircraft. Elroy Air’s Chaparral will enable a new concept of operations (CONOPS) for flying cargo and observation equipment in difficult-to-access areas. These systems will make ultra-responsive logistics possible, transforming the capabilities of the supply chain for the Air Force’s defense and humanitarian aid missions.
Why it’s important: With this announcement, Agility Prime further displays its commitment to enabling a wide range of electric VTOL and distributed electric propulsion solutions. Further backing from the U.S Air Force will help Elroy Air and other VTOL companies attain more use cases, become even more legitimate, and bring their flight technologies to commercial applications even sooner. Also working with Agility Prime is Beta Technologies and Joby Aviation.
The mission of Iris Automation is to make flying safer by creating automated collision avoidance technologies. So far, the company has created these ‘Detect and Avoid’ (DAA) systems using lightweight cameras and processing systems for part 107 drone operators to allow them to fly more safely beyond the line of sight. In the future, this technology may enable safe flight for...
The mission of Iris Automation is to make flying safer by creating automated collision avoidance technologies. So far, the company has created these ‘Detect and Avoid’ (DAA) systems using lightweight cameras and processing systems for part 107 drone operators to allow them to fly more safely beyond the line of sight. In the future, this technology may enable safe flight for many kinds of urban aircraft in highly trafficked airspace.
On December 15th, Iris Automation announced that it has now raised a total of $13 million in its Series B venture capital funding. The funding includes follow-on investment by Bessemer Venture Partners, Bee Partners, OCA Ventures, and new investors Sony Innovation Fund and Verizon Ventures. Said Jon Damush, CEO of Iris: “We are incredibly excited about this show of support from our current and new investors, particularly during this unprecedented global pandemic. We have always known that our approach to the problem solves a critical missing link for unpiloted systems, and plan to deploy this capital to further expand our capabilities and improve safety for unpiloted systems as global regulators work to integrate UAS into existing airspaces. The investment clearly illustrates investor confidence in growth of the sector and specifically Iris’ role in the ecosystem.”
This announcement comes at a very opportune time, as regulators in congress recently acknowledged DAA technologies as essential to safely integrating unmanned aerial systems into National Airspace (within the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021). With the investment, Iris plans on expanding machine learning and AI capabilities, improving detection and classification capabilities for a wider range of environments and situations, and building out fulfillment capabilities to produce, deliver and support the growing installed base of aircraft OEM partners and end use customers.
Why it’s important: Automated Detect and Avoid (DAA) technologies represent an essential part of the future for safely operating VTOL and all kinds of aircraft within dense urban airspace. While intelligent algorithms will exist that will help direct and manage air traffic, DAA will add an extra layer of necessary protection that will even further improve aircraft safety. With this latest set of investments, Iris Automation places itself even further ahead in the market for creating and producing effective versions of this technology.
- How Iris Automation’s DAA Tech Could Make Aerial Mobility Safer
- Iris Automation Showcases BVLOS Tech to City of Reno
Source // Iris Automation
While the majority of aerial mobility companies have chosen a VTOL frame for their aircraft design, Metro Hop is working on an eSTOL (electric short takeoff and landing) design that could serve as a practical alternative to eVTOL. Metro Hop’s STOL design revolves around a “game-changing international patent pending Active Landing Gear system” that is used to vastly increase the...
While the majority of aerial mobility companies have chosen a VTOL frame for their aircraft design, Metro Hop is working on an eSTOL (electric short takeoff and landing) design that could serve as a practical alternative to eVTOL.
Metro Hop’s STOL design revolves around a “game-changing international patent pending Active Landing Gear system” that is used to vastly increase the initial acceleration to flight speed on takeoff and quickly decelerate the aircraft on landing. The Active Landing Gear system paired with the large wings of the design would mean that Metro Hop’s aircraft would only need a 25 m (82 ft) rollout rubber runway for operations. Fixed wing take-off and landings require drastically less energy usage versus VTOL, which in turn noticeably decreases energy use for the same journey. While electric VTOL is incredibly innovative, many designs are fairly low range and/or energy inefficient on take-off and landing as a result of the high energy outputs required for vertical flight. Metro Hop even mentions that its short runways could be easily adapted onto large urban rooftops, much like VTOL designs.
The Metro Hop aircraft will be able to reach a cruising speed of up to 400 km/hr (250 mph) and have a 200 km (125 miles) range with current battery technology. The Northern California based aviation startup considers their STOL aircraft as an alternative, not a replacement, approach for VTOL aerial mobility, given some limitations that fixed wing does create. The developers suggest that STOL runways around 60 m (200 ft) long on top of skyscrapers could enable safe Skyport-style passenger operations with a much lower energy cost than eVTOL vertiports. However, many buildings don’t have rooftops quite that large, making market for both kinds of aircraft.
Currently, Metro Hop has received grants through the ESA (European Space Agency) BIC Bavaria, and is looking for more investors.
Why it’s important: The eSTOL design’s biggest advantage is its energy efficiency over many equivalent eVTOL designs. Although not all rooftops could support the 25 meters required for the Metro Hop eSTOL, many can, giving Metro Hop an obvious use case for middle mile transportation. A Metro Hop eSTOL could affordably transport goods 20x faster than could be done with trucks stuck traffic. Metro Hop intends to initially enter the middle mile cargo transportation industry with a piloted aircraft, and has already received interest from multiple hospitals, which need a wide range of equipment available quickly from warehouses.
Source // Metro Hop, Inceptive Mind
Jaunt Air Mobility signs a memorandum of understanding with VerdeGo Aero of Daytona Beach, FL, to explore the development of a hybrid-electric aircraft. The combined technologies of Jaunt Air Mobility and VerdeGo’s hybrid powertrain offer customers the opportunity to fulfill a variety of market segments and missions. Jaunt and VerdeGo plan to develop a hybrid-electric version of the Jaunt aircraft...
Jaunt Air Mobility signs a memorandum of understanding with VerdeGo Aero of Daytona Beach, FL, to explore the development of a hybrid-electric aircraft. The combined technologies of Jaunt Air Mobility and VerdeGo’s hybrid powertrain offer customers the opportunity to fulfill a variety of market segments and missions. Jaunt and VerdeGo plan to develop a hybrid-electric version of the Jaunt aircraft utilizing VerdeGo’s hybrid-electric diesel (Jet-A) generator system combined with same battery systems being used for the Jaunt Journey. The added energy from the hybrid system will enable significant enhancements to mission capability for passenger, cargo, and military variants.
Jaunt’s patented technology offers a proven aerodynamic design of a fixed-wing aircraft with efficient vertical take-off and landing capabilities. VerdeGo’s hybrid power system allows for longer missions, faster turnaround operations, and current infrastructure utilization. VerdeGo’s hybrid power systems run on globally-available Jet-A fuel, which will reduce fuel consumption and CO2 emissions by 40% when compared to competing turbine products, while providing 4X+ more energy than battery-electric powertrains.
“While confident in the battery-electric Jaunt Journey, for the urban air mobility market, our customers also have different operational mission requirements,” says Martin Peryea, CEO of Jaunt Air Mobility. “VerdeGo’s system offers a unique bridge to meeting those demands.”
According to NASA, Hybrid-electric architectures have shown the potential for significant improvements when applied to fixed-wing aircraft; such improvements include energy consumption, noise, weight, propulsive efficiency, and aero-propulsive interactions, among others. The U.S. Air Force’s chief acquisition officer, Will Roper has stated that with the military’s goals of flying two to four military personnel 100 miles at speeds above 115 mph, it is likely that these aircraft will be hybrid-electric.
Why it’s important: As VerdeGo Aero’s CEO Eric Bartsch said, “the additional range enabled with VerdeGo’s hybrid system applied in the Jaunt aircraft will enable either longer missions or multiple short back-to-back missions without the requirement for energy infrastructure at every landing site. Rapid turnaround, high utilization, and enhanced mission capability make the hybrid aircraft extremely competitive.”
Source // VerdeGo Aero press release
Joby, Volocopter And Lilium Are Making A Risky, Expensive Bet On Vertical Integration To Invent Urban Air Mobility
This article, written by Dean Donovan, was originally published on Forbes. Shared on TransportUP with permission. It’s official: Joby Aviation is buying Uber Elevate. The electric air taxi developer will integrate the Uber Elevate team into its core operation; Uber and Joby will expand their partnership to provide a seamless multi-modal experience and share data on how to provide the...
This article, written by Dean Donovan, was originally published on Forbes. Shared on TransportUP with permission.
It’s official: Joby Aviation is buying Uber Elevate. The electric air taxi developer will integrate the Uber Elevate team into its core operation; Uber and Joby will expand their partnership to provide a seamless multi-modal experience and share data on how to provide the right services to customers; and Uber will invest $75 million into Joby, which is on top of its previously undisclosed $50 million investment in Joby’s Series C financing round in January 2020.
This move should support Joby’s strategy of both building a new type of electric aircraft almost entirely in-house as well as operating an airline. Elevate should also give Joby unparalleled competitive and ecosystem intelligence into some of its competitors given that Elevate had engaged Hyundai, Pipistrel, Jaunt Air Mobility, Bell, Signature Flight Support and Chargepoint, among others, as partners in the aerial ride-sharing network that Uber had planned on building. Most industry observers believe that Uber Elevate has built a high-quality group that provides access to arguably the most well-thought through network planning effort in the industry. This could provide benefits in market selection, scale-up and asset utilization of an airline.
Joby is taking a different approach than exists today in most mobility related industries. Over the last few decades, truck and airplane manufacturers have tended to decrease their level of vertical integration to improve capital efficiency and utilize specialized skills developed in the supply chain. Joby is not alone in this break with the recent past. Lilium has also announced plans to forward integrate into air taxi service. Volocopter, the German autonomous aviation company, has launched an air taxi service called Volocity and is aiming to begin operations in Singapore. At the same time, other players in the air mobility space like Jaunt Air Mobility and Bye Aerospace have opted for a leaner, less vertically integrated approach. Will one approach trump the other?
This isn’t going to be cheap
New aircraft programs cost a lot of money to move through certification. On the commercial side of the market, a new narrow-body aircraft could cost $10 billion to $15 billion and can take 10 years or more to bring to market. At the Revolution Aero conference earlier this month, Lee Human of Aerotec, a leading consultancy in this space, suggested that vertically integrated eVTOL (electric vertical takeoff and landing) programs would likely require $3 billion to move through certification alone.
Technological innovation creates certification timing and cost risk. eVTOL aircraft will have systems that look fundamentally different than most of today’s small aircraft including, eventually, the provision for autonomous operation. The Eclipse 500, a program that pushed the edge of the technological envelope to pioneer the very light jet (VLJ) category, has become emblematic of the risks of a technology forward approach. The program started in 1998 and only received certification in mid-2006 partially due to a requirement to re-engine the aircraft mid-stream. The first deliveries came in 2007, almost 9 years after the start of the program. The company ultimately ran out of capital due to cost overruns associated with the delays and the 2008 recession.
Setting up a scale commercial carrier will add another layer of capital needs on top of the certification costs of the aircraft. JetBlue raised $128 million to finance its start-up with two planes, and Volaris, now the largest low-cost carrier in Mexico, raised a similar amount to start with four aircraft. However, new commercial operators have the advantage of a well-developed leasing market that allows them to finance new aircraft at attractive prices. They can also slot right into the existing commercial aviation airport infrastructure with limited initial capital investment.
Starting an eVTOL-based air taxi service at a similar scale could cost much more. Given the relatively small capacity of these new eVTOL aircraft (typically four seats or less), to have the same seat capacity as JetBlue or Volaris on start-up one of these new operations might need 70 to 140 aircraft. At $1 million per aircraft that would be $70 million to $140 million in acquisition costs. Given the unknown lifecycle of these new aircraft, financing that via an affordable leasing program seems unlikely. Aircraft acquisition only represents a part of the total expense, which will include start-up expenses, inventory, route development and other overhead costs. In addition, these air taxi services will need to find new investment for charging infrastructure, terminal infrastructure, maintenance facilities etc. Growing the model would require even more capital for aircraft and for developing new routes, which can take 9-12 months to ramp to profitability in commercial aviation.
Put this all together and it may take $4 billion or more to fully develop a vertically integrated business in the UAM space. That business case will come with potentially high variability in terms of timing and cost that investors will need to plan around. Of course, the rewards of pioneering what Morgan Stanley predicts could become a $1.5 trillion market could make those risks more than worthwhile.
Historical Precedents: “We are the Uber of Aviation…”
Elevate ensured that the UAM space lives in a giant shadow cast by the analogy of Uber’s auto ride-sharing model. Uber took a cottage industry, the taxi business, professionalized and modernized it. Ride-sharing models utilized a contract workforce that knows how to drive and brings its own assets. It took the suboptimal taxi user experience and improved it dramatically, while simultaneously reducing the cost of service significantly through smart network management. Not surprisingly, these factors led to the rapid growth of demand and an asset-light business model. It was expensive to build out, but the operating leverage is less than a model that has to buy or finance the assets it took to operate.
Uber tried to build a similar on-demand model for the world of aviation, where it quickly became clear that regulation, labor relations and asset ownership conditions will create a different, less favorable business model. Some companies have attempted ride-sharing style models in aviation and have run afoul of the FAA. Aviation requires a highly skilled workforce that tends to unionize and scales slowly. The low passenger to pilot ratio will create a pilot shortage if the UAM markets scale in a significant way. These potential bottlenecks have led most competitors to set autonomous operation goals to enable scalability and manage costs. Carriers must buy their own assets or lease them, if financing is available, and take responsibility for their operations. As a result, vertically integrated UAM carriers will have asset intensive operations.
While it may seem a departure today, aviation and aerospace were vertically integrated in the era where airmail contracts guaranteed significant volume at set pricing. Boeing purchased aircraft engine maker Pratt & Whitney in 1929 and had started United Airlines before subsequently growing it via merger. The guaranteed volumes and pricing from airmail contracts limited Boeing’s exposure to the high levels of operating leverage this strategy created. In fact, those guarantees were so lucrative they led to scandal and eventually the Airmail Act of 1934. That law prohibited aircraft manufacturers from owning airlines and forced Boeing to divest United Airlines and to the spin-out of what eventually became United Technologies (including Pratt and Whitney). Although regional aviation receives some Federal money via the Essential Air Service program, these tend to serve poorer rural areas, not the premium services wealthy urban areas the UAM companies plan to target initially. Unlike Boeing in the 1930s, today’s vertical integrators will need to create their own stable, attractively priced demand to cover their operating leverage.
In contrast, Delta started as a company to solve a specific use case — the boll weevil infestation of the early 1920s. The company built aircraft for crop dusting and then built a crop-dusting aviation service to solve the problem. Designing a solution for a completely new use case feels analogous to the challenge that Lilium, Volocopter and Joby face today. Trying to solve the use case end-to-end via a tightly coordinated team could simplify the challenge. In addition, it is not clear that Lilium could find an air taxi airline customer for its UAM aircraft even if it wanted to do so. The carrier models that could buy and operate these aircraft simply don’t exist today, nor would most airlines feel comfortable operating this type of equipment on their own. To quote David Merrill, CEO of Elroy Air, who has considered building his own freight carrier in addition to the development of the company’s Chaparral autonomous cargo aircraft, “our commercial logistics customers understand the enormous value of our autonomous aircraft in expanding express middle-mile capacity, but many don’t want the added complexity of operating it in the early years.” (My firm DiamondStream Partners is an investor in Elroy Air.)
The Benefits And Risks Of Making An All-In Bet
Ultimately, aviation models usually depend on two things for success: directness of routing to save time, and cost to produce the service (of which the biggest driver is asset utilization). The Elevate team combined with the Uber Partnership, can help Joby significantly in both respects. Via its modeling efforts around UAM network optimization Elevate’s insights can help reduce costs by improving asset utilization of the carrier model. Its practical experience with Uber Copter into how to integrate ride-sharing networks into UAM services to create seamless multi-modal experiences should cut time off customer trips. Based on what we know about stimulation of aviation demand, those two value-adds should help grow the market significantly.
Set against those benefits, stand a few substantial risks. Unlike Boeing’s vertical integration strategy of the 1920s and 1930s, new UAM carriers will find it hard to predict volume early on. Cars represent a formidable competitor. They cost about 37 cents a passenger mile at average occupancy — probably a tenth or less of what UAM services will initially cost. Commuters are highly sensitive to transportation costs and a 22-mile commute each way might cost $130/week via car including parking. At $2/mile, which is the cost for an Uber ride-share today, the same commute would cost about $440/week. At $4/mile, a more realistic initial price for UAM services, it would cost closer to $880/week, although it could be lower in the case of someone who works remotely most days. In an environment where increasing numbers of people work from home and congestion eases, the time advantage of a multi-modal trip based on flights may also decline.
In addition, competition from new forms of fixed-wing aircraft could limit UAM volume, particularly in the early years before urban vertiport infrastructure build outs. Fixed-wing airplanes retrofitted with hybrid-electric propulsion systems should become available about the same time as eVTOL aircraft. These fixed-wing planes could transport passengers at lower cost than the initial eVTOL vehicles due to the greater efficiency of fixed-wing flight, the ability to use existing fueling infrastructure, and their larger number of seats. These types of operations could also scale more easily due to the higher passenger to pilot ratio. In commercial aviation, operators that fly smaller, less efficient aircraft often find themselves in the role of developing routes for operators with lower cost, higher capacity planes.
A third concern involves unionization. Given the scale of operations that UAM businesses plan to develop, this industry will most likely have unions that look more like the unions in the regional aviation or the commercial aviation industry than the less unionized charter industry. Pilots unions tend to negotiate contracts that increase the operating leverage of today’s commercial airlines, although some low-cost carriers have variable pay union contracts. As the demand for pilots from electric aviation growth increases, pilot shortages could give unions increased leverage over these businesses. More importantly for the vertical integrators, the unions will probably express reservations about the pace and safety of the transition to autonomous flight technology that the UAM companies will depend on to push costs down and stimulate demand.
Finally, this strategy could create some channel conflict between the vertical integration plays and pure play carriers. Uber Elevate comes complete with a valuable network of partners. Many of these, like the relationship with Signature Flight Support, should translate seamlessly into Joby’s vertically integrated model. However, why should the airframe partners want to support the network of one of their largest and best financed competitors? Even with a carrier strategy, none of the airframe companies with vertical integration plans will have the capital to roll-out these networks globally right away. It will just cost too much. If it is demand and not vehicles in short supply, non-affiliated airlines may choose to use vehicles from manufacturers that don’t compete in their core business.
Partnership strategies can help mitigate some of the risks from operating leverage and labor relations that vertical integration will create. Today, the major commercial carriers purchase capacity from the regional carriers instead of owning and operating those fleets. WheelsUp had a similar kind of operating arrangement with Gama in private charter. While these arrangements certainly have their advantages, the operating leverage will live somewhere in the vertically integrated system and the partners will probably not want to accept the operating leverage without some type of guaranteed volume contract.
Playing To Win
In the end, UAM represents an entirely new transportation model that requires new technology, infrastructure, systems and regulatory frameworks to deliver a cost-effective transport solution with direct connections and a good customer experience. Vertical integration strategies give Joby, Lilium, and Volocopter more control over the levers required to launch in the industry, which could give them, and by extension the entire industry, a better chance of large-scale customer adoptions. However, this strategy also comes with far greater capital requirements, the daunting task of becoming the best at multiple steps of the value chain, and the prospect of channel conflict that slows scaling in their non-priority markets.
The Lilium, Joby, and Volocopter carrier strategies suggest they believe proprietary volume will ramp up quickly. These companies face a chicken and egg problem: To stimulate demand they need the scale, but to pay for the capital required to grow demand also requires scale. When demand is uncertain, playing to win by increasing operating leverage takes vision, courage and deep pockets.
Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti announced the creation of the Urban Air Mobility Partnership, an initiative that will help shape Los Angeles into one of the cities at the forefront of aerial mobility. Part of a public-private partnership between the Mayor’s Office, the Los Angeles Department of Transportation (LADOT), and Urban Movement Labs (UML), the Urban Air Mobility Partnership was...
Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti announced the creation of the Urban Air Mobility Partnership, an initiative that will help shape Los Angeles into one of the cities at the forefront of aerial mobility. Part of a public-private partnership between the Mayor’s Office, the Los Angeles Department of Transportation (LADOT), and Urban Movement Labs (UML), the Urban Air Mobility Partnership was formed in order to educate and engage LA’s residents with the idea of introducing aerial mobility by 2023.
“Los Angeles is where we turn today’s ideas into tomorrow’s reality — a place where a barrier-breaking concept like urban air mobility can truly get off the ground,” said Mayor Garcetti. “The Urban Air Mobility Partnership will make our city a force for cleaner skies, safer transportation, expanded prosperity, and stunning innovation, and provide a template for how other local governments can take this new technology to even greater heights.”
Working together, Los Angeles and Urban Movement Labs will lead a multi-stakeholder effort to visualize a vertiport and help Los Angeles identify and resolve challenges identified by local, diverse stakeholders surrounding public airspace and property rights. This one year partnership will also develop a policy toolkit that will be able to be utilized and deployed nationwide.
With financial backing from the Urban Air Mobility Division of Hyundai Motor Group, UML will also work together with Estolano Advisors to hire an Urban Air Mobility Fellow who will work towards advancing a comprehensive public engagement strategy for aerial mobility, including how it will strengthen the local economy, the schedule for when vehicles will take flight, and how it will impact and improve the local citizens’ daily lives.
“Now more than ever, with so many suffering the impacts of a devastating pandemic, Los Angeles needs a resilient transportation network that can adapt to the needs of its communities with the flip of a switch,” said LADOT General Manager Seleta Reynolds. “As we prepare to include [aerial mobility] as a viable option for moving goods and people across our City, it is critical that we hear from stakeholders and design a system that works for all Angelenos.”
Why it’s important: With the city of Los Angeles now officially working towards this development, the Urban Air Mobility Partnership will set a powerful precedent for how diverse stakeholders can collaborate on a safe, community-centered approach to integrating aerial mobility technology into existing and new multimodal platforms.
Source // sUAS News
The city of Pendleton, OR has completed construction of a $15M USD industrial park dedicated to UAS operators and manufacturers. The park is located on the Eastern Oregon Regional Airport and the city envisions the UAS range being used by stakeholders in the aerial mobility and last-mile delivery industries. The city is nearing completion of two brand new 18,000 sq...
The city of Pendleton, OR has completed construction of a $15M USD industrial park dedicated to UAS operators and manufacturers. The park is located on the Eastern Oregon Regional Airport and the city envisions the UAS range being used by stakeholders in the aerial mobility and last-mile delivery industries.
The city is nearing completion of two brand new 18,000 sq ft. hangars which will be ready in April 2021 for use on the range. The hangars are in addition to those purpose built for Airbus’ Vahana Project which has been operating at the airport for the past 2.5 years.
Per the park’s website, “The Pendleton UAS Range (PUR) is able to facilitate a wide variety of testing needs through logistical coordination. PUR will work with you and your team to ensure that your Testing needs such as: Procedures Development, Engineering, Integration, Modeling and Simulation requirements are met though our organic capabilities and strategic relationships.”
For OEM’s in the aerial mobility space, the UAS range at Pendleton will offer the infrastructure needed to conduct a complete developmental and certification flight test campaign. The range also has the ability to supply chase aircraft for extended range operation as well as a Mobile Operations Center.
Moreover, the airport is strategically located to maximize operational efficiency for OEM’s. In the high desert of Oregon, the area regularly experiences VFR conditions and has plenty of open airspace to conduct flight tests without interference from local traffic.
Why it matters: The opening of the Pendleton UAS Range signals a significant investment by the city for the aerial mobility industry. The city has built a world class facility with amenities to conduct a complete flight test campaign. OEM’s now have a plug and play solution when it comes to testing their prototypes in a safe and professional environment. Expect to see more neighbors join Airbus as the park takes on more tenants.
Source // Pendleton UAS Range website
Vertical Aerospace has announced the appointment of Richard Alexander as its Head of Flight Physics to help Vertical move towards their vision of electric fight for everyone. Alexander was formerly Chief Flight Dynamics Integrator on the Mitsubishi M100 Regional Jet and Head of Flight Sciences at Bombardier Aerospace; now he will assume a key role in ensuring that the Flight Physics aspects, including noise,...
Vertical Aerospace has announced the appointment of Richard Alexander as its Head of Flight Physics to help Vertical move towards their vision of electric fight for everyone. Alexander was formerly Chief Flight Dynamics Integrator on the Mitsubishi M100 Regional Jet and Head of Flight Sciences at Bombardier Aerospace; now he will assume a key role in ensuring that the Flight Physics aspects, including noise, performance, and handling, are safe and optimized for certification and operation of the first Vertical Aerospace aircraft to fly the public.
Vertical Aerospace has substantial influence in the sphere of sustainable aviation technologies, as one of only a handful of companies to have flown and flight tested two full-scale all-electric vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) prototypes with UK Civil Aviation Authority approval. The second, Seraph, can carry 250kg and reach speeds of 80km/h. Most recently Vertical unveiled its piloted winged eVTOL, VA-1X. Capable of traveling 100 miles at 150 mph, carrying four passengers and one pilot, VA-1X is set to be the world’s first certified winged eVTOL with initial commercial operations starting in 2024.
With over three decades of experience in the aerospace domain, Richard has a proven record of accomplishment both as a Flight Physics Engineer and as a leader of teams, completing the conceptual design, development, testing, certification, and entry into service of many aircraft designs, from the simplest derivative to complete clean-sheet programs. This includes the BAe 146-RJ, Bombardier CRJ700 and 900, Bombardier CSeries (now Airbus A220) and all the most recent versions of the Bombardier Global family.
Newly appointed Head of Flight Physics Richard Alexander said: “Joining Vertical Aerospace at such an exciting time in the development of the eVTOL market segment will be a great challenge for me and I am looking forward to meeting the team and starting to contribute. My background is based on fixed–wing aircraft and so I have quite a bit of catching up to do on the world of rotorcraft: I will have to add some “up” skills to my “forward (with a bit of up)” toolbox. However, as the VA-1X will transition from vertical to forward flight during operations, I am sure I will have a good deal of useful aircraft development experience to add to Vertical’s overall capability. I am also motivated by the zero-carbon emissions aspect: our vehicles will replace polluting, dinosaur-burning modes of ground and flight transport. My recent electric aircraft activities at CAE have already ignited an engineering passion to move the planet forward and develop the greenest, most commercially successful product in its class.”
Why it’s important: Vertical Aerospace is continuing to work alongside aviation authorities around the world and plans to have a certified eVTOL by 2024. They also continue to build strategic partnerships with global leaders such as Honeywell, who are developing the flight control systems for their latest aircraft. The company is striving to disrupt the trillion-dollar commercial aviation market, and will leverage the knowledge and expertise of Richard Alexander to do so in the most safe and efficient manner.
Source // Vertical Aerospace press release
BLADE Urban Air Mobility, a modern by-the-seat helicopter mobility company, has officially announced that its stock will soon be added to the NASDAQ for public trading. Blade expects this transaction to provide $400 million in gross proceeds, with trading starting in early 2021. BLADE Urban Air Mobility is a pioneer in technology-enabled air mobility, providing affordable, on-demand, by-the-seat helicopter flights in...
BLADE Urban Air Mobility, a modern by-the-seat helicopter mobility company, has officially announced that its stock will soon be added to the NASDAQ for public trading. Blade expects this transaction to provide $400 million in gross proceeds, with trading starting in early 2021.
BLADE Urban Air Mobility is a pioneer in technology-enabled air mobility, providing affordable, on-demand, by-the-seat helicopter flights in urban areas, as well as other services. Recently, recognizing the global growth trend in urban air mobility, the company doubled down on its investment in urban air mobility technologies by creating its own urban air mobility initiative. This initiative will use Blade’s infrastructure, fleet, passenger, and route management protocols and assets to lay the groundwork for the air mobility demand that will be created by eVTOL technologies, with BLADE eventually planning to transition to eVTOL itself. BLADE notes that the urban air mobility industry is expected to be a $125 billion market by 2025 and grow to $650 billion over the next decade.
According to BLADE, funds from the NASDAQ raise will enable the company to expand new urban air mobility routes, its network of captive passenger infrastructure, as well as its consumer-to-cockpit technology stack, “accelerating its transition from use of conventional aircraft to eVTOL aircraft”. The company has already developed exclusive passenger terminal infrastructure in key markets, providing a
competitive advantage in locations that are geographically constrained from adding additional heliports, as well as received $38 million from Airbus and real estate company Colony Northstar to begin building additional Vertiport Infrastructure.
Why it’s important: These new funds will allow BLADE to further lay the groundwork for the massive increase in demand for urban air travel that will be brought on by eVTOL. Once eVTOL aircraft become certified for commercial passenger flight, BLADE will already be a major market leader in fleet and passenger management, infrastructure development and more, having already offered technology-enabled on-demand flights for several years.
In many cases, the degree of quality for battery performance in aviation equates to endurance: how long a given energy source can power an aircraft. In the aerial mobility industry, a large amount of focus is being directed towards increasing endurance times for energy sources, often by maximizing the efficiency of energy use per unit of time. Often, endurance and...
In many cases, the degree of quality for battery performance in aviation equates to endurance: how long a given energy source can power an aircraft. In the aerial mobility industry, a large amount of focus is being directed towards increasing endurance times for energy sources, often by maximizing the efficiency of energy use per unit of time.
Often, endurance and performance are highly related. Australian Flying Car Racing development company Alauda is designing a battery system that identifies performance as the primary design constraint, in lieu of endurance, to allow for their prototype F1 style flying car racing aircraft to perform at the highest levels during the company’s self-created racing series. The result has been solutions that will improve both performance and endurance: Alauda’s design will enable its Airspeeder flying race cars to identify and optimize their battery systems for both performance output (power) and recharge times, and features a modifiable battery system that can be altered per mission requirements.
While the inner workings of the Airspeeder’s battery composition remain proprietary, the battery packs are modular, employing a sliding rail system that locks cells together and to the aircraft’s frame when installed. (Such a design allows for virtually instant “recharge” times, as depleted batteries are replaced by fully charged cells in lieu of being constantly recharged.) The modular system also allows for customization based upon flight leg – when a race or aerial mobility flight doesn’t span hundreds of miles, a smaller sized battery array (i.e. installation of less cells) could allow for a substantial weight reduction, resulting in performance or useful load increases. This option emphasizes the benefits of a flexible design architecture. For example, this same technology could be applied to cargo eVTOLs to increase payload capacity, range, or speed capabilities depending on the mission.
Alauda has underscored that their goal is to advance flight technology in the same way Formula 1 racing technology advanced the automotive industry – by applying cutting edge innovation to racing and allowing for that technology to mature and make its way to commercial applications.
Why it’s important: Optimization of the propulsion system of eVTOLs and aerial mobility aircraft will be one of the most likely contenders for sustained performance improvements following initial certification of eVTOL aircraft for commercial use. Designs like Alauda’s Airspeeder give insight into what propulsion characteristics will be most important when developing and advancing new air vehicles.
After recently coming out of stealth mode, Santa-Cruz based Joby Aviation has purchased Uber Elevate (Uber’s air taxi hailing initiative), and received airworthiness certification from the U.S military, all in just one week of announcements. For years, Joby Aviation existed on the eVTOL market, but little news was released on the eVTOL aircraft and its creator company. Then in January...
After recently coming out of stealth mode, Santa-Cruz based Joby Aviation has purchased Uber Elevate (Uber’s air taxi hailing initiative), and received airworthiness certification from the U.S military, all in just one week of announcements.
For years, Joby Aviation existed on the eVTOL market, but little news was released on the eVTOL aircraft and its creator company. Then in January of this year, Joby announced $590 million in funding, partly from Toyota Corp. Now, the company has raised almost $1 Billion, and has made industry history by becoming the first company to receive air worthiness certification from the U.S military. Although the air worthiness certificate from the military is not certification to carry civilians or cargo commercially, it gives a significant stamp of safety approval on the aircraft, and may fast track its journey to certification by the FAA. With this certificate, the Joby Aviation eVTOL can now provide transportation of both personal and cargo for the U.S armed forces. This will give Joby the opportunity to further prove the safety and functionality of its electric aircraft, and make any necessary improvements before receiving FAA certification. The certification was mainly pushed by Agility Prime, a branch of the U.S air force that has been collaborating with partners in the eVTOL industry to help enable this new flight technology for the United States both for commercial and military applications.
In a landslide move, Joby Aviation has also acquired Uber Elevate, which is Uber’s initiative to make a network of on-demand air taxi transportation in major cities throughout the globe. Under the terms of the agreement, Uber as a company will remain a part of the partnership and the final overall product. What has been transferred to Joby is the groundwork Uber has laid to create air taxi networks in cities like Melbourne in Australia, and Dallas and Los Angeles in the United States. The end product will integrate both Uber’s ground transportation app and Joby’s air transportation app to provide a seamless travel experience for passengers. To grow this partnership, Uber has invested an additional $75 million in Joby Aviation, as well as a previously undisclosed $50 million made in January.
Why it’s important: While Joby Aviation remained secretive for much of its existence, the company is now leading the market for eVTOL aircraft in the United States. Uber Elevate was the world’s largest focused effort to make eVTOL available commercially, bringing together stakeholders in local and state governments, and real estate and technology companies around the world. With these resources now available to Joby, its path to market will be significantly expedited. Additionally, airworthiness certification from the U.S military will give Joby access to both direct and indirect funding, allow it to even more greatly prove safety during service for military operations, and help it bridge the gap into FAA certification for commercial operations. With these moves, Joby places itself at the front of the market for eVTOL within the U.S, and among the top companies in the world globally.