On October 11th, EHANG held its latest flight demonstration in partnership with Ooredoo, Qatar’s leading telecommunications provider. The EHANG184 amazingly operates on a 5G LTE Cellular Network. It depends on this network in order to communicate both with the ground, and with flight control systems and navigation. In Qatar, the cellular network it depends on is provided by Ooredo....
On October 11th, EHANG held its latest flight demonstration in partnership with Ooredoo, Qatar’s leading telecommunications provider.
The EHANG184 amazingly operates on a 5G LTE Cellular Network. It depends on this network in order to communicate both with the ground, and with flight control systems and navigation. In Qatar, the cellular network it depends on is provided by Ooredo. The latest flight tests show the EHANG184 sporting the Ooredo Logo.
Flawless connectivity is crucial because EHANG ensures flight safety partially through low-altitude command center, which has ultimate control over whether or not the aircraft is allowed to take off.
The EHANG 184 is a true passenger drone in all aspects. Its quadcopter design comes with no fixed wing, and in the past, has even been called EHANG’s ‘giant drone.’ The EHANG is pilotless – it boasts full autonomy, simply relying on the passenger to input a destination location via touch screen.
EHANG is so confident in it’s software capabilities that EHANG184 doesn’t even have a joystick. The company has years of experience developing top-of-the-line consumer and commercial drones. The fully electric eVTOL developer guarantees safety by stating, “If one set of the power systems are operating abnormally, the vehicle can still operate a normal flight plan. If any components malfunction or disconnect, the aircraft will immediately land in the nearest possible area”.
Why It’s Important: EHANG is getting close to full flight feasibility. It was one of the first companies to reveal its design in 2016, and has been slowly making progress towards commercial flight. It has already conducted over 1,000 passenger flight tests in places like Dubai, China and other countries. It even has successfully completed safety tests in conditions of high heat, darkness, fog, and gale-force winds. All of these factors have made EHANG one of the most prominent urban air mobility companies, and one of the closest to full operation, barring regulations.
The new electric motor by Safran boasts an impressive 94% efficiency rating. It’s built to be a powerhouse for both fully electric and hybrid electric aircraft, especially focusing on VTOLs. The ENGINeUS 45 is the first in a new line of electric engines being developed by Safran. It’s able to continuously deliver 45kW of electricity, and future models will be...
The new electric motor by Safran boasts an impressive 94% efficiency rating. It’s built to be a powerhouse for both fully electric and hybrid electric aircraft, especially focusing on VTOLs.
The ENGINeUS 45 is the first in a new line of electric engines being developed by Safran. It’s able to continuously deliver 45kW of electricity, and future models will be able to deliver up to 500kW.
Safran unveiled the motor at the NBAA ( National Business Aviation Convention & Exhibition) in Miami, Florida on October 15th. Four of the engines have already been tested in a full distributed propulsion hybrid-electric system on the ground similar to what might be found in hybrid electric aircraft.
Said Hervé Blanc, Vice President of Electrical Systems and Motors division at Safran,“We are proud to present this cutting-edge equipment that boasts top-level aeronautical performance from an electromagnetic, thermal, and mechanical perspective. With this range of engines, we are making a major strategic shift towards the development of VTOL and STOL aircraft, thus opening up promising new markets for Safran.”
Safran has already well established its presence in the world of electric aviation by partnering with Zunum Aero in early October. Safran will develop the hybrid-to-electric powertrain for Zunum’s hybrid electric commercial airplane design. It is yet unknown whether Safran will provide the electric motors for the ZA10 as well.
Why its important:
While the powertrain generator for the ZA10 is a 1700 shaft horsepower engine that has been used in traditional helicopters, the development of the ENGINeUS line indicates Safran’s intention to continue shifting towards electric propulsion. Safran is one of the industry leaders for aviation engines, and its move toward electric propulsion may indicate an industry-wide trend. With big players like Safran beginning to provide electric solutions, there should be plenty of options in the near future for urban air mobility vehicle developers to find propulsion suppliers and more.
Dan Kodsi of the Paramount Miami Worldcenter project has just become one of the first real estate developers to fully commit to the future of flying cars. Dan Kodsi is CEO of the Royal Palms Companies, a real estate developer of condo residence complexes in Miami. The new building design for the Paramount Miami Worldcenter features a landing pad that...
Dan Kodsi of the Paramount Miami Worldcenter project has just become one of the first real estate developers to fully commit to the future of flying cars.
Dan Kodsi is CEO of the Royal Palms Companies, a real estate developer of condo residence complexes in Miami. The new building design for the Paramount Miami Worldcenter features a landing pad that rises out of the rooftop swimming pool that is dedicated specifically to urban air mobility vehicles. The top floor of the building will be complete made of glass, and will act as ‘sky lobby’ for commuting passengers.
A concept video from Paramount featuring the Aurora Flight Sciences (Boing) eVTOL:
Kodsi is convinced of a future for urban air mobility, saying, ““It’s not a question of if, but when.” His vision is to transform the 2-hour car commute from Miami to Palm Beach into a 30 minute flight for his residents.
He was inspired to add the launch pad to the building by the latest news from Uber Elevate, which states a 2020 goal to begin testing. Kodsi hopes that “stop-and-go traffic to the suburbs could become a burden of the past for PARAMOUNT residents.”
This news comes among many other similar stories. Last week, Burbank resident Rick Perkins, who commutes two hours daily, showcased a house he built in west Los Angeles that includes a launch pad for the Workhorse SureFly built next to the deck’s swimming pool.
And in September this year, the Taskers residential development in Australia began building the country’s first apartment building with a vertical take-off and landing space to accommodate air taxis.
The landing space will also accomodate delivery drones as well, and is designed to allow each resident their own accessibility to the landing pad to wait for their air taxi or collect a drone delivery.
Why it’s important: Apartment buildings and residences all over the world are gearing up to ensure that their spaces are accessible for VTOL air taxis. These landing pads are by no means cheap to construct, which means that these these businesses must consider the added value of the landing pads well worth the investment.
Real estate investors the world over are sure that adding air taxi compatibility to their buildings will give them a competitive edge in the market, indicating a strong future for flying cars.
This morning (Tuesday October 23rd), Bell Announced a partnership with the Thales Group to further develop flight control systems for its VTOL aircraft, including the Bell Air Taxi. The Thales Group is a high-technology solutions provider specializing in many areas from aerospace to connected cars to deep-sea exploration. Part of its core value is helping to make the world safer...
This morning (Tuesday October 23rd), Bell Announced a partnership with the Thales Group to further develop flight control systems for its VTOL aircraft, including the Bell Air Taxi.
The Thales Group is a high-technology solutions provider specializing in many areas from aerospace to connected cars to deep-sea exploration. Part of its core value is helping to make the world safer through the mastery of complex technologies. As noted by Bell, Thales has is a global leader in commercial and military avionics and air traffic management.
“Thales designs systems that strive for the highest standards for future air mobility.”–Bell Press Release October 23rd.
Thales hopes to bring expertise in safety and autonomy to the Bell team. According to Thales Vice President for Avionics in Canada, Michel Grenier: “Thales is playing a leading role in shaping the autonomous world”. While Thales will specifically lead flight controls technology, the other announced partners, Garmin and Safran, will head navigation and propulsion. Thales plans to work with Bell on piloted flight as well as eventual autonomous flight technologies for the air taxi.
Thales reported sales of €15.8 billion in 2017.
As a reminder, Bell has also partnered with Uber Elevate. Uber and Bell hope to reach testing in multiple cities by 2020.
Bell has remained somewhat secretive about its air taxi design. While many companies have released mockups and even flight demonstrations of their air taxi concepts, Bell has chosen only to show the interior of the aircraft, saying that for now it would like to keep its propulsion design to itself. However, the air taxi interior shows a very futuristic design featuring augmented reality and a control panel completely made up of screens.
“Our collaboration with Thales is intended to ensure affordable flight controls system that will be designed to meet the needs of future piloted and fully autonomous on-demand mobility vehicles.” –Scott Drennan
Why its important: Given the trends in Bell’s chosen partnerships, Bell may plan to design its own software for on-demand mobility and airspace management. This gives extra insight into what kind of value Uber adds to the partnership–customer service, management, and intake.
On October 18th at the Autonomy and Urban Mobility Summit in Paris, the Volocopter team announced that it will collaborate with the government of Singapore to begin testing its eVTOL air taxis in the second half of 2019. The goal of Volocopter’s coming tests in Singapore is to validate feasibility of establishing air taxi services in an urban environment like...
On October 18th at the Autonomy and Urban Mobility Summit in Paris, the Volocopter team announced that it will collaborate with the government of Singapore to begin testing its eVTOL air taxis in the second half of 2019.
The goal of Volocopter’s coming tests in Singapore is to validate feasibility of establishing air taxi services in an urban environment like Singapore. Although Singapore has not yet committed to enlisting Volocopter services, Volocopter will use the 2019 flight test to identify the routes in Singapore with the most potential for success. It is currently seeking real estate partners to collaborate on the infrastructure aspect of testing, and is setting up design and engineering teams within Singapore.
The Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore (CAAS) has stated its belief that vehicles like the Volocopter 2X have the potential to transform logistics and mobility in the urban environment of Singapore. The CAAS and Volocopter are currently working together to ensure that all requirements such as safety and noise pollution are met and to determine the full scope of the tests before they begin in 2019. These tests will culminate with a public flight demonstration to heighten societal confidence and acceptance.
Volocopter is based in Germany and is primarily backed by Intel and automobile firm Damlier. The Volocopter 2X can fit up to two passengers and has a range of about 18 miles. It is fully electric, and can be flown either fully autonomously or by a single joystick that controls the main functions of the aircraft. Volocopter is still working with the CAAS to determine whether Singapore testing will be manned or autonomous. Learn more about the Volocopter2X.
The Volocopter 2X has held a preliminary permit to fly in Germany since 2016. In September of 2017, it completed a successful flight test in Dubai. Volocopter is collaborating with other cities as well, and has stated its expectation that air taxi services will begin operation within five years.
Volocopter Dubai flight test:
Why it’s important: The government of Singapore represents yet another country that has signed onto the future of flying cars. Dubai. The United Arab Emirates has been in talks with Uber and eHang and has hosted flight tests, New Zealand recently signed with Kittyhawk, and Japan recently founded its own air taxi initiative enlisting over 23 countries. While there may some obstacles to anticipated progress, a future of flying cars is certainly coming,
NASA has made its stance in the new flying car industry clear by recognizing Urban Air Mobility (UAM) as the next step in aviation innovation. In 2020, NASA will commence the first of it’s series of urban air mobility ‘Grand Challenges‘. These challenges will focus on allowing companies with new flight technologies to successfully demonstrate full system safety. Part of...
NASA has made its stance in the new flying car industry clear by recognizing Urban Air Mobility (UAM) as the next step in aviation innovation.
In 2020, NASA will commence the first of it’s series of urban air mobility ‘Grand Challenges‘. These challenges will focus on allowing companies with new flight technologies to successfully demonstrate full system safety. Part of the goal of this effort is to begin the process of public confidence and acceptance.
On November 1-2, NASA will host an ‘Industry Day‘ for urban air mobility. Here, it plans to gather all the players in the coming eco-system to outline and prepare for the 2020 Grand Challenge. According to NASA, attendees will be companies that are “highly motivated to participate and work with us to achieve a safe, commercial operating capability.”
“The convergence of technologies, and new business models enabled by the digital revolution, is making it possible to explore this new way for people and cargo to move within our cities,” – Jaiwon Shin, NASA Associate Administrator for Aeronautics Research.
Another goal for the Grand Challenge is helping vehicles to achieve airworthiness certification. In collaboration with the FAA, vehicles will be put through performance tests both for normal flight and for emergency situations such as the loss of the motor. The first Grand Challenge will evaluate ground handling, taxi and takeoff, cruising capabilities and flight path changes, landing and turnaround in a variety of conditions, energy storage and battery capacity, and Management of critical systems failures.
“Now, our goals are to help develop and enable as much as possible what we like to think of as an entire ecosystem when it comes to Urban Air Mobility,” – Davis Hackenberg, UAM Engineer at NASA.
Why it’s important:
As an airspace traffic manager, NASA will play a crucial role in the new industry UAM industry. While the FAA determines certifications for aircraft, NASA will be greatly responsible for the new airspace management technologies. It has already spent the last six years working on its Unmanned Aircraft Systems Integration in the National Airspace System, which focuses on building a digital management ‘UAS’ system for unmanned commercial drones. The Grand Challenge event event takes the next big step for both aircraft certification and for UAS systems development.
This week, Air New Zealand and Kittyhawk signed an agreement to develop autonomous electric air taxi services for New Zealand’s cities. As a reminder, Kittyhawk is the developer the Cora, an electric vertical take-off and landing air taxi with a range of about 62 miles and a top speed of 110mph. This makes it perfect for short range trips that...
As a reminder, Kittyhawk is the developer the Cora, an electric vertical take-off and landing air taxi with a range of about 62 miles and a top speed of 110mph. This makes it perfect for short range trips that will make “bumper to bumper traffic a relic of the past”, according to Kittyhawk’s website. Kittyhawk is funded by Google Founder Larry Page.
The new agreement with Air New Zealand does not specify a timeline for the release of air taxi services, but does state clearly the goal of jointly creating the reality of autonomous electric air taxis for the future of New Zealand.
Back in May, only a few months after Cora’s unveiling, Kittyhawk’s New Zealand operator Zephyr Airworks had already signed an agreement with the government of New Zealand to begin the testing and certification process. It’s signing with Air New Zealand represents the next great step in Cora’s journey to the skies.
“Both companies see the potential for our airspace to free people from the constraints of traffic and its associated social, economic and environmental impacts”-Air New Zealand CEO Christopher Luxon.
“We are combining our expertise to shape a complete experience that takes you from app to arrival, the next step in bringing the freedom of flight to your life.” -Kittyhawk Press Release October 15th.
Why it’s important:
Traditional commercial airlines are beginning to realize that the air taxi age is coming, and don’t want to miss out on the new market. Air New Zealand recognizes that startups like Kittyhawk are better suited to attack this new industry, and so are pairing up with those companies for technological development. Since developing eVTOLs is so cost intensive, partnerships with bigger aviation companies like Air New Zealand are necessary, and benefit both the parties. They allow startups to execute their vision, and give the airlines a jumpstart into the future of air transport.
On October 15th, the European Aviation Safety Agency opened its “Proposed Special Condition for small-category VTOL aircraft” up to the world for feedback. This stage of writing new certification law is called “public consultation”. The proposed new certification standards document has already been drafted, and from now until November 15th, EASA will take comments from the public on how the...
On October 15th, the European Aviation Safety Agency opened its “Proposed Special Condition for small-category VTOL aircraft” up to the world for feedback.
This stage of writing new certification law is called “public consultation”. The proposed new certification standards document has already been drafted, and from now until November 15th, EASA will take comments from the public on how the document might be improved. This period of public consultation is required by a law written in 2007 that states that any deviations from applicable airworthiness code must be subjected to public consultation. The proposal pertains specifically to unpressurized aircraft under 2000kg with a maximum capacity of 5 occupants.
EASA notes that the differences from traditional aircraft like helicopters and airplanes which necessitate the new certification standards are:
- Distributed lift/thrust units are used to generate powered lift and control.
- The new aircraft may not be able to perform an autorotation or a controlled glide in the event of a loss of lift/thrust.
The proposal breaks down the certification standards into several parts including:
- Mass and Center of Gravity requirements
- Performance and submission of performance data
- Flight Envelope, Take Off Performance, Climb Performance
- Landing and Controllability Requirements
- Ground Handling Characteristics
- Operating Limitations
- Structural Design Requirements
- Flight Control Systems
- Flotation and Emergency Exits
This is the link to the full Proposed Special Condition:
Proposed Special Condition for small-category VTOL aircraft
If you want to make comments on the document, you can directly contact Lionel Tauszig, EASA Senior PCM of Continuing Airworthiness, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Why its important: Europe is getting ever closer to certifying air taxis. The step forward to the public consultation stage means that the certification laws for new air taxi vehicles are moving through the pipeline. This forward movement is incredibly important for companies like Vertical Aerospace and Lilium, both European companies who hope to get their air taxis in the sky within the next five years.
On the left is the Terrafugia Transition. On the right is the Pal-V Liberty. These are the first two flying cars to reach the market. Many VTOLs classify as ‘flying cars’ because they are personal-sized point to point vehicles that use the skies as their medium of travel. However, the Pal-V Liberty and the Terrafugia Transition can drive on the...
Many VTOLs classify as ‘flying cars’ because they are personal-sized point to point vehicles that use the skies as their medium of travel. However, the Pal-V Liberty and the Terrafugia Transition can drive on the road as well as fly through the air.
Terrafugia, founded by graduates of MIT, has been working on the Transition for over a decade. The Transition’s wings fold to become as flush as possible with the body when the car is on the ground, and unfold for flight. Based in New England, Terrafugia was purchased by Volvo’s Chinese parent company, Geely, in 2017.
Terrafugia has begun taking pre-orders for the Transition, with a price around $300,000. The Transition’s main features include the ability to switch from drive mode to flight mode in under one minute, a range of about 400 miles, and a flight top speed of 100mph. On the ground, the Transition is powered by a hybrid engine with speeds also up to 100mph.
The Dutch company Pal-V’s ‘Liberty; is designed more like a personal helicopter. The Pal-V Liberty has three wheels, and long helicopter blades that fold into its body for its drive mode.
The base model of the Liberty is priced at €299,000, but €499,000 for the ‘Pioneer’ edition, which will be delivered first and will include all the available customizable options. Pal-V started taking pre-orders last month. Similar to Tesla, it is currently taking these orders through a queue reservation system, which requires a minimum $2,500 down payment. The Liberty has a top airspeed of 112mph, and top ground speed 100mph and a 100 gallon fuel tank, which is good for about four hours of flight time.
Both companies will begin delivering to customers in 2019.
Why It’s Important: While both of these vehicles are mainly recreational, they represent great steps for the era of personal aerial transportation. Not only will both these vehicles promote the acceptance of personal aircraft, they have also already struggled with many of the certification obstacles that air taxi VTOLs are currently experiencing.
A professional hip hop dancer in the Philippines decided he wanted to fly. So he learned engineering, and built a personal passenger drone. His design and prototype were picked up by Australian electric vehicle company Star8, which will bring the aircraft into commercial production. The “Koncepto Millenya” is modeled like a sports car, and getting into it is...
A professional hip hop dancer in the Philippines decided he wanted to fly. So he learned engineering, and built a personal passenger drone. His design and prototype were picked up by Australian electric vehicle company Star8, which will bring the aircraft into commercial production.
The “Koncepto Millenya” is modeled like a sports car, and getting into it is meant to feel like getting into a Formula One car. The two share a streamlined and minimalistic body. The single-seater aircraft can fly up to 400 feet, though demonstration flights were conducted at about 25 feet. It can carry weights of about 150 pounds at a speed of about 40mph. This kind of flight, even at 25 feet, could mean huge improvements in places like the Philippines where traffic is extremely heavy and getting around is difficult.
Although 37 year-old Kyxz Mendiola had no professional or educational background in flight, he was able to learn everything he needed to know from the internet. His original passion was dancing, which led him into drone photography, which led him to become a flying car inventor. He began working on building drones in 2010, but felt that he didn’t really “crack the code” until around 2016.
“What started as curiosity became an obsession, I worked as a freelance filmmaker, taught dance and saved money for six years to be able to work on the drones. My designs had to be compact so that they could fit through the door, elevator and my small truck to take them out for testing.”
About a month ago, Mendiola’s design was noticed and picked up by electric vehicle developer Star8. Star8 currently makes solar-powered busses, ‘Tuks’, and scooters. It plans to carry on Mendiola’s design to enable a higher capacity of passengers and longer flight times.
Why it’s important: Urban Air Mobility solutions are beginning to appear all over the globe. While big traffic problems exist in the U.S, they are sometimes even worse in countries like the Philippines. Mendiola claims that an hour’s drive could be cut down to five minutes in his vehicle. Moreover, solutions like Mendiola’s prove that the kind of technology needed for this solutions is not only viable, but already possible to build.
Transcend Air has announced its plans for its air taxi service to launch in 2024. It’s not the first VTOL company to announce a date for service launch, with Uber committed to three cities by 2023 and Lilium committed to a 2025 launch. But Transcend Air is one of the first to offer a ‘business class’ style VTOL. The interior...
Transcend Air has announced its plans for its air taxi service to launch in 2024. It’s not the first VTOL company to announce a date for service launch, with Uber committed to three cities by 2023 and Lilium committed to a 2025 launch. But Transcend Air is one of the first to offer a ‘business class’ style VTOL.
The interior of the eVTOL is luxurious to say the least, with large cushy seats that face backward as in a business helicopter rather than in rows as in a commercial airplane or other eVTOLs.
Named the Vy 400, the aircraft is designed for somewhat longer inter-city travel with a range of 450 miles and private-jet level speeds of up to 405mph. It features a complete fly by wire control system. The initial three routes the company plans to offer are NYC to Boston, LA to San Francisco and Montréal to Toronto for prices between $280 and $330.
In addition to its 2024 air taxi service launch, Transcend Air also plans to open its pre-order book in late 2020 for those who wish to buy the aircraft. The Vy 400 should be priced at around $3.5 million according to Transcend Air’s website. The company has iterated 15 prototype VTOL models, and claims that its aircraft is ready to build owing to its quick-to-market strategy of integrating proven technologies already on the market. Despite this, the company guarantees complete safety with a full-aircraft parachute.
The Transcend Air team consists of CEO Gregory Bruell, who co-founded Elytron Aircraft, invested in Martin Jetpack and was CTO at Silverback Technologies. Other executive members include COO Peter H. Schmidt – President and Founder of Linear Air, and Richard L. Gersh who led risk management and regulatory engagement for Terrafugia.
“This is a necessary and transformative addition to city-to-city transportation options. It solves multiple problems at once: we’ll take cars off congested roads, reduce pollution around airports and lower the cost of air transportation while drastically reducing travel times.” –Founder Gregory Bruell
Why it’s important: As the VTOL flying car industry develops, it will begin to segment, which is what we are seeing here with Transcend Air. While many air taxi services seek to offset the traffic problem for the general public, Transcend Air approaches the ‘business class’ frequent flyer sector of the market. Their solution aims to solve the problem of private jets: they are too expensive and are not point to point. The development of Transcend Air exemplifies that air taxi services will be used in many different ways, and represents another new branch of the growing industry.
We are on the cusp of a revolution in transportation that has far-reaching implications, from how we get across town to a change in how peoples and nations interact. Advanced aerial mobility — the impact on aviation of electric propulsion and autonomy — represents the inclusion into our transportation mix of a mode that doesn’t depend on building and maintaining every mile of connecting...
We are on the cusp of a revolution in transportation that has far-reaching implications, from how we get across town to a change in how peoples and nations interact. Advanced aerial mobility — the impact on aviation of electric propulsion and autonomy — represents the inclusion into our transportation mix of a mode that doesn’t depend on building and maintaining every mile of connecting path as expensive infrastructure. In other words, aerial mobility is a nodal transportation network, in contrast to road and rail that are linear networks. The flexibility, resilience, and low resource intensity of nodal networks are key strengths.
A nodal network’s advantages are exemplified by the ancient civilizations that excelled based on similar transportation in their time — water.
Some early civilizations developed along rivers ideal for transportation. Consider Ancient Egypt: The Nile river supported a large population under one economy and one governmental structure. Sailing across, up, or down a river, all points are directly connected with no pathways to build or maintain. Only the boats and ports need to be supplied.
Egypt’s easy transport enabled economic growth that left them able to devote resources to progress in other areas such as government, architecture, and the sciences. Egypt advanced relative to its peer civilizations and became one of the first to develop into a national identity.
Water transportation stood out again in the pre-industrial age, as advances in shipbuilding and deep-water navigation enabled countries with mastery of this technology to extend their reach across oceans. The economic and geopolitical implications were profound, including Europe’s expansion into the Americas and culminating in the British Empire.
But overland transport remained difficult, leaving regions not endowed with rivers or coastline behind. During the industrial age, new technology shifted the effort to building linear transportation networks with investments in rail and road to connect the interior. By 1880, the rich economies of Europe were crisscrossed with rail.
Roads and rail differ from water in that every mile must be built and maintained. Routes are fixed and limited in capacity. They make a permanent imprint on the landscape, influencing future behavior for centuries. These networks are costly, but for countries with large economies and strong institutions to manage the investment over time, the return on investment was and still is worth it.
In the modern age, nodal networks which dominated transportation throughout history have taken a back seat to linear networks. Today, ocean transport and commercial air travel are only a very narrow slice of our overall transportation systems. Indeed, the modern world runs primarily on roads and rail.
However, the consequences of this are growing ever more apparent. Megacity regions push the limits of road scale and congestion. Infrastructure becomes costlier to maintain with age. In the United States, our infrastructure is falling behind yet we spend $145 billion annually maintaining our road networks. That amounts to one dollar in road maintenance for every 22 miles traveled each year. In contrast, our $4.1 billion annual spending to maintain the “airside” of airports (the runways, etc.) supports 205 passenger miles per dollar spent. Even as congestion increases, such maintenance costs leave little to continue expanding our roads, particularly in already-built areas. Clearly, alternatives are needed.
The developing world has another challenge. There, it is an inability to afford a proper road network in the first place. Countries struggle under the burden of building and maintaining sufficient road networks to support economic growth that would feed a virtuous cycle. Roads deliver a benefit only once a country has invested to build out an extensive and high-quality network and then sustained that network long enough for the resultant economic growth to kick in. Compounding this, in developing economies that growth response can take longer.
That’s the theory, at least. In practice, the results are mostly disappointing. Today, the billion people living in the richest countries have 10 times more roads per person than the billion people living in the poorest countries. This proportion is consistent across sparsely as well as densely populated countries. For the poor countries to build their road networks up to the equivalent extent of the rich world, they would have to construct 13 million miles of roads — more than twice the size of the U.S. road network — and at a cost of over $5 trillion.
This deficiency is not just about economic growth — it is about missed opportunities for over a billion people. Opportunities ranging from education to health care to the ability to start and grow a new business. All of these things ultimately depend on making connections through transportation.
Rather than depend solely upon linear road networks in countries not yet able to see a return on them, I believe we can create a better solution. What is needed is a lighter-weight transportation capability that delivers essential benefits at low development and maintenance cost. By starting with a thin overlay of high-speed flexible transport, we can deliver essential or high value goods that have the greatest impact and provide a more robust connection for public services to reach remote populations. Medical supplies are an obvious starting point that are already being delivered this way. This becomes the seed of a modern form of nodal network, one not constrained to water. Advanced aerial mobility, in its many forms, can be a crucial enabler of this solution.
More broadly, aerial mobility represents a fundamental step forward allowing any society in the world to incorporate a transportation system that is nodal in nature. In a way, this is a return to what has proven superior throughout history. As a complement to linear networks, it allows us to put high-priority movements such as medical emergencies and disaster relief onto a resilient high-speed network not subject to disruption on the ground. As we gain experience, the scale and use cases expand dramatically.
But wait, are we neglecting the role aviation already plays in connecting the world? Not at all. Aviation works when we overcome the complexities of operating in aerial networks with highly trained professionals throughout the system. However, 20th-century technology has held us back from going any further. Commercial aviation is, in fact, a telltale indicator of the impact when new technology brings its benefits down to short trips and small vehicles operating on-demand. The applications and benefits are too numerous to list here but my article, Technology is Redefining Flight, describes the technological changes at work and the new platforms that are commercializing.
In this article, we’ve taken a fast trip through the long historical arc of transportation’s role in society. Through this lens, we see that flight enabled by new technology is about more than drone deliveries and air taxis. It has far-reaching implications for both megacities and remote expanses of the developing world. The incorporation of a modern nodal transportation network into society is a major step forward and offers subtle yet transformative benefits. We have a lot to look forward to, as leading edge of this transformation is already here.
About Peter Shannon
Peter Shannon is a partner at Levitate Capital and an investor in advanced aerial mobility, formerly in sustainability and tech. He is also an entrepreneur and software engineer, as an Editor for Radius Mobility.
We hear a lot lately about urban air mobility and air taxis that are going to transform our commutes. Recently, I’m getting asked if we’ve yet reached peak-hype. I’m not sure people even agree what the hype is about, much less whether we’re at a crescendo. A common vein in hype is being led into an overly short-term mindset and...
We hear a lot lately about urban air mobility and air taxis that are going to transform our commutes. Recently, I’m getting asked if we’ve yet reached peak-hype. I’m not sure people even agree what the hype is about, much less whether we’re at a crescendo. A common vein in hype is being led into an overly short-term mindset and then getting disappointed. With today’s news cycle, and lacking a broader framework, this is an easy trap to fall into. To counter this, in what context can we frame aerial mobility? Let’s see if history can be a guide.
From the day Charles Lindbergh landed the Spirit of St. Louis at Le Bourget in 1927, people have dreamed of when airplanes would deliver truly spontaneous freedom of flight, to move around the world as they wished.
At the time, Charles Lindbergh’s crossing of the Atlantic was a pivotal moment that inspired the world, bringing a wave of capital, entrepreneurs and engineers into the industry. Like today, there was a frenzy of innovation and businesses getting started. Their shared vision was that soon everyone would be flying aircraft at their own whim, like driving a car.
Aviation has come a long way since then, connecting the world, yet that dream has remained elusive. For nearly a century, flying for most of us has been constrained to mass-aggregation of people on long-distance, scheduled commercial air routes with only enthusiasts or the wealthy braving the expense and complexities of private aviation.
Why this outcome? Progress during World War Two raised expectations for a domestic revolution in the use of personal airplanes. Wartime advances in aircraft design and manufacturing combined with the large number of trained pilots and people otherwise exposed to flight fueled expectation that following the war there would be demand for hundreds of thousands of airplanes as soldiers returned. Indeed, industry responded, with ads during the war reflecting this expectation as manufacturers prepared themselves and the public for the coming new era in flight.
Things actually got off to a decent start. The general aviation industry sold a record high 33,254 aircraft in 1946. But it didn’t last long. A contraction in aircraft sales came about suddenly and violently. In 1947, the number of aircraft sold dropped by more than half, and halved again in 1948. Not until 1951 did growth return. After a modest recovery in the 1960’s and 70’s, general aviation aircraft shipments stalled, seemingly permanently.
Why did general aviation fail to scale? Simply put, the product didn’t meet the needs of the market. Operating small combustion-powered aircraft proved to be too expensive and frequent maintenance made it unreliable to depend on. At the same time, piloting an aircraft remained complex and steep training requirements held back the pilot population. These forces fed on each other, limiting sales and thus funding for product improvements and airport infrastructure. A stringent certification process also contributed — what was proven safe was often kept in favor of innovation.
Combined, these factors kept aviation as personal transport beyond the reach of mass adoption. This cycle persisted for decades. The technology was just not evolved and mature enough and the industry had no path to overcome it.
In contrast, commercial aviation thrived. Here, efficiencies could be gained through aircraft scale and complexity managed with highly trained professional pilots. Today, as we watch tens of thousands pass through mega-hub airports daily, we wonder — was personal aviation a misguided idea or just before its time?
The answer, in this case, is destined to come from outside. As we apply electric propulsion and automation technology to flight, we see how they upend core assumptions around the aircraft, its economics, safety, and usability; and moreover, the transportation system in which it will operate.
This is not simply an improvement; technology is literally redefining flight. Propulsion electrification, autonomy, and the connected aircraft have profound implications. Electrification turns the operating cost and maintenance equation on its head, while opening up fundamentally new aircraft design possibilities. Automation sidesteps the hurdle of pilot training, delivering the on-demand mobility experience as a passenger rather than an operator. Autonomy in aviation is arguably a more tractable problem than on the ground, as the decades of automation experience already in the aerospace industry indicate.
Thematically, these drive the emergence of three flight platforms: the drone, (hybrid) electric airplanes, and the electric vertical takeoff and landing aircraft (eVTOL).
Fantastic, sounds simple. Take that drone and scale it up, right? Be done in about three years, right? Nope. The pathway to redefining aviation with 21st-century technology is complex and interdisciplinary. Recent history with very light jets and light-sport aircraft confirms this. Contrasting cultures must merge — between the people who are driving technology innovation and the community that has tested, refined, and driven aviation to its current levels of safety and maturity. Each community has a lot to learn from the other.
With this as the challenge, investors naturally ask each other how aerial mobility will get funded — questions around the investment thesis, timeline, capital intensity, and gaps to address in this endeavor. For now, internalizing why this is worthwhile will guide us to answer how to make it so.
Focusing on the hurdles and timing to commercialization, platforms requiring fewer changes to regulations or infrastructure will commercialize first. For example, electrically propelled fixed-wing airplanes can be flown by today’s pilots, use today’s airports, and operate within today’s air traffic control system.
Yet, the operating cost reduction they deliver is compelling versus the aircraft they replace. Small training aircraft are seeing direct operating costs drop from $150/hour to under $30/hour. Apply this technology to short-haul regional airplanes and they can experience a 70% drop in passenger-seat-mile costs, making them a cheaper option than driving.
This has both direct market appeal for the aircraft, but also interesting second-order impacts. They will bring real change to how and when people fly and will drive new traffic through our nation’s 5,000 regional public airports. These airports haven’t had meaningful capital investment for 40 to 50 years. Likewise, the fleet operations business model will evolve as more vehicles are employed in on-demand mobility networks.
eVTOL aircraft take the capability set even further. Able to operate vertically, they vastly increase the potential for point-to-point operations. However, their uses are not limited to carrying passengers over cities. Their utility as a cargo logistics tool, an air ambulance, and for access to remote locations over water or terrain shouldn’t be underestimated.
The commercialization of an aviation platform lowers barriers to its adoption. With this, innovators across the economy will apply it to use cases solving problems specific to their industry. This breadth of application reflects the flexibility of aerial mobility as a nodal network. My article, The Big Picture — Aerial Mobility as Nodal Transportation, elaborates and places this in historical context. In future posts, I will give more attention to the rollout of the other platforms and associated opportunities.
We are at perhaps the most exciting time in aviation since Charles Lindbergh’s Atlantic crossing. When we look back to history to either reinforce or temper our present-day aspirations, we see a persistent vision meeting fundamental technology changes. The proof points that convince us we will build this next generation are already flying. Our challenge now is to coordinate our efforts as an industry to implement this vision with purpose.
About Peter Shannon
Peter Shannon is a partner at Levitate Capital and an investor in advanced aerial mobility, formerly in sustainability and tech. He is also an entrepreneur and software engineer, as an Editor for Radius Mobility.
Zunum Aero, an electric commercial airplane developer, has announced its partnership with Safran Helicopter Engines. One might wonder why an electric airplane company would partner with a helicopter engine designer and manufacturer. This is because the Zunum Aero ‘ZA10’ is actually a hybrid electric aircraft. While its motors are indeed electric, existing lithium-ion batteries simply cannot store enough energy to...
Zunum Aero, an electric commercial airplane developer, has announced its partnership with Safran Helicopter Engines.
One might wonder why an electric airplane company would partner with a helicopter engine designer and manufacturer. This is because the Zunum Aero ‘ZA10’ is actually a hybrid electric aircraft. While its motors are indeed electric, existing lithium-ion batteries simply cannot store enough energy to make the 12 passenger 700+ mile journey, so the ZA10’s electricity will partially come from an on-board jet-fuel powered electric generator. Zunum intends to make the transition to fully electric aircraft once battery technology to do so becomes feasible. For now, the use of the hybrid power train, supplied with Safran’s 1700 shaft horsepower engine, means an 80% cut in emissions, a 75% drop in cabin noise, and a 60-80% drop in energy cost as compared to traditional commercial aircraft. JetSuite has already committed to purchasing 100 ZA10’s, and the company will begin flight testing and the FAA certification in 2020.
The announcement of this partnership on October 4th comes only a few days after the global aviation aviation innovation conference ‘Revolution.aero‘ in San Francisco, which both Zunum and Safran attended. While the topic of this conference was innovation in all sectors of aviation, a great deal of the conference focused mainly on Urban Air Mobility via eVTOLs. While the Zunum ZA10 is not an eVTOL, the hybrid electric technology it is developing is highly applicable to the industry. This is especially true considering that eVTOLs of higher passenger capacity are more economically efficient, and may require hybrid systems. The conference speakers talked greatly about this idea, as well as these other key points:
The emotions around autonomous aircraft–How can we get the public to accept autonomy?
- Martin Seif – Co-Founder – Anxiety and Depression Association of America spoke about his “Freedom to Fly” which is the largest program in the US for people who are afraid to fly. –The “Anxiety of ignorance”
- 70% of people have fears around flying, about 20% have fear that interferes with their flight habits.
- The main problem is anticipatory anxiety: “the fear one experiences before something”. People deal with this by talking to the flight creq, flying widebody, or upgrading seats.
- Exposure is the active therapeutic ingredient in overcoming a fear of flight.
Why hasn’t Uber for private jets happened yet?
- The supply challenge-unlike cars, most private aircraft aren’t owned by their operators.
- The regulatory challenge–how to get FAA on board.
- The payment challenge–while an Uber transaction is $13 on avergage private jets are on average $22,600 dollars which requires 72 hours of advance processing.
- “Technology is not the solution to all aviation problems”. Interesting new business models will drive these changes, -Per Marthinsson – Founder of Avinode
- Big OEMs aren’t afraid of new energy source innovations—“Moving more people through the air is better for me”–Jon Raviv – Citigroup
- Russia, China, Mitsubishi are making strides. They need to tie build an ecosystem around these airplanes to be successful, and tie the business to someone in the industry with deep pockets to fund certification process. –John Stack, The McLean Group
- Edward Gross, Shareholder at Vedder Price: One crash with a loss of life could mean the end of business but “All things are insurable if you want to pay the price”. What price this might be is yet unknown for the UAM space
XTI Tri-Fan 600 (Bob Labelle – CEO XTI Aircraft)
- UAM will be both intra-city and inter-city
- There’s a new market emerging with no preferred solution provider yet.
- The XTI Tri-Fan 600 is built for 500 nautical-mile commutes. It has 1,100 shp engine with vertical mode supplemented by a battery pack. Four pillars of the competitive model: price ($8million), low operating cost (35 gallons per hour), high cruising altitude, 6-9 passengers.
- $400 million in sales in US, Brazil, Australia, Europe, Japan, and more. Prototype scheduled to fly in October 2018.
Airbus and the upcoming UAM revolution
- Voom Helicopter Taxi service by Airbus in São Paulo start to prove the business model.
- Now is the right time for UAM because these technologies:
- IDEP (integrated distributed electric propulsion)
- Advanced Avionics, UTM (unmanned traffic management) software, and autonomy developments
- Connected Passengers
- Growing infrastructure support
- A^3 project was setup in 2015, which includes the Airbus Vahana, Voom, and Altiscope – NextGen UTM.
- UAM systems will need to be localized, not global. And Human Air Traffic controllers are not scalable. – Uma Subramanian, Voom.flights
- Now is the right time for UAM because these technologies:
Rob Wiesenthal – Founder/CEO – Blade
- Closest thing to on-demand–7AM to 8PM guarantee a helicopter in 20 minutes
- Flights from Blade Lounge in downtown Los Angeles to LAX International Airport are only $20 more expensive than UberBlack, and are 40 minutes faster.
- 170,000 users to date
- Blade has Partnered with Colony Capital and Airbus.
Ben Marcus of Airmap, one of the forefront UTM developers based in Santa Monica, California, spoke about the future of air traffic control.
The Revolution.Aero conference occurred this Monday and Tuesday in San Francisco, led by Alisdair Whyte co-owner and founder of VTOL Investor, Corporate Jet Investor, and Helicopter Investor. Here’s the top takeaways from the event. Key Takeaways: There are currently over 100 electric-propulsion air projects underway funded by more than $2 billion, a nearly three-fold increase in just the past 36...
The Revolution.Aero conference occurred this Monday and Tuesday in San Francisco, led by Alisdair Whyte co-owner and founder of VTOL Investor, Corporate Jet Investor, and Helicopter Investor. Here’s the top takeaways from the event.
- There are currently over 100 electric-propulsion air projects underway funded by more than $2 billion, a nearly three-fold increase in just the past 36 months.
- Paul Touw of XOJET for Private Jet Charter Flights spoke about the future of chartered flight. His main point was that commercial aviation won’t work for short term flights , and that eVTOLs are the future of short distance intercity travel owing to their small size, lack of need for airports, their quietness, and their zero emissions.TSA will check in travelers from abroad at ‘Feeder’ airports–this will take the strain off of urban airports.
- Energy cost of eVTOL flight should be about $3.93 for a 50 mile trip, with a passenger price of about $30 for every 115 miles.
- eVTOL mesh networks are better than high speed rail because they can get to double the destinations for half the price.
- Initially, eVTOLs will need to be piloted, meaning operators may want to use higher-capacity vehicles to better disperse the pilot cost.
- eVTOLs will be capital intensive investment, at a little under $1billion to develop a new aircraft. This means big companies and new startups will work together in this new industry
Gwen Lighter spoke about the GoFly Compeition, which included 3,000 innovators from 97 countries building thing like jetpacks,hoverbikes, hoverboards, and flying cars. The contest is sponsored by Boeing.
- Big companies are starting to acquire the entirety of smaller startups so that they can keep their innovation divisions nimble…an example of this is Aurora Flight Sciences’ acquisition by Boeing.
- Antonio Compello, of EmbraerX mentioned that a lot of aviation is not just about startups, its about partnerships. He said the biggest disruptions will come from business models, not the businesses themselves.
- Internet of things will be the next big disruption. (The Astro Aerospace Elroy eVTOL has all its components connected to an LTE network.)
- There are 6,000 aircraft in business aviation with broadband system, but 20,000 that don’t. There’s a huge market opportunity here.
- Uber Elevate presented on its future air taxi program, re-iterating its partners and potential future cities, and giving more information about vertiport infrastructure, internet airspace management, and more.
- Uber Also mentioned its near release of Uber EATS by drone, which will utilize Uber’s UTM (Unammaned Traffic Managemet) Automated Control Layer technology made in collaboration with the FAA. It hopes to use this relationship with the FAA to build Elevate Cloud Services for airspace management for passenger drones in the future.
- Charging:GM boasts chargers that can charge an average electric car battery 80% in 20 minutes
- Development of electric semi trucks and UPS make for a postive near-future for battery technologies
- Big players like Airbus, Boeing, and EmbraerX may soon look to acquire startups with charging and battery concepts.
- Hoversurf has announced that it’s ready for consumer sales.