Deloitte’s report, Advanced air mobility: Disrupting the future of mobility, by John Coykendall, Matt Metcalfe, Aijaz Hussain, and Tarun Dronamraju, examines the current state of advanced air mobility (AAM) – a market dominated by electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) aircraft companies.
The report notes that after years of false starts and pilot programs, AAM – sometimes referred to as urban air mobility (UAM) – is finally emerging as a viable mode of transportation to carry people and goods in new, community-friendly, and cost-effective ways.
AAM promises to save passengers time, improve productivity and quality of life, increase accessibility for rural and disadvantaged communities, and expand access to goods and services.
Manufacturers aim to get their eVTOLs certified starting in 2024, and the AAM industry could become mainstream in the 2030s as companies strive for commercial success.
Aerospace Manufacturing and Design asked the report’s lead author, John Coykendall, principal, global and U.S. aerospace and defense leader, Deloitte Consulting LLP, to elaborate on questions AAM technology raises in its race toward adoption.
Aerospace Manufacturing & Design (AM&D): With pilotless AAM approval still years away, how are operators planning to hire and train eVTOL pilots to support the demand – noting the impact commercial airline pilot shortages had on operations this year?
John Coykendall (JC): The growing investment and fast-moving certification process for eVTOL aircraft increase importance on pilot training. The AAM industry must speed up pilot training to achieve a commercial launch by 2024 or 2025 since it’s essential to integrate eVTOL aircraft into the National Air Space (NAS). eVTOL pioneers are partnering with aviation/pilot training companies to train pilots for eVTOL aircraft. The pilot training organizations such as CAE have initiated training for AAM/eVTOL aircraft in time to meet the ongoing demand, also developing simulators for eVTOL use cases.
For instance, eVTOL pioneers such as Joby, Beta, Volocopter, and Jaunt partnered with CAE for eVTOL pilot training. Also emerging are standalone eVTOL pilot training facilities such as VertX Aero venture (the first European independent eVTOL training company) which aims to start training in early 2023.
It’s not like we’re going to wake up one day and need thousands of eVTOL pilots – they’re going to start small in a particular market, with a couple aircraft, giving them some time to figure out what their pilot needs are and how to source pilots.
There’s no direct relation between commercial aircraft and eVTOL pilot training as type certification will be separate for each. For instance, the pilot needs to be trained for both powered-lift (helicopter mode for takeoff/landing) and airplane mode for a cruise, which isn’t the case with the commercial aircraft training procedure. It’s anticipated that training time for eVTOL aircraft will be higher than commercial aircraft, but the way forward for talent after the transition to pilotless will be a talking point.
AM&D: Will manufacturers continue exploring hybrid propulsion systems or leapfrog that technology to produce all electric aircraft?
JC: According to NASA, AAM is characterized by less than 300nm range. Electrically propelled aircraft are less complex in design and nearly silent. The range for electrically propelled aircraft depends on the battery and anticipated load. A hybrid propulsion system provides a greater range, enabling additional use cases such as regional 150nm to 300nm range. At present, significant eVTOL players plan to launch vehicles with fully electric propulsion (targeting short- to medium-range uses). Few other players are likely to transform from hybrid to electric. In the future, there’s an opportunity to use sustainable aviation fuel or hydrogen for hybrid aircraft to meet sustainability targets with greater range.
AM&D: How will the market winners manufacture aircraft to meet the expected demand for new aircraft and how will they service their fleets?
JC: eVTOL aircraft manufacturers need to know how to produce aircraft in large quantities as demand rises. The existing technique of aircraft production is expensive and sluggish. Thanks to electric propulsion technology, which reduces the part number (primarily complex engine parts), manufacturing eVTOL aircraft is faster and costs less. Fewer aircraft parts make eVTOL manufacturing more like automobiles, which can scale up production units based on demand. Unlike traditional aerospace, eVTOL manufacturers must build a facility with more advanced, automated manufacturing processes/technologies.
Also, the eVTOL industry needs to create a system that can adapt safety standards from the aerospace industry combined with efficient large-scale production from the automotive industry.
For eVTOL maintenance, operators may partner with third-party maintenance, repair, and overhaul (MRO) companies; however, eVTOL aircraft are anticipated to have low maintenance.
AM&D: What are the successful attributes of developers and manufacturers likely to complete the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) certification process and begin revenue-generating flights this decade?
JC: We see this as an evolving process. The FAA recently changed its regulatory approach to winged eVTOLs – aircraft that take off like helicopters and fly like airplanes – instead of regulating them like airplanes with special operating conditions. The FAA is considering how pilots need to operate the powered-lift aspect of eVTOLs in addition to flying the craft. In other words, how well pilots are taking off and landing in a helicopter mode and transitioning to airplane mode. Concurrently, we expect NASA to increase flight testing this year of eVTOLs within its AAM National Campaign. These tests, including data collection to enhance eVTOL designs, should help identify gaps in current FAA regulations and policies to advance inclusion of AAM aircraft in the NAS.
AM&D: How will raw materials be sourced to support the battery capabilities these aircraft will require, and what is being done to ramp up battery capacity and reduce weight?
JC: The energy transition is creating tremendous demand for batteries for ground-based electric vehicles (EVs) as well as energy storage for power grids. Add to that the demand for batteries to support flight, requiring specifications unique to this sector, including enhanced safety concerns, given a fire on an aircraft is more dangerous than a fire on the ground.
The weight of batteries is another major factor for aircraft design. It’s possible various battery technologies being tested as alternatives to lithium-ion will succeed, requiring less critical minerals for raw materials.
AM&D: What roles can the existing aerospace and defense (A&D) manufacturing base play in supplying the eVTOL marketplace?
JC: The AAM companies are new competitors for the legacy industry and are building aircraft with new technology. We should see some of them emerge as strong competitors. One advantage is they’re building assembly operations from the ground up, not retrofitting existing manufacturing plants. We’re seeing new entrants collaborating with automotive original equipment manufacturers (OEMs), drawing on their expertise in mass production and supply-chain management. Some legacy aircraft players are collaborating with the AAM startups. We expect this collaboration to continue. We also expect a shakeout among the startups as some thrive, others are acquired, and others fail because they don’t get the business model right. This is an exciting, formative stage with robust competition.
Traditional aerospace companies will continue to focus on their tried-and-true business, but also look for opportunities to get involved with these small startups. It’s different technology – less mechanical, more electric. Maybe not all traditional A&D suppliers have those skill sets, but I think it creates a new opportunity, and if I were in the business looking out 10 to 20 years, it’ll be a piece of the answer in the future. However, AAM isn’t going to replace long-haul aircraft.
Download the Advanced air mobility: Disrupting the future of mobility report