Air mobility is on the cusp of gold. Next year, the nascent sector is set to achieve a milestone with plans to provide all-electric air mobility service for the Olympic Games in Paris. A partnership of companies and authorities is collaborating to pave the way for the service that will be based on Volocopter’s VoloCity air taxi. Hiring of pilots is due to begin before year-end, and further Volocopter services are planned to follow in Rome in 2024 and Osaka for Expo 2025.
These plans—along with other schemes underway—mark a major transition for the advanced air mobility (AAM) sector as it moves along the path from PowerPoint presentations, through prototyping, to commercial service. The path remains problematic in some areas and will not see a dramatic rise immediately, but the successful demonstration of services will not only build public acceptance but also build trust in further investment.
One key desire is to demystify the regulatory process, which many potential investors have problems in understanding. However, the inevitable rise in the AAM sector has been propelled by early interest from several major airlines. The traditional commercial aviation sector recognizes that AAM is another in a series of major developments that have shaped airline travel and realizes that it is important to be in at the beginning to help shape the sector.
The argument for electric-powered AAM is compelling: the drive for decarbonization—largely based on synthetic aviation fuel—will not answer all of the aviation industry’s needs. All-electric power is more than adequate to answer near-term urban/suburban short-range requirements and even regional range requirements out to 400 to 500 km. Long-range travel would most likely not be transformed until other power sources, such as hydrogen, become proven, which may not happen until the 2040s.
The technology exists already—opined one speaker at Tuesday's EBACE Newsmaker’s Lunch—to replace 90 percent of the existing short-range turbine helicopter fleet, while also adding accessibility to more landing sites due to community-friendly noise levels, and reduced space and infrastructure requirements.
Most of the world’s urban areas are ideally suited to AAM solutions, but in some the need is more pressing than in others. Cities such as Säo Paulo and Delhi are showing great interest given the lack of land for larger aviation infrastructure and congested ground transportation routes. The two main U.S. cities—Los Angeles and New York—also fall into this category, particularly in relation to linking business districts to airports. Hong Kong, too, is another prime candidate.
One element of AAM that still requires more harmonization is the question of pilot licensing and rating. A factor here is that the various OEMs have adopted differing approaches to control systems. In traditional aircraft, the cockpit and controls generally follow a similar approach across the OEMs, but that is not the case in the AAM sector, making a cover-all license more difficult to define.