Singapore Air Show

Thales Sees Asia-Pac as Fertile Ground for UAM Development

 - February 13, 2022, 9:07 PM
Thales is pursuing opportunities to support electric vertical takeoff and landing aircraft to serve Asian cities that face saturated road networks.

With an urban population set to double by 2050 in a part of the world already dotted with enormous metropolitan complexes, the Asia-Pacific region ranks among the most promising for the development of urban air mobility (UAM) markets and associated control systems, according to Thales Group.

Citing Thales’s credentials as a company that has worked on UAM systems and unmanned traffic management (UTM) solutions for many years, company v-p of strategy, product policy, and innovation Marc Duval-Destin reckons “the Asian market is … particularly suited to the eVTOL adventure.”

The region’s large cities with saturated road networks will render UAM transport particularly important, he said. At the same time, areas of poor ground-transportation infrastructure make for “hardly accessible regional links” within and between many Asia-Pacific nations. “Many eVTOL initiatives were born in China, Japan, Singapore, Korea, and Australia and those countries are particularly active in eVTOL market development,” explained Duval-Destin.

Singapore serves as a good example, he added. A nation in which Thales has been present since 1973, Singapore now hosts 2,100 Thales employees and four corporate facilities, as well as the first multi-disciplinary innovation center outside Europe, Thales’s R&D activities include unmanned aerial system (UAS) and UTM system development.

This work stems from Thales’s long-running production of avionics and air traffic management (ATM) systems in Singapore, including its contracts to provide Changi Airport with Thales’ LORADS III ATM solutions. Through a joint Aviation Innovation Research Lab, Thales now partners with the Civil Authority of Singapore to develop an open ATM architecture and accelerate ATM digitization.

“Combining avionics, ATM, and digital identity expertise, we have engaged activities in Singapore to secure drone development through ScaleFlyt Remote ID,” said Duval-Destin. “This drone and UAM virtual license plate, which weighs just 70 grams, uses 5G-to-LTE-M cellular networks to accurately track, identify and monitor the status of each air vehicle in flight. It is an essential element to enable traffic management.”

In Singapore, Thales also has collaborated with H3 Dynamics since 2018 “to bring safe and transparent drone automation as a next chapter in unmanned aerial operations and as a key enabling dimension in the future of urban air mobility,” said Duval-Destin. The work involved H3 Dynamics and Thales testing “a real-time autonomous drone flight-monitoring system in an urban environment in Singapore,” he explained.

The trial combined H3 Dynamics’ DBX autonomous drone charging box and a drone electronically registered and identified using Thales’s Remote Identification tracker under the management and monitoring of the Thales UAS Airspace Management solution. “[As a result], safe monitoring of urban and beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS) drone operations are now a real near-term possibility,” he explained.

Building on that work, Thales has created TopSky-UAS, an unmanned traffic management platform that facilitates interoperability with existing ATC systems,” said Duval-Destin. “Collaborative by design, TopSky-UAS interconnects every part of current and future drone ecosystems, from air navigation service providers to city, regional, and national authorities.”

The company believes unmanned, autonomously piloted operations will prove integral to the future of the eVTOL UAM market, which by 2035 could reach 20,000 aircraft and could more than double by 2040, reaching 45,000 vehicles, resulting in yearly revenues of $16 billion, said Duval-Destin.

As a result, one of Thales’s core UAM-development activities involves “offering autonomy solutions as an asset for UAM operations,” he added. Its expertise in avionics and air traffic management makes helping its customers to define the right regulatory and standards environment, another Thales UAM-development priority.

Thales’s UAM-development strategy concentrates on cooperation with other companies that can provide other enabling technologies to go with the traffic management, flight-control, power-generation, and power-conversion systems Thales’ itself offers. “We have initiated cooperation with players across the globe,” said Duval-Destin.

“A number of them remain confidential but our partnerships range, for instance, from startups such as Flying Whales, developing a giant heavy-lift airship, to traditional aviation leaders as Airbus and Bell for their eVTOLs, and also with end-customers such as utilities suppliers like Terega for gas-pipeline inspection by drone,” he said. “We also cooperate with leading system suppliers such as Diehl Aerospace.”

Thales and Diehl plan to propose dedicated flight control systems for the UAM market and Airbus has selected them jointly to supply the electrical flight controls for the future CityAirbus NextGen air taxi.