GAMA: eVTOL Interest Expands as Development Accelerates

 - February 22, 2019, 10:52 AM

The electric and urban mobility community is rapidly expanding as more major companies jump into the fray and development of aircraft is occurring faster than originally thought, said General Aviation Manufacturers Association (GAMA) president and CEO Pete Bunce.

During GAMA’s annual State of the Industry event this week, Bunce noted the association formed its Electric Propulsion and Innovation Committee (EPIC) in 2015 to focus on emerging technologies and urban mobility. What began as a core group of 11 companies has grown to 79 global companies that are “looking at where this new revolution in aviation is going,” he said, emphasizing that a consensus exists among the community that “this is as important to aviation as the dawn of the jet age.”

He pointed to a Morgan Stanley study that projected a total “addressable market” of $1.5 trillion for autonomous aircraft by 2040. That market crosses passenger travel, cargo, and military and defense opportunities. “The intersection of many technologies, such as ultra-efficient batteries, autonomous systems, and advanced manufacturing processes are spawning a flurry of activity in this space," said Adam Jonas, head of Morgan Stanley's Global Auto and Shared Mobility research team, when the study was announced.

Bunce further stressed that the timeline is accelerating. “A lot of people didn’t think this was going to happen until well into the 2020s. It is happening now,” he said, noting executives this week held meetings with top regulators at the FAA about certification basis for these vehicles.

Anna Dietrich, an eVTOL policy expert who co-founded Terrafugia, agreed, saying, “The time is now.” A number of credible players have joined the market, Dietrich said, adding that the potential of the segment has not been overstated. “We’re making all of our science fiction dreams come true,” she said.

As for certification, Dietrich said eVTOL developers are benefiting from the Part 23 rewrite, which was intended to facilitate the development of new technologies. However, she cautioned that getting these vehicles into the air will not happen overnight. The industry will have to take a crawl-walk-run approach on integration, beginning with set corridors that have yet to be controlled and expanding from there.

Bunce pointed to mixed use of eVTOLs with helicopters at many airports and cited the integration of helicopters in São Paulo, Brazil, one of the world’s largest cities and host to as much helicopter activity—if not more—as anywhere else. He said that activity highlights that mixed vehicle integration is doable.