The Future of Advanced Air Mobility

Disjointed U.S. and Europe Could Lose Advanced Air Mobility Leadership to Asia, Warns eVTOL Leader

Unless the U.S. and Europe can align on policy, regulation, and global collaboration, neither will be able to take a leadership role in advanced air mobility (AAM), according to the president of a leading UK-based eVTOL aircraft developer last week. Addressing the Honeywell Air Mobility Summit in Washington, D.C. on September 21, Vertical Aerospace's Michael Cervenka said that Asia will instead emerge as the leader in the new aviation sector if Western regulators and industry work effectively together.

“The megatrend, the biggest market opportunities will be in Asia and that’s where we will end up putting our focus,” he said. Cervenka addressed comments made throughout the summit surrounding what was necessary to help make AAM a reality and how the U.S. can take a leadership role in those efforts.

Noting that he had been in the emerging eVTOL space for seven years, Cervenka said he has seen “this world go from hype” to a world where “people are no longer questioning, ‘Is this going to happen. Is it real?'” Now people are asking how can it be done safely, he said. “From our perspective, this is absolutely an ecosystem and a collaboration that is going to make it happen.”

As far as U.S leadership in the market, he noted that while it is a really important market, it represents about 20 percent of the forecast for future eVTOL vehicles. “So, if the U.S. wants to lead, it needs to take a really global perspective.”

Vertical, which is based in the UK city of Bristol, already has partners and prospective customers across the Americas, Europe, and Asia. “We are very focused on developing a world-class, piloted four-passenger eVTOL, but we're doing it as part of an ecosystem,” he said, noting Honeywell was its first industrial partner.

“I strongly believe actually that this partnership between new startups and incumbents that have got all of those [research and development] pipelines, industrial capabilities, and certification capabilities is actually how we're going to transform this industry,” he said, listing Rolls-Royce, Solvay, GKN, and Microsoft, among others, as partners.

The company has reported sales agreements for about 1,400 of its VX4 aircraft, including to a large leasing company, airlines, and air tour operators, as well as business jet and helicopter operators. These sales have been in North and South America, Europe, and Asia. “It’s really a global opportunity.”

However, a concern is the alignment of regulation and policy, globally. Lessors care about the portability of their assets, making that alignment all the more important.

Pointing to EASA and the FAA, Cervenka said “it’s bizarre to me that we currently have a dislocation between those two organizations. They come from different philosophies, different principles, and different risk appetites. But if you are a leasing company, you care that you can sell the eVTOL to a U.S. and European operator."

Earlier this year, the FAA indicated it is switching the basis for the type certification of new eVTOL aircraft from a framework based on existing Part 23 rules to a new "special class" under 21.7b regulations. While manufacturers appear reassured that the actual technical requirements do not mark a significant deviation from those previously agreed with the U.S. agency, there is concern over new operational and training standards.

On the other side of the Atlantic, EASA is working with manufacturers on the basis of its Part-23-based Special Conditions VTOL requirements. In June 2017, the UK Civil Aviation Authority confirmed that it will accept EASA's approach to type certification, despite having left the European agency as part of the Brexit process that took the country out of the European Union. Three months earlier, in March, the British regulator announced that it will collaborate with the FAA over the eVTOL certification process.

Vertical Aerospace achieved the first hover flight with its VX4 eVTOL prototype on September 24. The aircraft hovered at around one meter for ten minutes while tethered inside a hangar.