The Future of Advanced Air Mobility

FutureFlight Weekly News Roundup

RTX Companies Join Boeing/NASA X-66A Sustainable Flight Demonstrator Project

Boeing has enlisted Pratt & Whitney and Collins Aerospace as key partners in the development of the X-66A aircraft for NASA’s Sustainable Flight Demonstrator project. The two RTX group companies will, respectively, supply Geared Turbofan engines and nacelles and engine accessories, under an agreement announced on Tuesday.

The X-66A airframe features a transonic truss-braced wing with extra-long, thin wings attached to the fuselage with diagonal struts. The Sustainable Flight Demonstrator project has attracted $425 million in funding from the U.S. Aviation Climate Action Plan, as well as some $725 million from Boeing and its partners.

In June, NASA officially designated the planned testbed aircraft as one of its X-plane programs. Boeing is tasked with building and managing a test flight program with a full-scale demonstrator.

According to Pratt & Whitney, its GTF engines, which entered commercial service in 2016,  are already delivering up to a 20 percent reduction in fuel burn on narrowbody airliners. The company reported this has so far saved more than 1.4 billion gallons of fuel and eliminated over 14 million metric tons of carbon dioxide. Using the turbofans on the X-66A will allow Boeing and NASA to evaluate what further improvements could be achieved with a new airframe design.

Business Aviation Executives Will See Volocopter eVTOL Fly in Las Vegas

Attendees at the world’s biggest business aviation trade fair, NBAA-BACE, will get what for many of them will be their first glimpse of the advanced air mobility future when Volocopter’s 2X eVTOL technology demonstrator conducts demonstration flights at the show in Las Vegas from October 17 to 19. The 2X is an early iteration of the German company’s two-seat VoloCity vehicle, which is being prepared to start trial commercial operations during the 2024 Summer Olympic Games in Paris. 

Plans call for Volocopter to conduct a series of flights from Henderson Executive Airport (KHND), the site of the static display of aircraft for NBAA-BACE. Because the eVTOL is currently categorized as an experimental aircraft, these flights will carry no passengers.

“Advanced air mobility represents one of the most significant breakthroughs in aviation history, with the potential to fundamentally change the way we think about safe, fast, efficient, and sustainable on-demand air transportation,” said NBAA president and CEO Ed Bolen. “We are pleased to host Volocopter’s revolutionary AAM aircraft and see the 2X’s electric flights over the course of the three NBAA-BACE show days.”

VoltAero Starts Construction for Hybrid-Electric Aircraft Assembly Line

VoltAero this week started building its final assembly line for its Cassio family of hybrid-electric aircraft. The start-up held a groundbreaking ceremony on October 3 at the Rochefort Airport site in Charente-Maritime in southwest France.

The 2,400-sq-m (25,800-sq-ft) facility will serve as the program’s build-up site and delivery center for the four- to 12-seat aircraft, with a final assembly line, a workshop, logistics area, and design/engineering offices. VoltAero’s master plan has allocated 7,400 sq m at Rochefort Airport to provide space for expansion and room for suppliers and service providers to establish their own premises. The airport location offers direct access to a 2,280-meter (7,500-foot) runway.

Construction of the facility is expected to be completed in August 2024. VoltAero aims to produce approximately 150 Cassio aircraft each year.

The Cassio 330, 480, and 600 models will all be powered by a combination of electric motors and an internal combustion engine to serve as a range extender while recharging batteries in flight. 

Torres Strait Air Signs Agreement for Hydrogen-Powered Islander Aircraft

Australian charter operator Torres Strait Air plans to include 10 hydrogen-powered Islander aircraft in its fleet, based on a recent agreement with Cranfield Aerospace Solutions (CAeS) and Monte Aircraft Leasing. Monte is to provide the operator with financing to pay CAeS to convert existing Islander aircraft to run on the hydrogen propulsion system the UK start-up is developing.

Torres Strait Air, which operates an 11-aircraft fleet from its base on Horn Island in Queensland, recently signed a letter of intent with the Islander’s manufacturer, Britten-Norman, for 10 new-build aircraft. Britten-Norman is partnered with CAeS on the hydrogen project, but the companies recently said they have paused plans to merge.

In November 2022, Monte signed a letter of intent with CAeS covering 40 of the hydrogen modification kits. The agreement announced with Torres Strait Air on September 28 does not make clear whether the 10 aircraft will come from that batch of 40 units.

Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma Presses for Advanced Air Mobility Services

The Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma (CNO) is joining forces with the National Air Transportation Association (NATA) to develop prospects for advanced air mobility in the state. The groups signed a memorandum of understanding on September 28 under which they will collaborate to develop the ecosystem to support the introduction of eVTOL aircraft and other new services.

The partnership is aimed at supporting new means for transporting people and cargo, with an emphasis on providing connections to underserved communities. James Grimsley, the CNO’s executive director for advanced technology initiatives, will address NATA’s Aviation Business Conference in November to outline the benefits of both crewed and uncrewed aircraft for boosting local and national economies.

“The Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma looks forward to the many positive societal benefits that will be available as a result of emerging aviation technologies,” Grimsley commented. “The relationship with NATA further illustrates CNO’s commitment to being a leader in this exciting growth area.”

The Choctaw Nation has more than 200,000 tribal members and was the first Native American Tribal Government to receive a Public Aircraft Operations Certificate of Authorization from the FAA. It is home to one of eight of the FAA’s UAS Beyond sites selected by the Department of Transportation for the development of uncrewed aircraft operations.

EASA Approves Aura Aero To Start Aircraft Manufacturing

EASA has issued Aura Aero the Part 21 Subpart J design approval it needs to become an aircraft manufacturer. The approval, granted last week, complements the earlier Part 21 Subpart G manufacturing approval the French start-up received from the European air safety agency back in November 2021.

This clears the way for Aura Aero to start serial production of its Integral family of two-seat light aircraft for pilot training, leisure flights, and aerobatics, which will include the all-electric Integral E version. The company is also developing a 19-seat hybrid-electric regional airliner called the ERA, which it hopes to start delivering in 2028.

The EASA Part 21 approval was based on an audit of Aura Aero’s facility near Toulouse over a 24-month period.