Revolution.Aero Uplift: ‘Streamlining through certification to be key’
Summing up 15 hours of expert debate in one word is a challenge. But if we accepted the challenge to sum up Revolution.Aero’s Global 2021 virtual conference last week, it would be certification. Certification, according to many of the 70+ speakers, will pave the way for a faster adoption of advanced air mobility (AAM) operations. Whether it is certification of vehicles, software or battery technology, delegates from various fields said that it was essential for companies to work towards this earlier and in a consolidated manner to yield the best results.
Discussions about operating costs, airspace management and raising capital also featured heavily across the three days.
There are a variety of challenges around designing for certification, reaching airline safety standard, for example, said Justin McClellan, business development lead, Aircraft electrification, BAE Systems. “Streamlining through certification is going to be key,” said McClellan.
On average, an aircraft with BAE flight-critical systems takes off every one second, according to McClellan.
He believes it won’t be as long as you think until we are seeing AAM and urban air mobility (UAM) aircraft flying around us. “The ability to scale production for these aircraft is here,” he said. “I think the automotive industry is going play a big role in this. As will managing the supply chain when scaling up to production,” he added.
According to James Pura, product marketing manager for software and simulation tool provider, Hexagon MSC Software, it will be a combination of a few different aspects. “It’s an intricate dance that is needed between commercial, technical and regulatory aspects to convince the public that eVTOL operations are safe and reliable,” he said in his presentation.
“We are keeping a keen eye on the latest and greatest certification standards that are coming out. As soon as they come out, our partners in this industry come straight to us and they say ‘how do we solve this challenge?’, and we help them out with that,” added Pura.
Hexagon MSC Software has been part of simulating many aviation firsts. From the first automated commercial jet flight to the first heavy lift twin-rotor helicopter and the first tilt-rotor aircraft.
Addressing certification and engineering of eVTOL aircraft, Pura said: “The designs and engineering concepts look new, but the engineering fundamentals have not changed.”
Filip Verhaeghe, founder and CEO at Sol.One, stressed the importance of writing software for certification. If you use software that wasn’t designed for your product, you will not get certification, he said. “Make your life easy; start from the top. This is why the cost of software is so expensive. That’s why we propose Sol as a new methodology that completely automates design and, as a result, certification.” Verhaeghe said one line of code could cost anywhere between $25-$100. Sol.One can reduce up to 80% of the work that needs to be undertaken, he added.
Public acceptance and regulation
Other speakers raised concerns over public acceptance. David Norton, partner, Shackelford, Bowen, McKinley & Norton thinks public acceptance will be integral to the success of AAM. “The big question is are people going to be comfortable using their cell phone app to jump on a plane and fly some place?”
Norton added: “It seems to me that this type of travel has become a lot more normalised in the last 10 years, that being said, not to be blunt, the first accident [that takes place] is going to be problematic and send a shockwave through the system.”
Hyundai Urban Air Mobility’s State and Local partnerships lead, Adrienne Lindgren, added: “One of the things I learnt in transportation technology is winning the hearts of the non-users is just as important as the users.”
To achieve this, Todd Wolynski, partner, White & Case, said: “the infrastructural and operational realities need to be addressed in parallel to product development”. According to him, “the state of the market is unique in aviation history”.
Similar words were echoed by FAA Administrator, Steve Dickson, at the last Revolution.Aero conference. “It is the most exciting time in aviation since the jet engine,” said Dickson. He was encapsulating the buzz about aircraft development and money coming in through Special Purpose Acquisition Company (SPAC) mergers in December 2020.
Similar sentiment was seen this year. But in many ways, the AAM industry seems to be maturing – with the efforts to make it a reality running wider and deeper than before. About 65% of the attendees said lower cost per mile would set the biggest winner – in the AAM race – apart from others.
Meanwhile, Wheels Up CEO Kenny Dichter is hoping to “be in business” with Jeff Bezos, Richard Branson and Elon Musk, in the space race. “We’re demand aggregators, and we can sell seats on your vehicles,” he said.
PS: Thanks to all sponsors, speakers and delegates who attended Revolution.Aero Global 2021. If you would like to catch up on sessions across the three days, please find them all at this link.