Day four of FIA Connect took a look into the future and the emerging urban air mobility market.

Last year’s GUAS event at Farnborough International looked at the hundreds of programmes being developed using electric propulsion from flying cars, to flying taxis and vans. This year’s showcase featured news, insight and discussions from NASA, the FAA, Lilium, Uber Elevate and Vertical Aerospace.

BoeingNeXt’s vice president and general manager Steve Nordlund said: “Limitations caused by social distancing due to the COVID-19 pandemic have changed the way people shop and how deliveries are received. UAVs can also be used to deliver urgent health care and medications to people safely, even in remote areas and in the aftermath of natural disasters.

“I think all of that is going to emerge as a potential opportunity or aviation in a way that adds a whole new dimension to how aviation systems.”

The future is electric

Eric Allison of Uber Elevate gave his reasons why the future was electric. He said: “We’ve come to the pretty strong conclusion that all electric is actually the way to go, right out of the gate. The reason for this is that it’s actually interesting ripple effects and consequences of what you choose in terms of power.”

“One example that I’d like to point to is infrastructure. So this is a big coupled problem. It’s effectively designing a system of systems that the service is the product – it’s not the airplane itself. And so we have to think about the implications on infrastructure siting, infrastructure permitting, the costs of building an infrastructure and how that effects the economics of the overall service.”

Autonomous operation was also on the agenda. For Honeywell, it was the future.

Honeywell’s Senior Director, Strategic Planning, UAM, Jia Xu, said: “We have a vision that the future of air cargo will be completely autonomous, from warehouse to your house and urban air travel will be ubiquitous and accessible with electrified and highly autonomous aircraft. And that’s why we’re building innovative propulsion and avionics systems for UAM and UAS to make that future a reality.”

Xu said although there were benefits, there were also challenges. Unit economics would need to be improved with UAM vehicles carrying less passengers and parcel delivery fulfilment centres would need to be developed for occasions when a pilot couldn’t physically fit into an aircraft.

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