While much of the aerospace and aviation industry has been concentrating on surviving the Covid pandemic, the last two years have seen some giant developmental leaps within the Advanced Air Mobility sector.

Aerospace business manager Luke Bonnett of Frazer-Nash Consultancy gave FINN an overview of the AAM landscape – and some of the biggest challenges that the industry is likely to face in the run up to its launch. “In terms of the last two, three years we’ve moved from a position where we’ve had a lot of concepts and now we’re moving to trying to get them into operation. So we’re going from stuff being rendered on a computer, computer game simulations which are really valuable, in terms of enabling people to see what the future could look like, but we’re now moving towards delivering the future. We’re test flying things, we’re looking at new use cases and we’re trying to get towards the point where you can have certified air systems and you can have them approved for use cases, so you know potentially landing here at Farnborough, taking off and going somewhere else in the local region.”

Bonnett said that while the technology was there, regulation and approvals were the next challenges for the industry in the near future. He explained: “If we start with UAS/UAM one of the big issues for UAS is that, at present, there is limitation on flight beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS) so you hear people talking about BVLOS and you can fly BVLOS in the UK but there’s a fair amount of paperwork and things that you have to do before you get approvals and enabling people to do that will create a massive economic opportunity and just unlock lots and lots of new use cases. The technology is there, we just need to wrap a safe system around it so that’s the big issue for UAS.”

Certification – “a different proposition” from design

Certifying some of the unique designs of aircraft was one of the biggest hurdles that the industry would face before we will see the first eVTOLs flying passengers in the sky. “Getting certification is a different proposition. If you can get a test flight permit and fly many things, but getting it certified and through the regulator is very, very different. What has happened for the last 20, 30 years, particularly in civil aerospace, is that we’ve had slightly faster, slightly longer, bigger engine versions of more or less the same aircraft. If you look at an A320, A350, Boeing 747, they all look quite similar.”

“If you look at a Joby air vehicle, the Vertical Aerospace VX4, Volocopter, Lilium in particular, these are all vastly different looking aircraft and very different from those that exist presently. So getting certification evidence together and convincing a regulator that it’s safe to fly and safe to put passengers in is a massive challenge. They will succeed, but it’s about how efficiently they can do that and making sure that we don’t have any incidents that could really set the industry back.”

Like the rest of the industry, Frazer-Nash has had to adapt to a changed business market in the wake of the Covid pandemic which led to it pivoting towards the AAM market. “As a consultancy, we did see our aerospace and aviation business fall away of some of our traditional customers because there was no need to do analysis, to look at repair schemes and life extension schemes for aircraft that weren’t flying,” explains Bonnett.

“But we did a quick about face and said ‘where is the capital flowing? Where is there economic activity that needs the same types of engineers and systems engineers and for me, it was it obvious particularly in the southwest region, in Bristol where I live.”

Challenge is to get beyond feasibility studies

“Vertical Aerospace and eVTOL and the advanced air mobility market. We had the right skills and the right capability and these companies were really, really coming together in terms of their ability to show investors that they should be investing and the proof has been very much in the pudding in terms of the economic activity and the level of investment that’s been made in a lot of these companies. The challenge now is to get beyond that kind of economic feasibility and technological feasibility argument towards the right it’s feasible the money is there, let’s spend it, let’s do the work and let’s get these things flying.”

Bonnett said there had been a sea change with the way companies within the new AAM sector worked together. He said that where previously they had been guarded about intellectual property, he said companies which had competed against each other in the past would have to come together and collaborate if the UK was to grasp the opportunity to become a global market leader within the AAM sector.

“The only way to do that and to stay ahead of the pack which is moving incredibly fast in this market and has the liquidity and the capability to do so is through collaboration through openness and through trusting each other and working hard together,” he said.

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