One year on from the inaugural Global Urban Air Summit (GUAS) held at Farnborough, FINN takes a look back at the developments from the past year – and what lies ahead.

COVID-19 may have halted most face-to-face events but the conversations – and developments – within the sector have been moving fast. Farnborough International’s virtual event, FIA Connect, provided the platform for GUAS 2.0 in July.

Last year’s GUAS brought together innovators, regulators, infrastructure architects and thought leaders, among others, exploring the whole urban air landscape from the aircraft themselves to power sources, questions surrounding unmanned flight, environmental issues right through to airport infrastructure.

Event renamed Global Urban & Advanced Air Summit to reflect market changes

With the urban air mobility (UAM) sector rapidly moving from imagination to reality, plans are already underway for the next summit which will be renamed Global Urban & Advanced Air Summit to reflect recent changes in the market.

Discussions on the urban air landscape at GUAS 2.0 were led by Robbie Bourke from strategy advisors and management consultants, Oliver Wyman. Bourke said progress within UAM had been swift over the past year, particularly in terms of creating viable and scalable business models. Vehicle technology has also moved on with many design prototypes moving to towards flight testing stage.

Business models move towards a viable product

He added that the focus was now shifting away from just potential and towards integration of urban air technology into the transport infrastructure: “I think now that picture is starting to change, the focus is starting to change into things like airspace management, infrastructure and the true business models that are actually going to make UAM and eVTOL viable.”

With cargo UAM starting to operationalize, Bourke said use cases were beginning to filter through which would provide a “leading light” for the sector.

Last year’s GUAS saw around 150 different platforms converging on Farnborough but not all of concepts would be carried through to production. Bourke added that describing the UAM market as being “fragmented” was “an understatement.” He added: “There’s thousands of different models that kind of fall into this category. But, ultimately, business reality will hit at some point and not all are going to survive. I don’t expect in five- and 10-years time, we’ll be talking about that volume.”

Startups moving at “breakneck speed”

“There are some clearly big players who have significant investment capital in, but there’s also lots of startups that are really driving the innovation. And what I find quite interesting at the moment is that it’s those smaller players that are really pushing us at breakneck speed.”

With few certainties in the emerging market, Bourke said streamlining of the market was one prediction he could be sure of: “One thing I can say for certain is there will be consolidation. And I think it’ll be significant.”

“What you might find is that actually, in the future, in 10,15, 20 years’ time, that the industry picture looks a bit more similar to maybe the automotive market or maybe the helicopter market where there are global players and significant players that have brought in lots of platforms under their umbrella.”

Bourke said the timeline for UAM becomes reality will still rely on aspects such as investment capital for infrastructure and government involvement, but demand drivers were already in place.

Bourke said one of the biggest changes as we look forward to the next GUASS in 2021 will be the addition of flight test data from manufacturers as they move towards certification. He added he would also be keeping a close eye on the cargo market which was making strong moves towards UAM operations.

Industry takes first steps from crawl to walk

He is looking forward to developing a deeper understanding of airspace management as the industry started to scale. “You’ll have heard a number of manufacturers talk about crawl, walk, run, I’m starting to sense that we’re heading towards the walk phase in some of those cargo UAM use cases and really getting excited, because when we get those data points, we’ll then be able to really understand what does airspace management infrastructure management look like?”

“And, frankly, what is the business case really cut out to be, so that we can take these brilliant vehicles that we’re designing, manufacturing and testing now and actually put them in the skies with passengers on board?”

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