Boeing will adjust the production rates across all of its commercial aircraft programs, with plans to scale up 737 MAX production to 31 per month by the end of 2022, the same year when 747 production will officially come to an end. (Boeing)
Boeing will adjust the production rates for all of its commercial aircraft programs to address airline order cancellations and delays resulting from the impact of COVID-19 on passenger travel demand, according to the manufacturer’s July 29 second quarter earnings call.
Among the changes include a reduction of 787 production to six per month next year and a combined reduction of the 777/777X program to two per month – one unit lower than the rate discussed by Boeing on its first quarter earnings call. Boeing CEO Dave Calhoun confirmed in a note to employees that the 747/767 rates would remain unchanged in the near term, while 747 production will come to an end in 2022.
A 10 percent reduction to Boeing’s global staffing is also being implemented, although Calhoun said the production rate changes could lead to further evaluation.
“Unfortunately, the prolonged impact of COVID-19, the further reductions in our production rate, and the lower demand for Commercial Services means we’ll have to further assess the size of our workforce and ensure we’re aligning with the smaller market. More hard decisions are likely ahead of us, as we try to limit the impact on our people as much as we possibly can,” Calhoun said.
The company saw a net loss of $2.4 billion in the second quarter, including a 65 percent reduction in sales. Between April and June, Boeing completed a total of 20 aircraft deliveries, compared to 90 in the same period a year ago. Calhoun said that although some airline passengers are returning to airports, the fleet groundings, bankruptcies and order cancellations by airlines are still having a rippling effect on revenues.
“While there have been some encouraging signs, we estimate it will take around three years to return to 2019 passenger levels,” Calhoun said in his letter to employees.
Despite Air Lease Corp. Executive Chairman Steve Udvar Hazy recently stating during an FIA Connect 2020 webinar that his firm was ready to purchase 100 Boeing NMA aircraft, the reduction in passenger demand has also led to several recent 737 MAX order cancellations from leasing companies. AerCap was the latest to cancel 15 orders for the MAX, which followed a combined total of 57 MAX cancellations between BOC Aviation and Avolon over the last month.
“There is a customer calling us every day with a desire to want to defer and to deal with the difficult environments that they are dealing with,” Calhoun said during an appearance on CNBC following the earnings call.
The cancellations come as uncertainty remains around the timeline for the 737 MAX’s return to passenger-carrying service. On July 21, the FAA issued its latest update, which includes an plan “in the near future” to publish a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) for an Airworthiness Directive (AD) that will include a 45-day public comment period.
While the FAA has completed the 737 MAX certification flight tests, the agency is still working with Boeing and other civil aviation regulators on approving the return to service. A production rate ramp up to 31 per month is expected for the program by the end of 2022.
Despite the uncertainty on certification and the timeline on the return to service, Boeing CFO Greg Smith told analysts they expect to deliver the majority of the 450 MAX jets – which are currently parked and awaiting approval – within the first year following the final approval.
“I think we’ve been consistent to say, hey, look, we want to get those airplanes delivered,” Smith said. “And that’s the majority of them in the first year. So there will be airplanes that are outside that first year, but the majority will take place in the first year.”
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Wizz Air’s CEO, József Váradi, explained how their focus on cash has allowed them to survive the COVID-19 pandemic during an FIA Connect 2020 spotlight session. (Wizz Air)
Hungarian low cost airline Wizz Air is seeing new opportunities to adjust its route network and seek a faster return to a sense of normalcy than its competitors in Europe, CEO József Váradi said during a Wednesday July 22 FIA Connect Spotlight Session hosted by the Farnborough International Airshow.
Wizz Air entered March with €1.5 billion in free cash, and while nearly all of its passenger carrying operations came to a halt for two months, Váradi, said that their focus on a “cash contribution business model” has allowed them to avoid massive furloughs and fleet groundings. As the outbreak of COVID-19 travel restrictions were expanding in March, Wizz Air determined it had enough liquid cash to continue to operate for another two to three years without seeking state aid.
“The very worst situation to us is when we don’t operate. The moment we operate, we only operate on a cash contribution basis,” Váradi said. “You have to run your businesses for the long run and liquidity and cash are critical components of your business model.”
Eurocontrol estimates that for the week ending July 13, European airlines had on average recovered about 37 percent of the capacity or volume of flying – about 13,000 flights per day – that they were operating in the same period a year ago. At the same time, Wizz Air had already recovered 77 percent of its capacity compared to the same period in 2019, according to the CEO.
However, the recovery is not as straight a path as the low cost operator would like, because some countries are starting to re-implement travel restrictions from certain areas already. Váradi estimates an upcoming period within the range of five months to feature a lot of uncertainty and the industry will have to learn how to be flexible in adapting to new route networks and adjusting capacity.
That is a strategy that Wizz Air has already fully embarked upon. Expansion of new routes and bases began to increase for the carrier the first week of June, and has continued since then to include an expansion of its Airbus A321 fleet based in Belgrade, the establishment of its first Russian base in Saint Petersburg along with the restart of its Kyiv base. A total of 14 new routes between Ukraine and Italy have also been introduced, and routes between Hungary and North Macedonia were also restarted.
Flights operated by Wizz Air also now feature the use of SITAONAIR’s aircraft communication, addressing and reporting system (ACARS) over Internet Protocol (IP), after they became the first European carrier to use the ACARS over IP capability in January.
Another new market opportunity has also emerged in the Middle East, where Wizz Air Abu Dhabi will start flying to six new destinations in Europe in October. Váradi said they will look to create an entirely new low cost market in the region as opposed to taking passengers away from the region’s established players.
“We think Abu Dhabi is a very significant opportunity for the business and what we can achieve in Abu Dhabi is truly comparable to what we have achieved in Europe. If you look at Wizz Air Hungary, which is the European airline of the group, we’ve gotten to 100 aircraft in 15 years, I think this is something we will be looking for in Abu Dhabi as well, to get to 100 aircraft in 15 years there too,” he said.
Other challenges that the Hungarian airline is still adjusting to include some of the key parameters that enable a successful low cost airline operation, like full fleet utilization and fast aircraft turnaround times. As regulations in different countries continue to fluctuate and Wizz Air joins other carriers in enhancing cabin cleaning and disinfecting procedures between flights, sustaining such a model could prove to be difficult.
But Váradi said he believes the airline’s continued focus on its cash contribution model and the way COVID-19 has shifted more passenger demand toward the type of regional flying that they perform will allow Wizz Air to emerge from the pandemic unscathed. On June 4, the airline received the first of 65 Airbus A320neos currently on order, with no plans to cancel any future deliveries or orders.
“We all know that short haul flying is a commodity business and in a commodity business the lowest cost prevails, and now we’re the lowest cost producer so I think our competing position has just gotten better,” Váradi said. “Ten years ago when the last economic crisis hit the world, we were simply not strong enough and not big enough to take advantage of the situation. This time around I think we have the scale, we have the financial capacity to actually benefit from this and be one of the winners of the situation.”
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UAS service supplier AirMap has initiated a search to replace CEO David Hose, who will transition out of his leadership role once a candidate is found.
Amid the ongoing impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and continuing regulatory delays for the drone industry, UAS service supplier AirMap is parting ways with CEO David Hose and initiating a search for a new chief executive.
The Santa Monica, Ca.-based startup laid off approximately 20 to 30 percent of its work force earlier this year as it has struggled to deal with the COVID-19 environment, though in March the company closed a timely $31 million Series C, according to Crunchbase.
Hose, a serial entrepreneur, investor and executive, was named CEO of AirMap in March 2018 and led the company to acquire drone operations platform Hangar last year as well as launch a number of new partnerships across continents, including with Swiss air navigation service provider Skyguide.
“AirMap thanks David for his tremendous contributions to AirMap over the past two years. Under David’s leadership, AirMap achieved significant growth and brought the benefits of drones to customers across multiple industries,” a representative for AirMap told Avionics International via email.
AirMap is a participant in numerous past and ongoing drone integration pilot programs and regulatory activities, including NASA’s UTM TCL-4 trials and the Federal Aviation Administration’s Remote ID Cohort.
The company also received $3.3 million in Defense Production Act Title III funds from the U.S. Department of Defense, as part of industry COVID-19 relief efforts, to aid product development and engineering support for integration of sUAS mission planning, post-mission analysis, and unmanned traffic management software.
Despite these projects and over 135,000 monthly active users of its platform in June — an all-time high, according to AirMap — the company is struggling to differentiate its product from competitors in the increasingly crowded UAS service supplier (USS) market.
“When drone start-ups reach a certain point, they often look for a CEO that is focused on the business rather than the technology, as was the case with PrecisionHawk, Airware (before it ceased operations) and Aeryon Labs,” Michael Blades, vice president for aerospace, defense and security at Frost & Sullivan told Avionics. “This can be good or bad; sometimes it’s a sign of market maturity, and sometimes it’s a sign that the company is on the wrong growth or product trajectory. Most often it seems to be the latter.”
The drone market continues to grow, and with it the market for drone services, but slow progress of regulators on integrating drones into manned airspace and populated areas is one hindrance to unmanned operations at greater scale. In the United States, technology and regulatory requirements for beyond visual line of sight flight, operations over people and remote ID have yet to be finalized. The FAA is expected to release a fine rule on remote ID before the end of the year.
“In general, I think this is a positive move for the company, but it also hints at the broader problems faced by UAS service suppliers: how many USSs can survive?” Blades added. “How long until their business model can be monetized? We expect some of these companies will either fold or link up in M&A.”
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Executives from Air Lease Corp., Embraer and Emirates joined a webinar as part of the Farnborough International Airshow’s FIA Connect 2020 to discuss the future of commercial airliners, pictured here, is Embraer’s E-190 E2 , one of the most recent regional airliners to enter into commercial service. Photo: Embraer
A panel of experts from Air Lease Corp., Embraer and Emirates explained what they believe could be realized technologically within the next generation of commercial airliners during the July 22 “Commercial Aircraft: The Next Generation” webinar hosted by Flight Global as part of the Farnborough International Airshow’s week-long FIA Connect 2020 series.
The panel featured some of the leading trending topics being discussed in commercial aviation circles today, including COVID-19’s impact on airline traffic, adjusted demand for aircraft production and how the 737 MAX will change aircraft certification scrutiny and regulation moving forward. Beyond these near term topics, there was also some discussion of what technologies could be incorporated into the next generation of commercial airliners, such as advancements in engine propulsion and interior innovation.
Emirates President Tim Clark said that he does not see many changes coming to commercial airliner technology within the next few years.
“In the short term, frankly I don’t see too much change. I see less players, and I see a risk averse nature of boards and shareholders in both the manufacturing and the airline community, I think we have to live with that,” Clark said.
As the global supply chain continues to absorb the shock of COVID-19, that has changed the commercial side of the aviation industry’s focus from making technological advances to surviving the current environment and preparing for the future. Both Clark and co-panelist Steve Udvar Hazy, executive chairman of the board for Air Lease Corp., believe that the airline industry will need to show at least another three to four years of stabilization before manufacturers can start introducing next generation concepts because the current demand simply is not there for them.
“I always remain optimistic that we have the capability, we have the creativity, we have the intellectual powers to come and address and produce aircraft that in 50 years’ time will shock and stun us,” Clark said. “I really believe, give it three or four years – let’s have a look at how we go about dealing with the environmental aspect, which is a really good thing to happen to all of us because it’s making us really think hard about what we need to do.”
Boeing’s New Mid-Market Airplane (NMA) was also a topic featured on the panel. The NMA was a next generation mid range airplane that the company had been rumored to be developing as a replacement to the 757 and a competitor to the Airbus A321XLR for several years before shelving the program in January to focus on returning the 737 MAX to service.
“We were ready to sign for 100 of them,” Udvar Hazy said, who also noted that he believes COVID-19 has introduced the “greatest step change in production outlook in the last 30 years.”
Udvar Hazy’s Air Lease Corp. provides leasing services for a total of 111 commercial airlines, most of whom operate Airbus, Boeing, Bombardier and Embraer aircraft. However, the executive believes that industry disruption will come from outside of the traditional names and instead be generated by newcomers.
“I think the disruption in design concepts is not going to come from Airbus and Boeing. I think it’s going to come from smaller innovative players,” he said.
Engine propulsion advancements are an area where Udvar Hazy said he sees limited expansion in the near term as well. He compared the impact Tesla has had on the automotive industry, as a way to envision how the next generation of commercial airliner technology could be disrupted by a newcomer.
“Current engine technology cannot be anymore pushed into double digit gains. I think this last round of turbo fan technology – unless you go to an ultra fan concept – there’s no way to get double digit fuel gains. The other problem I see is when you increase the capital costs of these airplanes substantially; it offsets the gains on fuel burn. If you can achieve a 10 percent fuel burn advantage, but the airplane is 40 percent more expensive than the airplane it is replacing: you lose the economics of that fuel burn advantage. I’m looking forward to disruptors that will come up with new concepts which the OEMs can then latch onto,” Udvar Hazy said.
When considering what the next generation single aisle airliner could look like, Udvar Hazy said that some improvements to fuselage designs such as increasing aisle width and improving the onboarding and off boarding process could help to create a more user friendly passenger experience.
Arjan Meijer, who was appointed president and CEO of Embraer Commercial Aviation June 16 after the Brazilian manufacturer’s former chief executive left the position to take over as president and CEO of GE Aviation. Meijer said that Embraer is “focused on cash” and is currently in a good financial position. He also pointed out the current high utilization rates of Embraer’s regional jets as international flying has been limited by border restrictions.
“Our segment is more in demand than ever if you look at the airlines around the world, they’re using E-jets, E-jets, were parked a lot less than narrow bodies and if you look today at how many E-jets are flying in China in Europe, in Africa and North America – they’re all coming back,” Meijer said.
The latest generation of Embraer’s regional airliner, the E2, started flying in April 2018, just two years prior to the outbreak of the global pandemic, and Meijer said he continues to see a bright future for its performance. Despite the COVID-19 pandemic’s impact on aircraft demand, Meijer said that the company is still keeping innovation in focus for the near future, although the groundbreaking technologies such as electric hybrid propulsion will be limited to smaller scale aircraft.
“The EmbraerX side is a branch within Embraer who is focused on innovation and disruptive technologies,” Meijer said. “We’re working with Uber on Uber Elevate with a small vehicle on electricity but I think those kind of technologies are a long shot to get those on narrow body aircraft.”
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The FAA is planning on issuing a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) for an Airworthiness Directive (AD) affecting the Boeing 737 MAX “in the near future,” the agency said in a July 21 statement published on its website.
A 45-day public comment period is being planned along with the NPRM to allow for feedback on proposed design changes and crew procedures that have been established in response to the Lion Air and Ethiopian Airlines.
According to the FAA, a number of key steps remain to eventually return the MAX to passenger carrying service, including a final review by the the FAA’s Flight Standardization Board (FSB) and the Joint Operations Evaluation Board (JOEB). Both boards are tasked with reviewing proposed training for flight crews.
The FAA will also publish a final FSB report after the close of the public comment period, and will work with their multi-agency technical advisory board to review Boeing’s final design documentation as well. Next, the agency will issue a Continued Airworthiness Notification to the International Community (CANIC) and a final Airworthiness Directive (AD) to operators providing final corrective actions needed prior to re-entering the aircraft into service.
Finally, the FAA will rescind the grounding order and review and approve new training programs for 737 MAX operators.
DHL Express is adding four 767-300 Boeing Converted Freighters (BCF) as part of the company’s efforts to continue modernizing and growing its fleet.
The aircraft are converted from passenger to freighter configuration by Boeing to feature virtually the same cargo capability as the 767-300F production freighter with approximately 50 tonnes structural payload at a range of 3,000 nautical miles and 412,000 pounds maximum takeoff weight.
“We are excited to introduce additional Boeing 767 freighters to the DHL Express air network,” explains Geoff Kehr, senior vice president, Global Air Fleet Management, DHL Express. “We have operated the 767-300F model across our global fleet for many years and look forward to continue investing in the platform by adding more 767-300BCFs. The freighter type offers a proven versatility and we appreciate the opportunity to further enhance efficiency while simultaneously improving our environmental footprint. This brings us closer to our Strategy 2025 goals.”
Embraer’s new cargo conversion package has been rolled out for its 120s, ERJ 145s and E2 jets. (Embraer)
Embraer has developed a new passenger-to-cargo aircraft conversion package for its line of commercial aircraft. With fewer commercial flights which carry both passengers and freight, the Brazilian OEM wanted to give airlines more space for cargo.
“Embraer’s engineers rose to the challenge when our customers asked them if they could find a way for their Embraer airplanes to carry more cargo payload,” said Embraer Services and Support CEO Johann Bordais. “Today, customers can choose from a portfolio of solutions to carry cargo in the cabins of their Embraer 120s, Embraer 145 Regional Jet (ERJ), and E-Jets.”
ANAC, Brazil’s civil aviation regulatory authority, has granted exemption for the carriage of additional freight on Embraer passenger aircraft. Embraer published Technical Dispositions for the ERJ 145 and E-Jets families of commercial jets, including the E-Jets E2s, which explain how to accommodate cabin freight. A service bulletin has also become available for the 120.
In addition to placing small packages in overhead bins and stowage compartments, cargo items can be placed on each seat, subject to certain restrictions. The payload capacity is significantly increased by the changes. For example, a fully loaded 96-seat E190 can carry 6,720 lbs of cabin freight in addition to under floor cargo. A 118-seat E195 can carry 8,260 lbs.
Air Tanzania has selected Panasonic Avionics’ (Panasonic) inflight entertainment (IFE) connectivity system to enhance the passenger experience onboard its Airbus A220 aircraft.
The airline has equipped two of its A220s with Panasonic’s eX1 IFE solution which is specifically designed for narrowbody aircraft. Each seat will feature elegant full HD seatback monitors, complete with touch displays and handsets, and an intuitive, personalized interface. Passengers will have access to USB and laptop charging power points at every seat.
Air Tanzania’s A220s will also be equipped with Panasonic’s in-flight Wi-Fi service.
The announcement marks the extension of Panasonic’s relationship with Air Tanzania following the airline’s selection of its inflight entertainment and connectivity solutions for two of its Boeing 787 aircraft and two Airbus A220s in 2018.
“The installation of Panasonic’s systems allow ATCL operations to adjust to the new market realities. With highly-standardized facilities, Air Tanzania will expand its geographic reach by merging with other partners—especially foreign ones,” said Eng. Ladislaus Matindi, CEO & Managing Director of Air Tanzania.
Deutsche Telekom mobile users now have free access to in-flight Wi-Fi on short and medium haul flights operated by Lufthansa, Austria Airlines and Eurowings.
European short and medium haul flights operated by Lufthansa, Eurowings and Austrian Airlines now feature access to Wi-Fi free of charge to Deutsche Telekom mobile network users in the region.
Deutsche Telekom describes the initiative, which first became available on flights in April as the “Inflight Europa Flat.”
“According to a Bitkom survey, every other German would like to surf the Internet free of charge on board of an airplane,” said Hagen Rickmann, Board Member Business Customers at Telekom Deutschland GmbH. “We are now responding to this request and expanding our Wi-Fi offering on the plane. From now on, private customers can also surf free of charge on European flights of the Lufthansa Group.”
The offer applies not only to Deutsche Telekom customers, but also to private and business customers of Magyar Telekom, Hrvatski Telekom, Slovak Telekom and T-Mobile Czech Republic.
Lockheed Martin on July 21 posted double-digit percentage gains to its top and bottom lines in the second quarter driven by strong operating results across its business segments and the company raised guidance for sales, earnings and cash for 2020.
From the time COVID-19 was declared a pandemic through the end of June, Lockheed Martin accelerated $1.3 billion in payments to its suppliers to minimize supply chain disruptions. These funds came from accelerated progress payments made by the Defense Department and from cash on hand, the company said.
Net income climbed nearly 13 percent to $1.6 billion up from $1.4 billion a year ago. The only dent in the company’s earnings was a $96 million (34 cents EPS) non-cash charge related to a decision to an agreement to sell its interest in the Advanced Military Maintenance Repair and Overhaul Center joint venture. Lockheed Martin said it is selling its stake for $307 million.
Sales in the quarter rose more than 12 percent to $16.2 billion from $14.4 billion a year ago. All four of Lockheed Martin’s business segments contributed to the top line increases, led by the Aeronautics segment, which benefited from F-35 production, development and sustainment, and classified development contracts. The Aeronautics segment, which Lockheed Martin officials said during the company’s first quarter earnings call in April is the most susceptible to supply chain disruptions from the pandemic, instituted a rotational facility plan for the F-35 production line that is allowing production to continue while social distancing and deep cleaning practices are in effect, James Taiclet, the company’s new president and CEO, said during an analyst call.
GE Aviation’s UK division has signed a new collaboration agreement to work on the future combat air concepts and underpinning technologies across Team Tempest.
At the 2018 Farnborough International Air Show, the Tempest was confirmed as a concept model for a sixth generation fighter jet that will eventually replace the Royal Air Force (RAF) fleet of Eurofighter Typhoons.
Team Tempest will be focused on four specific technology areas in developing the sixth-generation jet and the broader air combat strategy. These areas include combat air systems and integration led by BAE Systems and advanced power and propulsion systems headed up by Rolls Royce. MBDA will take the lead on advanced weapon systems, while Leonardo was previously announced as overseeing development of advanced sensors and electronics.
GE Aviation in the UK will work on open architecture and infrastructure for electrical power and avionics systems.
“We are honored to be a part of Team Tempest. Our specialism in high-voltage interfaces, along with deep domain experience across defense platforms, will help bring a solid base of expertise to the team,” Added Paul Laity, vice president European Avionics at GE Aviation, “We are ready to help reimagine the interaction between human and machine, enable use of the full spectrum of data to assure the information advantage.”
Under a newly awarded contract, Astronics will advance its CorePower airframe electrical generation and power distribution systems to support the two aircraft being offered by Bell for the Future Long-Range Assault Aircraft (FLRAA) and Future Attack Reconnaissance Aircraft (FARA) programs.
Bell was recently selected for the competitive demonstration and risk reduction phase on the FLRAA program, which is intended to replace the UH-60 Blackhawk in the Army’s fleet. Bell’s candidate aircraft for the FLRAA program is the V-280 Valor. Astronics has been selected by Bell to develop the electrical power generation, conversion, and distribution system for the V-280. The development program is expected to be executed over the next 18 to 24 months.
Bell was also awarded a competitive prototype contract for the FARA program, which is the planned replacement for the OH-58D Kiowa in the Army’s fleet. The Bell model in the FARA program is the 360 Invictus. Again, Bell selected Astronics to develop the aircraft’s electrical power generation and distribution system.
Bye Aerospace announced that Skyborne Airline Academy has completed purchase deposits for six eFlyer 2 and four eFlyer 4 all-electric airplanes to be added to its current fleet of UK-based training aircraft. That places Bye Aerospace’s order book at 360 eFlyer units.
“We are radically redefining every aspect of airline pilot training, and that includes incorporating all-electric aircraft into our fleet as we invest in the latest technology for our trainees and staff,” said Lee Woodward, Skyborne CEO. “The eFlyer family of aircraft are great for the environment, economical to operate and have the right blend of avionic technology and handling characteristics required to train our future airline pilots.
Bye Aerospace is developing the FAA FAR 23-certified family of all-electric eFlyer general aviation aircraft, starting with the two-seat eFlyer 2, for the professional flight training mission and the four-seat eFlyer 4 for air-taxi and advanced training uses.
“A significant reduction in global carbon emissions is the goal for most socially responsible organizations in our industry, and with the help of Bye Aerospace, we aim to lead the way in the UK,” Woodward said. “It’s vital for the next generation that we invest in measures to make flying more sustainable. Electric is the future of aviation.”
BAE is expanding its presence in the electric aviation market by developing smaller, lighter fly-by-wire flight control systems for hybrid and all-electric aircraft. According to a press release, the company’s latest computers send precise commands every few milliseconds to more than 40 electronic controllers distributed throughout the aircraft, and are 40 percent smaller and lighter than they were just five years ago.
BAE Systems introduced fly-by-wire technology to military aircraft nearly five decades ago with both the F-16 and F-18, which flew with the company’s systems in the mid-1970s. Just a few years later, BAE introduced the technology on a commercial aircraft and by 1994, it had designed the first complete commercial fly-by-wire system for the 777. Most recently, BAE’s flight controls have enabled the first flights of the AW-609, B525 Relentless, and 777X.
“Overall, our fly-by-wire systems have flown on more than 50 different aircraft and accumulated more than 150 billion flight hours,” the company stated in a press release. “That means that every second of every day, an aircraft takes off and lands safely because of our flight-critical systems.”
Roland Berger estimates 160,000 air taxis will be operational by 2050, but the vast majority of the revenue to be made will be from longer, scheduled flights, rather than intra-city taxi service. (Roland Berger)
For all the hype surrounding high-speed urban air taxis, Munich, Germany-based consultancy Roland Berger believes that shorter distance, on-demand urban use case accounts for just 10 percent of the potential market for these vehicles.
Roland Berger is the opposite of bearish on electric vertical takeoff and landing aircraft (eVTOLs). The firm estimates 160,000 vehicles will be in use by 2050, creating a transportation market worth $80 billion annually. Those vehicles will be almost evenly split between short-range, on-demand city taxi service, scheduled airport shuttle service and longer-range, inter-city transportation.
But only 10 percent of that revenue will come from on-demand city taxi service, mostly due to higher prices and greater numbers of passengers, according to Manfred Hader, co-head of Roland Berger’s aerospace and defense practice. Airport shuttle services will make up 50 percent of that market, with the remaining 40 percent captured by regional or inter-city transportation, which Roland Berger defined as scheduled flights between 30 and 155 miles.
The consultancy’s analysis fits closely with the strategy pursued by German air taxi startup Lilium, which aims to bring its four-passenger electric air taxi into service by 2025. Lilium is eyeing distances between 12 and 180 miles, with routes in the middle of that range showing the most opportunity to fill transportation gaps and save customers a significant amount of time.
“With a range of up to 300km (186 miles), we’ll be able to focus on connecting entire regions with high-speed transport, rather than trying to persuade you that we’re quicker than a crosstown journey on an underground train or bike,” the company wrote in a recent blog post. “In fact, contrary to the idea of ‘urban air taxis’ we think there will only ever be a handful of routes in our network that are shorter than 20km (12 miles).”
eVTOL air taxi services will create an $80 billion market globally by 2050, Roland Berger estimates. (Roland Berger)
Uber’s focus, however, continues to be on the short-range city mission, optimizing multi-modal transportation with its car service and greater integration with existing public transportation.
“You don’t need very long ranges, in fact they won’t be used that much,” Eric Allison, head of Uber Elevate, said during a recent discussion hosted by the Farnborough Airshow. “Effectively what you need to be able to do is operate continuously around short missions for some period of high-demand window … and the batteries that exist today can do that, and they can do that in a way that makes sense economically.”
Uber’s target market may also include much of what Roland Berger defines as airport shuttle service, since the consultancy defines both city taxi and airport shuttle mission as between 9 to 30 miles.
Bell, one of Uber’s vehicle partners, notably pivoted from an initial hybrid-electric design with up to 150 miles of estimated range to an all-electric design with just 60 miles of range. The company explained the move in part by citing a re-evaluation of use cases presented by potential customers, though the downsides of a hybrid propulsion system may have played a part in that analysis as well.
“We came into this thinking it’d be close between hybrid and electric, for the mission of urban/semi-urban on-demand where we see the bulk of the demand, and that potentially hybrid would prove to be the better near-term approach,” Allison said, explaining Uber’s decision to make its ecosystem all-electric.
“As we’ve done more analysis on this, we’ve come to the conclusion that all-electric … has a number of benefits outside of just the aircraft. “You don’t have to have liquid fuel on top of potential sites for infrastructure, you don’t have to have any concerns about getting fuel to a refueling point, in terms of many of the places that would have high utilization.”
All of the market opportunities for eVTOLs will develop slowly, according to Roland Berger’s analysis, with just 7,000 passenger eVTOLs creating a $1 billion market in 2030.
“As we go down the learning curve and the scale of services increases, we will see the transition to a premium public transportation means where UAM services will be comparable to taxi services in terms of cost and price,” Hader said, noting that the speed at which the industry is able to move down that learning and price curve — thereby providing services to a larger portion of society — will be critical to public acceptance.
Michael Dyment, managing partner at Nexa Advisors and a prominent investor in aviation infrastructure, is taking a city-by-city approach to evaluating early use cases, but agreed that airport shuttle services are likely to be a major use case for eVTOLs.
“Some cities don’t have a need for on-demand air taxi the way it’s visualized by, say, Uber Elevate. Others do,” Dyment told Avionics. “As an early use case example, for the Greater London area in the UK it is regional/suburban travel (Oxford-Cambridge, Stevenage-Gatwick).”
Gary Cutts, director of UK Research and Innovation’s Future Flight Challenge, said the government-funded effort to bring about widespread use of new aircraft is as much focused on developing use cases with either strong market interest or social value as it is the vehicles and enabling technologies.
“I don’t find it clear yet [what those use cases are],” Cutts said. “Is the most important use in rural areas, where there are some very interesting places that are very hard to reach, and there’s a huge appetite to connect them? Is it your classic within-the-city electric air taxi?”
“But when you look at the very short-range variance of that, the alternative is still pretty compelling,” Cutts added. “It’s kind of hard to make the case … the economics are possibly not so compelling. I think that the one that may take off is the use case that’s somewhere in between urban air mobility and a small sub-regional market, connecting people into cities.”
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XOJET Vice President of Flight Operations Tyler Stubblefield joins this episode of the Global Connected Aircraft Podcast. (Kevin Fiscus)
On this episode of the Connected Aircraft Podcast, we’re joined by Tyler Stubblefield, vice president of flight operations for XOJET.
Stubblefield provides some perspective on how business aviation operators such as XOJET have seen new interest in private air travel amid the drastic changes to the way commercial airlines operate due to the COVID-19 global pandemic. XOJET has also adjusted cleaning processes and logistics for arriving at a fixed based operator (FBO) airport and chartering a flight.
According to Stubblefield, the membership-based private aviation operator also recently switched its headquarters from California to Florida and has not grounded any aircraft or removed any pilots from service in an effort to remain ready for what they feel will be a nearer term recovery in business jet travel demand.
Have suggestions or topics we should focus on in the next episode? Email the host, Woodrow Bellamy at firstname.lastname@example.org, or drop him a line on Twitter @WbellamyIIIAC.
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Global Eagle said in a July 22 announcement that it has agreed upon a “stalking horse” asset purchase agreement, and its assets will be acquired for $675 million by a group of approximately 90 percent of its loan holders. (Global Eagle)
Global Eagle has entered Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in order to facilitate a sale of its assets to a group of loan holders. The company, which provides In-Flight Connectivity (IFC) to airlines and connectivity to the maritime market, has been hit as the COVID-19 pandemic has affected travel.
The company said this will not impact it’s operations, and CEO Joshua Marks positioned the move as setting up Global Eagle for “long-term success.”
“We expect to emerge from this process with a stronger balance sheet, significantly reduced debt and substantial liquidity, well-positioned to continue supporting our global customers into the future,” Marks said. “We remain steadfast in our belief that our airline, cruise line and other customers will recover from COVID-19 and generate significant long-term demand for our services.”
Global Eagle said in a Wednesday announcement that it has agreed upon a “stalking horse” asset purchase agreement, and its assets will be acquired for $675 million by a group of approximately 90 percent of its loan holders, led by lenders managed by Apollo Global Management, Inc., Eaton Vance Management, Arbour Lane Capital Management, L.P., Sound Point Capital Management, Mudrick Capital Management, and certain funds and accounts under management by BlackRock Financial Management, Inc.
Global Eagle plans to obtain $80 million in debtor-in-possession financing from and expects this financing to provide liquidity to support its operations during the sale process.
|Want to hear more on aircraft connectivity applications? Check out the Global Connected Aircraft Podcast, where Avionics editor-in-chief Woodrow Bellamy III interviews airlines and industry influencers on how they’re applying connectivity solutions.|
Jeffrey Rosen, managing director with the Credit business segment of Apollo commented: “Global Eagle is a market leader in delivering in-flight and at-sea passenger experiences with entertainment, content and connectivity. While the company reports that it has been impacted in recent months by COVID-19, we believe it benefits from a blue-chip customer base, industry-leading partnerships, and an innovative platform built through years of strategic investments in technology. We believe Global Eagle’s services will continue to be core to the passenger experience over the long term.”
Oxis Energy will collaborate with Texas Aircraft to develop an all-electric version of its light sport Colt S-LSA aircraft using lithium-sulfur batteries. (Texas Aircraft)
Oxis Energy will collaborate with Texas Aircraft to develop an all-electric version of its light sport Colt S-LSA aircraft, the two companies announced this week.
The aircraft, to be manufactured in Brazil, will be marketed as an eco-friendly trainer — similar to Pipistrel’s recently-certified Velis Electro and Bye Aerospace’s eFlyer 2 — as well as a means of regional transportation throughout Brazil. Using Oxis’ lithium-sulfur (Li-S) battery technology, the eColt is projected to have a flight time in excess of two hours and a range exceeding 200 nm.
“The opportunity to be at the forefront of the transformation Brazil’s private aviation to all-electric power is an amazing opportunity,” said Matheus Grande, CEO of Texas Aircraft Manufacturing. “With its wide cabin and exceptionally pilot-friendly flight characteristics, the eColt is going to be a fantastic airplane for flight training and personal transportation in Brazil and around the world.”
Oxis claims one benefit to the use of Li-S batteries over lithium-ion is safety, as sulfur is a non-conductive metal. The company’s 90 kilowatt-hour battery system is 40 percent lighter than current Li-Ion battery packs used for aviation, according to Oxis, with an energy density of 400 Wh/kG. For comparison, Eric Allison, head of Uber Elevate, recently described current Li-Ion battery technology during a virtual webinar hosted by the Farnborough Air Show as reaching 260 Wh/kG.
However, many other electric aviation companies have expressed concern about Li-S batteries, citing significantly shorter cycle life and the need for frequent replacement — an expensive proposition.
The cycle life performance of Oxis’ batteries is up to 200-300 cycles and the company’s development strategy is “centred around improving this figure through the development of advanced lithium metal anodes and a new class of stable electrolyte,” a company representative told Avionics.
“Charge rates are approximately 5 hours today depending on the energy remaining in the battery. Therefore, for a quick turnaround, swappable batteries are a good solution today. We expect charge times to reduce to an hour in the next 3 years,” the representative added.
Design, development and all of the aircraft’s key airframe and power component manufacturing will take place in Brazil. The Li-S battery cells made at Oxis’ factory in Juiz de Fora, the powertrain will be supplied by WEG of Jaraguá do Sul, and the battery management system will be provided by AKAER Group of São José dos Campos.
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Hidden Level joined the Uber Elevate ecosystem as a provider of advanced sensors and airspace monitoring capabilities.
Uber Elevate added sensor and data processing company Hidden Level to its ecosystem to further its development of safe, reliable low-altitude operations in the national airspace.
Through the non-exclusive partnership, Uber intends to access data from Hidden Level’s custom-built sensors, placed strategically around cities, as a supplemental data source for its Elevate Cloud Services suite of technologies that will undergird its future network of scalable urban airspace operations.
“Our partnership with Hidden Level seeks to enhance our ability to demonstrate the ways in which Uber Air will meet industry safety standards, and we look forward to collaboration in the years ahead,” said Tom Prevot, director of airspace systems at Uber Elevate.
Founded in 2018, Hidden Level is a venture-backed company seeking to install, operate and maintain its proprietary sensor infrastructure in metropolitan areas through a data-as-a-service model that will help enable drone delivery, urban air mobility, airspace security and other similar services by detecting and tracking cooperative and noncooperative airspace traffic. The company raised $3.6 million in seed funding in November 2019, according to Crunchbase.
Founders Gary Domincos, Jeffrey Cole and Kevin Nasman previously worked on a number of commercial and military sensor projects, including the development of Gryphon Sensors’ R1400, counter-UAS systems of systems, and ground moving target indicator (GMTI) radar technology, among other projects. Hidden Level has also participated in standards development through RTCA SC-228 — creating minimum performance standards for UAS around detect-and-avoid and command-and-control — as well as ASTM’s working group on remote ID.
“From our lessons learned, we have built world-class sensors with tremendous detection and tracking capability at long range,” a representative for Hidden Level told Avionics. “Depending on the metropolitan topography, on the order of 15 installation sites can cover up to 170 square miles.”
Hidden Level is engaged on Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) pilot programs on beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS) linear infrastructure inspection and airport drone security. Members of the company have also worked with NASA on early unmanned traffic management (UTM) concept development, safety cases and technical capability exercises.
Like other airspace service providers, Hidden Level is closely watching how regulators intend for UAM and other low-altitude operations to integrate into the airspace. The FAA recently released its first draft of a UAM concept-of-operations, which suggests evolving current helicopter routes into “UAM Corridors” that can define an evolving set of performance and equipage requirements to support higher tempo operations over time.
“Hidden Level operates as an SDSP under the FAA’s proposed CONOPS, providing our airspace data to [UAM service providers] and UAM operators such as Uber,” a company representative told Avionics. “We want to ensure that corridors that are approved for flights remain clear of non-cooperative airspace participants, but if they do appear contingencies can be best planned given the comprehensive picture from Hidden Level’s Airspace Monitoring Service. Other cooperative aircraft can also be checked against to ensure that their positional reports reflect their actual position in the sky, providing a safety net for potential off-nominal activity.”
Hidden Level is currently working through testing, active rollout and planning with early customers and partners in metropolitan areas on both the east and west coasts of the United States, with public announcement slated for later this year.
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