Collins Aerospace Developing Generational Leap in Flight Control Processing Power for Perigon

August 7th, 2021   •   Comments Off on Collins Aerospace Developing Generational Leap in Flight Control Processing Power for Perigon   
Collins Aerospace Developing Generational Leap in Flight Control Processing Power for Perigon

Collins Aerospace is developing a next-generation flight control computer, Perigon, initially for military rotorcraft, with an eye toward other aircraft types as well. (Collins Aerospace)

The use of multicore processors, an input/output (I/O) card, and high-speed backplane are among the main elements giving Collins Aerospace the ability to establish 20 times the processing power of its existing flight control computers into Perigon, officials for the aircraft systems manufacturer told Avionics International during a recent interview.

Perigon is the next-generation flight control computer being developed by Collins, after first being launched by the company as a “next-gen vehicle management computer” at the 2018 Farnborough International Air Show. Darryl Woods, general manager of the flight control systems division of Collins Aerospace, told Avionics that Perigon’s initial development is for the rotorcraft market, but its embedded processing architecture could be scaled and adapted to a variety of aircraft across different segments including commercial airliners and military fixed-wing jets.

“In the past, flight controls, especially in the fixed-wing market, have used single processors for non-safety critical applications and dual processors for safety-critical fly-by-wire applications. These processors are typically single-core, or they may be multicore, but we turn off all the cores except for one—and they typically run at a speed of less than 1 GHz relative to what we’re doing with Perigon, where we’re above 1 GHz. Perigon has three dissimilar multicore processors and all three of those run higher than 1 GHz,” Woods said.

Computing performance expansion enabled by multicore processors is the result of linking multiple central processing unit (CPU) cores that share the tasks necessary to run an application into a single unit. This allows for the sharing of tasks and resources such as cache memory that would usually be separated out among multiple computers, to be run using the multiple cores of the singular processing unit.

However, in the past, avionics suppliers have not been able to take full advantage of multicore processors due to the interference challenges that arise because the use of multiple processing cores within any computer system can change the way the system shares resources such as memory or code on an on-demand basis. Those challenges were recently proven to be surmountable though, with CMC Electronics’ debut of the first civil certified avionics multicore computer, the PU-3000, earlier this year.

According to Woods, Perigon uses a small I/O card that executes I/O-related tasks and algorithms. This allows the multicore processors to primarily focus on running application-related tasks and algorithms. Perigon is also being designed to incorporate a high-speed VPX backplane to support the increase in processing power.

“The power computational density of the latest processors utilized in the Perigon has improved significantly from previous generations,” Woods said. “As the airlines and operators continue to demand more sophisticated function modes of flight controls like autopilot, autonomy or enhanced collision avoidance, the algorithms are getting much more complex and they need to be real-time. And there can’t be very much delay in the real-time data transfer. Some older technologies may provide real-time, but there could be a hundred milliseconds delay in getting that data, whereas with Perigon we’re talking much faster than that.”

Two of the key embedded suppliers working with Collins on the development of Perigon include Lynx Software Technologies and AdaCore. The LYNX MOSA.ic avionics software framework—a software framework that allows system architects to subdivide systems into small independent stacks—will serve as the “foundation” for Perigon’s development according to Lynx.

Collins also selected AdaCore’s QGen code generation for Simulink®/Stateflow® models and their new TQL-1 Enterprise Qualification Package for model-based engineering development of Perigon. AdaCore describes QGen as the first “qualifiable code generator for a safe subset of the Simulink®/Stateflow® modeling languages.

“The QGen code generator is being qualified by AdaCore and its partner Verocel at DO-178C Tool Qualification Level 1 (TQL-1), which is the highest level of qualification recognized by the FAA. QGen with TQL-1 allows developers to use the generated code without any manual review, streamlining the critical-system development and verification process. In addition, QGen includes an interactive model-level debugger, displaying the model together with the generated source code to provide a uniquely productive bridge between control engineering and software engineering,” AdaCore said in a July 20 press release.

Over the next year, Woods is leading a team of engineers developing Perigon in an aircraft-level simulation lab at their facility in Windsor Locks, Connecticut. Some of the main engineering work at this stage focuses on evaluating the processing speeds, application integration, and how multicore processor setup handles flight logic.

Kim Kinsley, vice president and general manager, environmental and airframe control systems for Collins Aerospace, told Avionics that the initial focus for Perigon’s development will be around supporting military rotorcraft applications. Perigon could however be adapted to civilian rotorcraft and other types of aircraft in the future though.

“Our experience is far deeper on the military side of the rotorcraft market, and we’ve been able to expand the capabilities of our systems as our customers develop new needs. In the military environment, we see future demands around managing pilot workload and figuring out how that helps them with their mission. There are also some new areas that we’re hearing about like aerial firefighting. If you think about aerial firefighting and the types of capabilities those systems need to perform, the ability to leverage a system like Perigon, especially in a degraded visual environment. There are some opportunistic adjacencies we’re seeing for Perigon, but a lot of our initial focus is more on the military side,” Kinsley said.

Collins expects Perigon to be ready for qualification testing by the end of 2022.

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DHL Express Adds 12 Electric Aircraft to Fleet with New Purchase

August 7th, 2021   •   Comments Off on DHL Express Adds 12 Electric Aircraft to Fleet with New Purchase   
DHL Express Adds 12 Electric Aircraft to Fleet with New Purchase

Eviation is expected to deliver the 12 Alice aircraft to DHL in 2024. (DHL)

DHL has purchased 12 electric aircraft from Eviation which will operate on all routes currently serviced by piston and turbine aircraft, the company announced in an Aug. 3 press release. 

 “We firmly believe in a future with zero-emission logistics,” John Pearson, CEO of DHL Express, said in a statement. “Therefore, our investments always follow the objective of improving our carbon footprint. On our way to clean logistics operations, the electrification of every transport mode plays a crucial role and will significantly contribute to our overall sustainability goal of zero emissions. Founded in 1969, DHL Express has been known as a pioneer in the aviation industry for decades. We have found the perfect partner with Eviation as they share our purpose, and together we will take off into a new era of sustainable aviation.”

Eviation’s electric aircraft, the Alice eCargo plane, will have a payload of 2,600 lbs. And a range of 815 kilometers, according to the release. The aircraft will require 30 minutes or less to recharge during flights. It also has fewer parts than traditional aircraft which will reduce maintenance costs and improve reliability. 

Eviation’s Alice aircraft could be used on feeder routes. (DHL)

“From day one, we set an audacious goal to transform the aviation industry and create a new era with electric aircraft,” Eviation CEO Omer Bar-Yohay said in a statement. “Partnering with companies like DHL who are the leaders in sustainable e-cargo transportation is a testament that the electric era is upon us. This announcement is a significant milestone on our quest to transform the future of flight across the globe.”

Eviation is expected to deliver the 12 Alice aircraft to DHL in 2024, according to the release. 

“The next time you order an on-demand package, check if it was delivered with a zero-emission aircraft like DHL will be doing,” Eviation Executive Chairman Roei Ganzarski said in a statement. “With on-demand shopping and deliveries on a constant rise, Alice is enabling DHL to establish a clean, quiet and low-cost operation that will open up greater opportunities for more communities.”

DHL has set sustainability goals that include investing 7 billion euros in efforts that reduce CO2 emissions by 2023, according to the release. The company has also committed to zero emissions by 2050. 

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Sustainable Aviation Fuels Aren’t Sustainable, Not Yet at Least

August 6th, 2021   •   Comments Off on Sustainable Aviation Fuels Aren’t Sustainable, Not Yet at Least   
Sustainable Aviation Fuels Aren’t Sustainable, Not Yet at Least

Neste is creating SAF from used cooking oils. (Neste)

Sustainable aviation fuels (SAF) are attractive to the aviation industry because they provide a large reduction of greenhouse gas emissions with little changes to current technology. SAF is a drop-in solution meaning current aircraft can use a 50 percent blend of SAF and Jet A with no modifications. It can also provide up to an 80 percent reduction in emissions compared to jet fuel. Because of these benefits, many companies have cited SAF as a major part of their strategy to get to net-zero emissions. 

Alaska Air Group GEO Ben Minicucci spoke in a June 30 Washington Post Live event about the company’s strategy to get to net zero emissions by 2040 and cited SAF as the most impactful solution in their plan. 

“…A big one, is sustainable aviation fuels,” Minicucci said. “This is probably the biggest enabler to get to 2040. There is a lot of work being done with the government on a SAF blender’s tax benefit and there’s a lot being done with industry to increase the amount of sustainable aviation fuel. So this will be a huge one, something that we all have to work out because it will have the largest impact.”

While the aviation industry has found an environmentally sustainable technology in SAF, the technology to produce it is not yet economically sustainable. SAF currently costs four times as much as conventional jet fuel and it makes up less than one percent of fuel available in the market. 

“Right now, the cost of sustainable aviation fuel on its own without any incentives, if you will, would cost maybe four or five times that of existing petroleum fuels and that’s not sustainable for the industry,” Sheila Dillard, the director of the bioenergy technologies office at the Department of Energy’s Office of energy efficiency and renewable energy, told Aviation Today

Experts in the aviation industry say that there is no one solution to increasing the supply of SAF, but a combination of policy incentives, capital investments, and time is necessary for these fuels to be an effective sustainable solution for the industry. 

Paul Stein, chief technology officer at Rolls-Royce PLC, compared the need for the development of SAF to the current COVID-19 vaccination production during a panel discussion at the remotely hosted Farnborough International Airshow Connect on July 14.

“Just have a look at the current vaccination crisis around the world and just how much the world has re-industrialized to produce billions of doses of vaccine,” Stein said. “It’s that sort of spirit that’s going to be required to get the scale into sustainable aviation fuels, and I think it’s entirely possible.”

Some in the industry are looking towards governments and policy programs to increase SAF. Naveed Hussain, chief technology officer and vice president and general manager at Boeing Research & Technology, said that to accelerate the scale of SAF available, there need to be incentive programs. 

“That’s going to involve a number of different elements, certainly things like incentive programs to make SAF economically competitive with Jet A for airlines and economically attractive relative to transport fuels for fuel producers, access to capital to enable the development of these new production capacities by the incumbents and also the startup fuel producers, and stable and predictable government policies to reduce the risk and enable a government support mechanisms to de-risk this capital,” Hussain said during the Farnborough International Airshow Connect on July 14. 

California has adopted the Low Carbon Fuel Standard (LCFS) which works to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by setting annual carbon intensity (CI) standards which reduce overtime for gasoline, diesel, and the fuels that replace them. The LCFS gives credits to fuels with low CIs and deficits for high CIs. Dillard cited this policy for encouraging the production of SAF. 

“Currently there is a policy of California, the LCFS, and that has enabled some initial deployment of the fats, oils, and grease technology pathways that are out there today because they’re getting an incentive for the CO2 reduction,” Dillard said. “That’s really helpful in overcoming that barrier, right, of that risk. We’re able to test those technologies there, we’re able to look at how that’s working, and it helps drive our research strategy.” 

There is legislation in Congress that could provide a similar blender’s tax credit for SAF nationwide. The Sustainable Skies Act would establish a $1.50 per gallon tax credit for SAF that reduces emissions by 50 percent. 

The Department of Energy has a $250 million budget allocated to research, development, and demonstration activities related to finding new pathways to create SAF, Dillard said. The pathways describe how SAF is produced. There are currently eight different pathways certified to produce SAF. 

Some companies like Neste—a Finland-based oil refining and marketing company—are using old cooking oils to make SAF through a process called hydro-treated esters and fatty acid (HEFA) that uses hydrogen to turn the oils into SAF, Pratik Chandhoke, technical services manager of renewable aviation at Neste, told Aviation Today

“Our SAF is produced from sustainable feedstock waste residues such as used cooking oil and animal fat, and then actually goes through a very, very involved process of getting it processed and certified,” Chandhoke said. “Generally, it’s very similar to jet fuel processing. This same kind of technology; it’s hydroprocessing, removing the oxygen component then further processing it to hydrocarbons. So very similar to an oil refinery. The only difference is that the feedstock is not from non-fossil sources.”

The Department of Energy and USDA have found that the nation could produce one billion tons of sustainable biomass feedstock from these used cooking oils, Dillard said. 

“We in the Department of Energy, working closely with USDA, developed a billion tonnes report, which is really 15 years of resource assessment and understanding the science behind the biomass feedstocks, and what we have done is identified that the nation could produce one billion tons of sustainable biomass feedstock pretty much without interrupting the existing markets for food feed, fiber, and any other possible uses of that biomass,” Dillard said. “So this would be the additional biomass that could be produced, simply for energy production.” 

However, these feedstocks will not be enough to sustain the amount of SAF the aviation industry will need to meet its goals while following sustainable practices. This is why the Department of Energy and private industry are researching other pathways to develop SAF. SkyNRG Americas is creating SAF from garbage, John Plaza, CEO of SkyNRG told Aviation Today. Plaza said that they take municipal solid waste in landfills and capture the methane that is emitted to create SAF. 

“SkyNRG America’s focus is really on garbage and the related sort of components of garbage,” Plaza said. “So we focus on municipal solid waste that ends up in a landfill…a near term opportunity we think is most interesting is to take the landfill gas, the methane that is emitted, collected, and either flared or used for making electricity or other things, to convert that into sustainable aviation fuel.”

Plaza said that using methane in this way could result in five billion gallons of SAF. That type of potential lead Boeing to partner with SkyNRG in an effort to accelerate SAF development globally. Alaska Airlines is a partner as well.

“The analysis from the Department of Energy, the EPA, and others who analyze this biogenic methane [says] if we were to capture 20 percent of what’s being emitted today, we could produce about five billion gallons of sustainable aviation fuel,” Plaza said. 

The problem is that to produce and distribute all of this SAF, there needs to be infrastructure. 

“Well, like any industrial fuel refining facility, there’s the need to find the right location to build it, the feedstocks need to be secured, the engineering and permitting process can be arduous and lengthy,” Plaza said. “This isn’t any different for any other facility if you think about the petroleum refinery industry, we face a lot less challenging than that industry, but it’s still a new refinery so that that’s a complex process.” 

Neste has been able to convert some of its conventional refineries to process SAF. Chris Cooper, VP of Renewable Aviation at Neste, said that the company has been able to accomplish this at refineries in Rotterdam and Finland. 

“In the form of proof of concept, Neste has accomplished it…We’re using a conventional refinery, we retooled the conventional refinery, we use common transportation and logistics such as pipelines, marine transportation, and even road transportation, where applicable,” Cooper said. “We also use infrastructure such as terminals or blending facilities that we need and common pipelines.” 

While policy support and investments are pushing along the development of SAF, there is no magic solution that can make SAF appear in the market. 

“We need to build capacity and that takes time,” Plaza said. “It’s not something that happens quickly, it’s a sophisticated process technology. There are long development cycles for these big industrial facilities.” 

The goal that the airline industry has set for itself is two billion gallons of SAF by 2030. There will be a lot of factors that go into meeting this timeline so it is hard to predict if its attainable, Dillard said. 

“We hope to bring more of these technologies closer to commercialization, which will accelerate the timeline,” Dillard said. “So I would say that we have a full approach looking between now, 2030 and 2050 when we really need to meet President Biden’s aggressive decarbonization goals, and we believe we can fully decarbonize the aviation sector in that timeframe. Sustainable aviation fuel plays a very important role in that, it’s not the only technology that’s working to decarbonize aviation, but it is a critical technology.” 

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Anuvu to Expand In-flight Connectivity Service with New MicroGEO Satellites

August 4th, 2021   •   Comments Off on Anuvu to Expand In-flight Connectivity Service with New MicroGEO Satellites   
Anuvu to Expand In-flight Connectivity Service with New MicroGEO Satellites

Anuvu (formerly Global Eagle Entertainment) is expanding with new microGEO satellites. (Anuvu)

Two months after Global Eagle rebranded as Anuvu, the mobile connectivity and passenger experience provider is working on the launch of the Anuvu Constellation under a new partnership with microGEO high throughput satellite manufacturer Astranis.

Under the new partnership, Anuvu plans to launch a total of eight microGEO satellites, with the first two on track for early 2023. Astranis describes its satellites as microGEO because unlike traditional heavy geosynchronous equatorial orbit (GEO) satellites, they’re one meter cubed, weigh less than 400kg, and can be built in months rather than the traditional years-long development cycle required for new satellites.

Mike Pigott, Anuvu’s executive vice president, told Avionics International that he sees the partnership introducing a disruptive and more agile method of providing in-flight connectivity (IFC) service to airlines.

“We think this is a complete revolution and a game-changer in the IFC space. Our new partner Astranis has developed a satellite platform that is capable of rapidly being customized to an application, rapidly being built and rapidly being launched into service,” Pigott said. “So instead of the traditional five-year cycle of deterring whether we should build a satellite and what should go on that satellite, we can do all of that in 24 months and get a satellite that’s focused on our mobility applications.”

According to a July 27 press release, the first two satellites being developed for the Anuvu constellation will primarily serve their aviation and maritime operators in North America and the Caribbean. Anuvu is using the new partnership to add the microGEO satellites onto its existing constellation of the five fully-leased GEO satellites that it operates today.

Pigott sees the Astranis partnership as the most sensible next step for Anuvu, a company that under its former Global Eagle Entertainment brand has never actually developed or operated its own satellite network, choosing instead to purchase payloads on satellites and manage them in orbit. The network management system that they have developed will allow them to easily integrate the new smaller Astranis satellites into their existing operation.

The timing of the first two microGEO satellites coming online in 2023 is ideal for Global Eagle as well, as the company will also look to take advantage of Telesat’s Lightspeed Low-Earth Orbit (LEO) constellation. Telesat expects its LEO constellation—initially featuring up to 298 Ka-band satellites—to be ready to begin commercial services by the second half of 2023.

“The Anuvu constellation is our addition of micro GEO on top of our GEO assets. We still plan on using legacy heavy GEO satellites, micro GEO supplements, and then we’ve done a lot of testing with Telesat’s Lightspeed LEO constellations. We’re one of the pioneers with that, we did the first LEO to GEO handover tests with one of our antennas on our testbed aircraft. The reason we’re able to do that fundamentally is that when we entered the GEO market, we entered it with third-party satellites and built a network management system that is easily able to add capacity from a diverse set of satellites as new generations become available,” Pigott said.

As Anuvu moves toward the launch of the new constellation, Pigott said the company will continue to compete within the airline IFEC business while serving its existing base of Global Eagle airlines. Airlines using older and newer generations of Anuvu’s existing satellite IFC include Southwest Airlines, Icelandair, Turkish Airlines, Air France, and flydubai among others. According to Pigott, all of Anuvu’s existing in-service equipment supports in-flight streaming and bandwidth-intensive IFC applications, although the company leaves the decision up to the airline on whether or not to enable that feature for passengers. Pigott, who worked for Anuvu under the former Global Eagle Entertainment brand throughout its filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy and emergence from that filing earlier this year, said the partnership with Astranis will also help them meet a shift in airlines wanting increased flexibility in the IFC business models they use.

“I’d say we are seeing in a post COVID world, the exact things that we think we excel at, and that’s additional flexibility. We’re seeing airlines want additional flexibility, not just for truly dramatic situations like COVID, but just general business market changes,” Pigott said. “I think the airlines around the world are recognizing that customer demand is only going up and they need some way to meet that customer demand on a business model that doesn’t break their budget. We have a variety of business models we use with airlines, such as flat pricing, session pricing, consumption pricing and we usually can find an ideal path based on the economic situation of the airline and the type of customer experience they want to enable.”

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Boeing Demos MQ-25 MUM-T Capabilities Without Ground Control Comms

August 4th, 2021   •   Comments Off on Boeing Demos MQ-25 MUM-T Capabilities Without Ground Control Comms   
Boeing Demos MQ-25 MUM-T Capabilities Without Ground Control Comms

The Boeing MQ-25 T1 test asset transfers fuel to a U.S. Navy F/A-18 Super Hornet on June 4, marking the first time in history that an unmanned aircraft has refueled another aircraft. The MQ-25 Stingray will assume the carrier-based tanking role currently performed by F/A-18s, allowing for better use of the combat strike fighters and helping extend the range of the carrier air wing. (Photo: Kevin Flynn)

In a new demonstration from Boeing testing advanced manned-unmanned teaming (MUM-T) capabilities, the Navy’s MQ-25 Stingray unmanned aerial refueler communicated with other manned aircraft without the need for an air vehicle operator on the ground. 

The demonstration occurred in a virtual environment with the MQ-25 communicating with the E-2D Advanced Hawkeye airborne command and control aircraft and the F/A-18 Super Hornet. The Office of Naval Research sponsored the demonstration and Northrop Grumman provided its E-2D simulator to work alongside Boeing’s F/A-18 and MQ-25 simulations.  

“Right now, MQ-25, it’s tied to the AVO, the air vehicle operator, almost 24/7,” Don “BD” Gaddis, MQ-25 Advanced Design at Boeing, told reporters on August 3 at the Navy League’s 2021 Sea Air Space expo. “It’s an autonomous vehicle but it flies a mission plan, right? And so if the mission plan has to change, well, then you communicate that change with the air vehicle operator, right. So what happens when those communication links are either degraded, denied, or prohibited by policy?” 

MUM-T is “central” to the MQ-25 because of the ranges that the aircraft is going to be flying at, Gaddis said. 

Dave Bujold, MQ-25 program director, told reporters that this demonstration is an acknowledgment that it is not acceptable for communications problems to prevent a mission from achieving its goals. 

“We want that airplane to be robust and capable when it goes to war,” Bujold said. “So we already know that there will be times that the carrier will decide it wants to shut its radios down and move and our airplane can’t just say I have to go home, that’s not okay. So we know that, the Navy’s told us that, and we’re working on that. The concept of working with the E-2 and working with a striker, like the F-18, cooperatively is building blocks that allow us to say, okay, when that next set of requirements comes down to be more warfighter capable, we’ll have that.” 

Boeing used existing Link 16 data to enable communication between the platforms and demonstrated 16 use cases during the exercise. The use cases included the E-2D acting as the air wing tanker king while the MQ-25 refueled the F/A-18. 

“What we mean by use cases is, okay, what happens if, in the mission plan, you’re going to take a certain range and a certain orbit from the carrier but because of tactical reasons you have to change the orbit station, right,” Gaddis said. “So how does the manned aircraft communicate that to the unmanned aircraft.” 

The use cases tested included the F/A-18 and E-2D changing the tanker’s orbit station, slight path, or aerial refueling store payload. 

There was also only minimal changes to the F/A-18 cockpit display and there were no software changes required for the E-2D, Gaddis said, emphasizing that this was true for the tanking mission but might change as other mission scenarios are tested. 

“One of the big things is, can we can we put together concepts and appointments with existing data links to meet all these particular objectives and do these use cases, and we found that, much to our surprise, for E-2, there’s not any software changes required for E-2 on some of the early manned unmanned teaming,” Gaddis said. “Now, I have to also emphasize that we’re talking about the tanking mission, right, so that’s our initial mission.”  

The autonomy software plays an important role in this kind of teaming because the system not only has to receive the Link 16 message, but then it has to convert the message into autonomy behaviors, Gaddis said. 

“The MQ-25 needs to understand that, hey, I’m not on the mission plan right now that I was pre-programmed to do, and, oh, by the way, I’m not talking to the AVO, I am actually talking to an E-2 to an F-18,” Gaddis. “So the MQ-25 has to transition between all those autonomous states and so that’s the software packages that we need to put together.” 

While this demonstration used Link 16, Gaddis said they are looking to transition to IP-based data links with a demonstration happening later this year. Boeing will also move these demonstrations to labs in 2022 and hopes to begin flight tests in 2023. 

Boeing will also be developing the capability to write the autonomy software and reuse it within other unmanned systems. 

“What Boeing needs to do is we need to be able to write the autonomy software and reuse the software for other unmanned systems,” Gaddis said. “A lot of those things that we’re doing can get into crossover into battle management, and a lot of this software can be used for manned aircraft. So the idea of writing the autonomy and being able to reuse it for other manned and other unmanned airplanes, not necessarily in queue, is key to moving forward swiftly with both manned unmanned capabilities.” 

Something that Boeing is not trying to do is create a proprietary data link. 

“Our objective is not to grow up a new proprietary setting, in fact, it’s the opposite,” Bujold said. “We expected autonomy will work best when we’re not tied to a whole bunch of proprietary setups.” 

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Lilium Expands into Brazil with Billion Dollar Azul Deal

August 3rd, 2021   •   Comments Off on Lilium Expands into Brazil with Billion Dollar Azul Deal   
Lilium Expands into Brazil with Billion Dollar Azul Deal

Lilium is expanding operations to Brazil with a new partnership with Azul. (Lilium)

Lilium will be taking its electric air taxi network to Brazil with a new partnership with Azul S.A., a Brazilian airline, that includes a purchase order totaling $1 billion, the company announced on August 2. 

The new partnership will build an exclusive network for Lilium’s electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) aircraft, according to the release. Lilium’s eVTOL, the 7-Seater Jet, will be a zero-emissions aircraft designed for regional air mobility with ranges between 40 kilometers and 200 kilometers. 

“Azul has brought convenient and affordable air travel to underserved markets across the Americas and this makes them an ideal partner for Lilium,” Daniel Wiegand, Co-Founder and CEO of Lilium said in a statement. “We’re excited to work with Azul’s seasoned team to deploy a co-branded eVTOL network in Brazil.” 

Through the partnership, Azul will receive 220 of Lilium’s aircraft to operate and maintain on the network created by the two companies, according to the release. The companies expect the network to start operations in 2025. Lilium hopes to have certification from the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) in 2024 through the Bilateral Aviation Safety Agreement (BASA). 

“Azul is the largest domestic airline in Brazil in terms of cities served and daily departures,” John Rodgerson, CEO of Azul, said in a statement. “Our brand presence, our unique route network, and our powerful loyalty program give us the tools to create the markets and demand for the Lilium Jet network in Brazil. As we did in the Brazilian domestic market over the last 13 years, we look forward to again, now with the Lilium Jet, working to create a whole new market in the years to come.”  

Lilium will be responsible for providing aircraft health monitoring and replacing batteries and spare parts on the aircraft, according to the statement. Lilium recently announced a partnership with CUSTOMCELLS to manufacture batteries for its eVTOL. The company will also provide support while receiving regulatory approvals in the country. 

“Since Azul’s founding 13 years ago, the Brazilian aviation market has doubled with Azul capturing almost 60% of the growth,” David Neeleman, Chairman of Azul, said in a statement. “We know how to create and grow new markets, and once again we see huge market opportunity by bringing the Lilium Jet to Brazil.” 

Lilium also announced the two appointments to its board of directors: Gabrielle Toledano, COO at Keystone Strategy LCC, and Henri Courpron, founder and chairman of plan view partners LLC, according to the release. 

“Emissions free aviation is not a matter of ‘if’ but ‘when’. With a unique design, Lilium is bringing together new ideas and talent with proven executives and technology under Daniel’s vision and leadership,” Courpron said in a statement. “I am delighted to have been invited to pass my decades of experience along to the next generation of innovators and leaders in aviation.”

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Sagetech Demonstrates Successful Test of DAA System Using ACAS Algorithms

August 3rd, 2021   •   Comments Off on Sagetech Demonstrates Successful Test of DAA System Using ACAS Algorithms   
Sagetech Demonstrates Successful Test of DAA System Using ACAS Algorithms

Sagetech Avionics has completed a successful test of its detect and avoid (DAA) system that uses ACAS algorithms to provide collision avoidance for unmanned aircraft systems (UAS). (Sagetech)

Sagetech Avionics has completed a successful test of its detect and avoid (DAA) system that uses ACAS algorithms to provide collision avoidance for unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), the company announced on July 27. 

The technology was tested as part of a Phase 1 STTR contract from the AFWERX’s Agility Prime, Tom Furey, CEO of Sagetech told Aviation Today. The technology can be used in commercial or military applications to enable beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS) UAS flights. 

“What we’re trying to do is put technology on the aircraft so that we can trust it to go where the operator can’t see the environment that it’s in and it can operate without a visual observer,” Furey said. “So aircraft can operate beyond visual line of sight of the operator right now, unmanned aircraft, but often the FAA requires them to have a visual observer, so somebody is always looking out for traffic around that drone. This technology will enable, and is capable right now of enabling, the drone itself to recognize traffic around it and to avoid it.” 

This technology uses the next generation of the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) alert and collision avoidance system, TCAS, Furey said. TCAS uses transponder frequencies and Automatic Dependent Surveillance Broadcast (ADS-B) to coordinate between manned aircraft to avoid collisions. The new system, ACAS X, improves on TCAS technology and can be used by other types of aircraft. 

“TCAS is designed for, call it a 777 or an Airbus A320 or something like that, it provides cooperative collision avoidance, but it expects ground speed greater than 100 knots, it expects the ability of the aircraft to climate 2,500 feet per minute, and now you’ve got unmanned aircraft that can’t do those things and helicopters have never been able to do those kinds of things,” Furey said. “So ACAS X has versions, not only ACAS XA, which is just like TCAS from for normal commercial aircraft or whatever, but it has ACAS XU that’s been approved, and that’s for a larger fixed-wing aircraft greater than 55 pounds.” 

Furey said that the FAA is also working on different versions of ACAS for UAS under 55 pounds — ACAS SXU — and electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) aircraft — ACAS XR.

During these demonstrations, Sagetech was able to work with the TCAS program office to implement ACAS XR logic onto a very small device, Furey said. 

“We have a small transponder and then an interrogator that validates ADS-B,” Furey said. “So this was the first time we were able to take all of that, put it in the air, and do a flight test to see how the logic is working.” 

Sagetech ran two different types of flight trials for this: manned and unmanned. They first trialed the technology on two manned Piper Archers with one aircraft’s pilot following guidance from the system that was relayed through a passenger, Furey said. 

“There’s two types of warnings or commands if you will,” Furey said. “So the first is, if it recognizes that there’s an aircraft that’s a potential risk of collision but not anything imminent, it gives what’s called a remain well clear advisory. So then the pilot…gets a warning that says hey you better remain well clear of this thing. So our device did that.”

The second command happens within what Furey calls “the well-clear bubble.” 

Sagetech’s software provides traffic display and ACAS collision avoidance. (Sagetech)

“The logic defines a kind of an aspirin-shaped bubble around every aircraft that is its safety bubble called the remain well clear volume, and if it looks like that is going to be penetrated, then it gives what’s called a collision avoidance maneuver or a resolution advisory that you now have to follow,” Furey said. 

The manned test was successful, so Sagetech moved onto unmanned testing with a UAV Factory Penguin C UAS, Furey said. The UAS, which is about 55 pounds, flew against a Cessna 172. 

“The system performed as expected, as well,” Furey said. “So, the system was put through multiple encounter sets. When expected, the system provided the ground control operator with the symbology that said ‘hey, you’ve got a potential collision, you should remain clear.’ Then, sometimes purposely, we drove that encounter set to that imminent collision situation where it gave the collision avoidance command that says you have to do this to avoid a collision. So in all cases, the logic appeared to do what it was supposed to.” 

Furey said one of the big takeaways from the demonstration was the ability to provide a much smaller system that could be used in smaller aircraft. 

“From our perspective what we proved is that we can appropriately shrink the size of these systems,” Furey said. “So a TCAS box might be the size of cinder block and weigh 10 or 15 pounds, you can’t put that on a small drone.” 

Sagetech’s system was able to fit inside the Penguin UAS resembles a small box the size of an iPhone with a little computer attached, which Furey said will eventually be included inside the small box. 

This system can be used for commercial or military applications. Furey said the company is able to modify the system for military applications like including its military IFF product which is essentially an encrypted transponder that can tell a drone if an aircraft is friendly or not. 

Furey said the company is now working to incorporate new sensors on the DAA system like radar, EO/IO camera input, or acoustic input that could allow the system to recognize and avoid traffic even if the other aircraft is not equipped with a transponder. 

While Sagetech is working on improving its own products, Furey said that DAA technology is not the only critical technology involved in BVLOS flight. 

“The holy grail, right, is beyond visual line of sight flight of unmanned aircraft and collision avoidance, detect and avoid, is a critical technology for that,” Furey said. “We’re also working to make sure that we can appropriately equip aircraft onboard with this technology, right, and that’s because in theory, you could control all airspace from the ground, however, the challenges there are safety and risk. So not only is detect and avoid critical technology command and control is a critical technology.” 

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What’s Trending in Aerospace – August 1, 2021

August 2nd, 2021   •   Comments Off on What’s Trending in Aerospace – August 1, 2021   
What’s Trending in Aerospace – August 1, 2021

Check out the Aug. 1 edition of What’s Trending in Aerospace, where editors and contributors for Avionics International bring you some of the latest headlines and updates happening across the global aerospace industry.

 

 

Commercial 

Boeing Begins Rebound, Turns A Profit On Higher Sales

On Wednesday July 28 Boeing showed it is on the way back, from pandemic lows posting strong sales and a profit in the second quarter as it increased aircraft deliveries and passengers in some domestic markets resume flying.

Sales increased 44 percent to $17 billion from $11.8 billion a year ago largely on the back of its Commercial Airplanes segment as the company delivered more aircraft to its customers. The services and defense businesses also reported top line gains.

“While we still have a ways to go before a full rebound, it is encouraging to see the commercial market improving, enabled by continued vaccine distribution and increasing travel demand, particularly in domestic markets,” Dave Calhoun, Boeing’s president and CEO, said in a message to employees posted on the company’s website. “Going forward, we will closely monitor case rates, vaccine distribution, travel protocols and global trade as key indicators for recovery.”

Calhoun said 2021 is proving to be an “inflection point” in its recovery.

“We are turning a corner and the recover is gaining momentum,” he said on the company’s earnings call.

Boeing reported $567 million in net income, $1 earnings per share (EPS) versus a $2.4 billion ($4.20 EPS) loss a year ago. Excluding various pension adjustments, core earnings were 40 cents EPS versus a $4.79 EPS loss a year ago, well above the 83 cents EPS loss that analysts were forecasting.

Defense sales increased 4 percent to $6.9 billion on higher volume on the KC-46A and P-8A Poseidon maritime patrol aircraft.

The commercial airplanes business posted $6 billion in sales, up 268 percent as aircraft deliveries nearly tripled to 79 planes, and a $472 million operating loss versus a $2.8 billion loss a year ago.

 

 

CNN: Jet Fuel Shortage at Some US Airports Caused by Lack of Pipeline Space

According to a July 27 report published by CNN Business, some airports based on the western U.S. are facing jet fuel shortages mainly caused by a lack of pipeline space and tank truck drivers.

“At several western US airports, there’s not enough jet fuel to meet the increased demand for leisure travel,” the report says. “Part of the problem is the shortage of tank truck drivers needed to deliver fuel. An estimated 20% of tankers nationwide are parked due to a lack of qualified drivers, according to an industry trade group. That shortage has already been affecting gas stations. But airlines and airports are also struggling to get the fuel they need because pipelines shifted away from carrying jet fuel when air travel ground to a near halt last year. Now jet fuel isn’t getting the pipeline space it needs to keep up with the recent surge in air travel.”

 

 

 

 

Boeing Publishes First Aerospace Sustainability Report

Boeing on July 26 released its first Sustainability Report. In the report, the company shares its vision for the future of sustainable aerospace, establishes broad sustainability goals and highlights environmental, social and governance (ESG) progress in alignment with global sustainability standards, according to a July 26 press release.

“In September 2020, amidst a global pandemic, Boeing formed a Sustainability organization dedicated to advancing our ESG efforts across the enterprise. As we continue on this journey, we are pleased to publish our first comprehensive report, focused on stakeholder responsiveness and data transparency,” Boeing Chief Sustainability Officer Chris Raymond said in the release. “We know there’s still work to do and are committed to communicating our progress and holding ourselves accountable to ensure the aerospace industry is safe and sustainable for generations to come.”

Check out the full report here.

 

 

Avelo Airlines Gets GE Digital Safety Solution 

Avelo Airlines will begin using GE Digital’s flight data monitoring and processing solution to optimize safety, according to a July 29 press release. 

GE Digital’s Electronic Flight Operation Quality Assurance (eFOQA) uses algorithms to provide analytics and data processing, according to the release. The eFOQA will use flight data to create higher safety and efficiency standards. 

“GE Digital industrial software helps our customers embrace the future of flight through sustainable operations, applying proven aviation practices to emerging technologies, and adapting to an increasingly digital world,” Andrew Coleman, General Manager of GE Digital’s Aviation Software business, said in a statement. “We are delivering breakthrough business outcomes for our aviation customers in safety, sustainability, fuel efficiency, predictive maintenance, and pilot performance.” 

 

 

 

 

Business & GA

First Sustainable Wings Certification Goes to Gulfstream 

The National Aeronautic Association (NAA) has awarded its first Sustainable Wings Certification to Gulfstream after the company flew a roundtrip record-setting flight from Savannah, GA to San Francisco, CA and back, according to a July 29 release. 

“Aviation must become more sustainable and is becoming more sustainable,” Greg Principato, President of NAA, said in a statement. “As the official record keeper of American aviation for more than a century it is incumbent on NAA to recognize this and to encourage the use of sustainable fuels and practices.  A more sustainable industry is an industry with a bright future.  We believe this program is one of many initiatives that will encourage a more sustainable industry.”

A company can earn the Sustainable Wings Certification by setting records using sustainable aviation fuels (SAF), according to the release. 

“Gulfstream and the National Aeronautic Association share a commitment to demonstrate environmentally friendly practices in the business aviation industry,” Mark Burns, president of Gulfstream, said in a statement. “Being the first to achieve a ‘Sustainable Wings’ certification on a speed record is a reflection of that commitment and illustrates SAF’s ease of use, which helps us raise its visibility as part of our efforts to increase availability around the world.” 

 

 

 

Skye Aviation Purchases 15 eFlyer 800 Aircraft 

The eFlyer 800 program is aiming to provide a regional all-electric airplane with lower operating costs and no CO2 emissions. (Bye Aerospace)

Skye Aviation, an aircraft leasing company, has purchased 15 of Bye Aerospace’s eFlyer 800 aircraft, the company announced on July 29. 

“Skye Aviation is the first all-electric aircraft leasing company in the world” George E. Bye, CEO of Bye Aerospace, said in a statement. “We are honored by their selection of the eFlyer 800 to be the foundation for their fleet, and we applaud their forward-reaching strategy. Momentum for electric aviation continues to grow at an incredible pace.”

The eFlyer 800 program is aiming to provide a regional all-electric airplane with lower operating costs and no CO2 emissions, according to the release. 

“Skye Aviation is thrilled to be the world’s first all-electric aircraft leasing firm and to be able to exclusively offer Bye Aerospace’s eFlyer family of eCTOL aircraft,” Carol Johnson with Skye Aviation, said in a statement. “Skye fully supports sustainable, safe aviation leasing solutions for our customers while at the same time slashing eCTOL operating costs, aircraft noise, maintenance and supply requirements efforts. We embrace innovation that offers our customers far less capital-intensive solutions for training, passenger, air cargo, private, business, and military operations. In this sense, we all win.” 

 

 

 

Military 

Airbus Sees Stable Revenues in Defense and Space in First Half of 2021 

Revenues at Airbus Defence and Space were flat in the second quarter of 2021, at 2.4 billion euros ($2.9 billion), compared to the same quarter in 2020.

This was in line with the division’s Q1 results as well, and the division reported flat revenue of 4.5 billion euros ($5.4 billion) in the first half of the year. Defence and Space raised its adjusted EBIT in the first half of the year, up 23 percent to 229 million euros ($272 million).

The company highlighted that revenues at Airbus Defence and Space were broadly stable compared to last year, with two A400M military airlifters delivered in the first half.

Net order intake for the division was down in the first half of the year, at 3.5 billion euros ($4.2 billion). This is down 37 percent compared to the first half of 2020.

Company-wide, Airbus reported a 70 percent increase in revenue from the same time last year. The company said this was mainly driven by the higher commercial aircraft deliveries at Airbus and higher revenues at Airbus Helicopters. Revenue was 14.2 billion euros ($16.9 billion).

“These half-year results reflect the commercial aircraft deliveries, our focus on cost containment and competitiveness, and the good performance in Helicopters and Defence and Space. Although the COVID-19 pandemic continues, the numerous actions taken by the teams have delivered a strong H1 performance. This enables us to raise our 2021 guidance although we continue to face an unpredictable environment,” commented Airbus Chief Executive Officer Guillaume Faury.

 

 

Defense, Commercial Power Raytheon Technologies To Strong Second Quarter 

Raytheon Technologies Corp. on Tuesday reported strong second quarter financial results, buoyed by the company’s defense businesses and a rebound in the commercial aerospace market as the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic wane somewhat.

Net income swung to a $1 billion, 68 cents earnings per share (EPS) profit versus a $3.8 billion ($2.55 EPS) loss a year ago when the pandemic was raging. Excluding discontinued operations, acquisition accounting adjustments and non-recurring charges, adjusted net income of $1.6 billion ($1.03 EPS) was up 168 percent and topped consensus estimates by 10 cents per share.

Sales in the quarter of $15.9 billion were 13 percent higher than $14.1 billion a year ago with 10 percent of the growth organic.

Based on first half results and ongoing trends, RTC increased its outlook for earnings, sales and free cash flow for 2021. The guidance for sales was increased by $500 million on the low end of the range to between $64.4 billion and $65.4 billion, with gains driven primarily by the Collins Aerospace segment followed by the other three operating groups.

MQ-4C Triton Flies with IFC-4 for the First Time 

Triton takes first flight with IFC-4 intelligence configuration. (Northrop)

Northrop Grumman’s high-altitude long-endurance (HALE), maritime intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) platform the MQ-4C Triton flew for the first time with the intelligence configuration IFC-4, according to a July 30 release from the company. 

“The multi-intelligence configuration of Triton will completely revolutionize how the U.S. Navy and Royal Australian Air Force conduct maritime patrol and reconnaissance missions,” Doug Shaffer, vice president and program manager of Triton programs at Northrop Grumman, said in a statement. “Multi-intelligence capabilities, coupled with Triton’s long-range sensors and 24-hour endurance, will enable an unprecedented amount of maritime situational awareness to inform real-time decision making at tactical to strategic levels.”

 

 

 

eVTOLs

Airbus Releases New Video of CityAirbus eVTOL

CityAirbus is Airbus’ urban air mobility demonstrator aircraft. (screenshot from Airbus’ post)

Airbus Helicopters released a new video of its electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) aircraft, CityAirbus, in a social media post on July 29. 

CityAirbus is Airbus’ urban air mobility demonstrator aircraft. The aircraft has a takeoff weight of 2,310 kg and can carry four passengers. It also uses a distributed drive system. 

 

 

 

Archer and Atlas Crest Reduce Valuation by 38% 

Archer debuted its first demonstrator aircraft, Maker, during an immersive event in Los Angeles, California on June 10 where they used movie production technology and a 2,4000 sq ft XR volume space to simulate the aircraft in flight. (screenshot taken from the event video)

Archer, the air taxi developer, and Atlas Crest Investment Corp, a special purpose acquisition company, have revised the valuation of their previously announced transaction from $2.7 billion to $1.7 billion, according to a July 29 release from the company. 

“We are focused on building not just an electric aircraft, but a sustainable, enduring eVTOL ecosystem, and having tremendous investor support and momentum is critical to our near- and long-term success,” Brett Adcock, Archer co-founder and co-CEO, said in a statement. “Today’s announcement reflects our commitment to transparency and shareholder alignment now and into the future. We are making this bold move to ensure our eVTOL market leadership.”

Archer also announced the addition of Oscar Munoz, former United Airlines chairman and CEO, to its board, according to the release. 

 

 

Volocopter Takes to the Skies at EAA AirVenture 

Volocopter’s eVTOL performed a test flight during the Experimental Aircraft Association’s (EAA) AIrVenture 2021 convention in OshKosh, Wisconsin.

German startup Volocopter’s electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL), Volocopter 2X, completed the first ever publicly crewed test flight of an eVTOL in the U.S., during the Experimental Aircraft Association’s AirVenture 2021 event in Wisconsin.

The crewed Volocopter 2X took off at 2:45 PM CST for a 4-minute flight at ~164 ft and a top speed of 18 mph over Wittman Regional Airport as part of EAA’s AirVenture aviation celebration. Event attendees were able to watch the Volocopter 2X fly and take a seat in the VoloCity model at Volocopter’s booth to experience these aircraft.

“Volocopter successfully conducting the first US public manned test flight of an eVTOL company in the US is a milestone for the industry and a reminder that our commercial launch is fast approaching. We can talk about our lead in certification, low noise emissions, and global partnerships all we want, but nothing shows just how close we are to launch UAM as a service as does flying an air taxi in front of crowds and inviting people to sit in our aircraft. Air taxis are coming, and we are working to bring electric flights to cities around the globe in the next two to three years,” Florian Reuter, Volocopter CEO said in a statement.

 

 

Space

Virgin Group Founder Sir Richard Branson to Speak at SATELLITE 2021

Less than two months after captivating global audiences with a trip into suborbital space, Virgin GroupFounder Sir Richard Branson will appear at the SATELLITE 2021 Conference to share stories from his experience and his views on the future of commercial space development. Branson will deliver SATELLITE 2021’s opening general session keynote address on Thursday, September 9 at 8:30 a.m. EDT at the Gaylord National Convention Center in National Harbor, Maryland.

Branson made his first virtual appearance at SATELLITE’s 2015 event in a video address to attendees announcing his plans to develop Virgin Galactic into commercial suborbital space travel company.

 

 

AST SpaceMobile to Launch Demo Satellite With SpaceX

AST SpaceMobile will launch the prototype satellite BlueWalker 3 for its space-to-cell network on a SpaceX rocket in March 2022. The company announced the launch agreement on July 29.

Describing its BlueWalker 3 test satellite, AST SpaceMobile said it has an aperture of 693 square feet and is designed to communicate directly with cell phones via 3GPP standard frequencies. AST SpaceMobile is working to launch satellites that can communicate directly with standard cell phones to create a broadband network to eliminate connectivity gaps.

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Airbus Targets 2025 for A350 Freighter

July 31st, 2021   •   Comments Off on Airbus Targets 2025 for A350 Freighter   
Airbus Targets 2025 for A350 Freighter

Airbus is launching a freighter version of the A350, pictured here in a passenger to freighter configuration preparing for a June 2 flight carrying COVID-19 supplies to New Delhi, India. (Airbus)

Airbus is developing a version of its wide-body A350 aircraft for the commercial air cargo market, according to the half-year results posted by the Toulouse-based manufacturer on July 29.

Revenue increased 30 percent in the first half of the year for Airbus, up to €24.6 billion from €18.9 billion during the same period in 2020. The company is also updating its outlook for 2021, projecting a total of 600 commercial aircraft deliveries, up from 566, and an operating income of 4 billion euros.

While the guidance was updated, Airbus included a cautionary statement that it assumes “no further disruptions to the world economy, air traffic, the Company’s internal operations.” Airbus CEO Guillaume Faury believes the freighter version of the A350 will be an attractive new option to air cargo operators.

“It is our ambition to continuously adapt and evolve our product in line with customer needs, as an example we did it with the A321XLR back in 2019. In that period and following positive customer feedback we obtained the board of directors approval for the freighter derivative of our well-established A350 platform,” Faury said. “Based on the efficiency of the A350, the freighter version is planned to deliver lower fuel burn compared to freighter versions of that size, for example around 20 percent less fuel burn compared to twins, 20 percent less compared to tri-jets, and 40 percent less compared to quads, four-engine planes.”

Faury said the A350 freighter will be compliant with the International Civil Aviation Organization’s (ICAO) CO2 design certification emissions standard when it becomes effective in 2028. No other major design or performance details were released by Airbus about the A350 freighter during the call.

According to Faury, Airbus is still assessing market demand for the new A350 variant and has not yet arrived at a set production rate but will build its development into existing A350 assembly lines.

“The beauty of that program is that it will be embedded into the A350 production system, so we don’t need to plan for individual rates with the freighter. It’s a commonality with the [A350] dash 900 and dash 1000. The production rates will depend upon the success of the program at a later stage,” Faury said.

The newest variant of the A350 will become a direct competitor to Boeing’s 767 and 777 aircraft, which have both dominated the air cargo segment of the commercial air transportation market over the last decade. Boeing has not committed to launching a freighter version of its 777X—the re-engined 777 variant is scheduled to enter service by 2023—although CEO David Calhoun said that aircraft type would be ideal.

“We need to develop a new ICAO compliant freighter version opportunity. I circle the 777Xs, the logical place for that and the smart place to do that,” Calhoun said during Boeing’s second-quarter earnings call. “Without suggesting that we’ve already launched and/or that we have one plan by the day, we’re confident and I’m confident that that might be the next of our programs. And it will be an incredible freighter with incredible long-term advantages for our major customers. So anyway, that’s where we stand.”

The decision by Airbus to launch the A350 freighter came a day after the International Air Transport Association (IATA) published data showing that air cargo airlines collectively experienced their strongest half-year performance since 2017.

Global demand for air cargo during the first six months of 2021 increased by 8 percent above the same period in 2019, according to IATA.

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Will You Be on the First Air Taxi?

July 30th, 2021   •   Comments Off on Will You Be on the First Air Taxi?   
Will You Be on the First Air Taxi?

Wisk’s eVTOL aircraft, has been flying since 2017 and has a range of 25 miles with speeds up around 100 miles per hour. (photo courtesy of Wisk)

 

It’s 2024 and the first air taxi has just received certification from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) or the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) – or both. This new transformative technology is promising decreased travel times, zero emissions, and affordable travel to customers. The only question left to ask is who gets to go first?  

 

While air taxis will provide a bespoke travel option, they incorporate aspects of transport available to commuters today, so its first passengers will most likely be those who utilize those methods of transport now—think people who use helicopters, small private aircraft, and ride-hailing services. According to industry experts and air taxi companies, the first air taxi passengers will be tech-savvy business travelers, tourists or micro-explorers located in dense metro areas. 

 

“I think the very early adopters will be the ones where it’s going to be easy to put the product into place, and where it basically mirrors things we already have, right,” Robin Riedel, a partner at McKinsey & Company who published a recent study on consumers views of advanced air mobility, told AAR. “So that could be flying into airports, basically taking over from helicopter routes for eVTOL routes or where we don’t need brand new ground infrastructure on both ends of the journey, where we don’t need to get people to do things that they haven’t really done the same way that they did before.” 

 

The planned launch cities for many air taxi companies are reflecting these views. 

Archer’s demonstrator eVTOL aircraft, Maker, will begin test flights this year. (Archer)

 

Archer will be concentrating on deploying its electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) aircraft in dense cities and already has partnerships with Los Angeles and Miami, a company representative told AAR. Archer’s eVTOL uses distributed electric propulsion with 12 electric motors and six independent battery packs, the company announced in the recent debut of its demonstrator aircraft, Maker. The aircraft will have a 60-mile range with speeds up to 150 mph. 

 

“We are redefining transportation for generations to come, leading the fourth transportation revolution,” the representative from Archer said. “We are concentrating on partnering with cities that are in need of a traffic density release effort. The reality is, modern transportation infrastructure cannot support surging urban populations – and cities don’t have adequate space to extend roadways to meet current and future demands. Simply put, cities are overdue for transformation on a global scale.” 

 

Archer describes its first passengers as people looking for fast, safe, and environmentally friendly travel. The company says these passengers will be micro-explorers who are looking to create experiences from their travel. 

 

“We believe in the age of the micro-explorer,” a representative from Archer told Advanced Aviation Report. “Micro-exploration is a new way of life, putting soul-satisfying adventure at your fingertips and creating transformative travel experiences each day —even if you’re just commuting to work. From a hike in the mountains after work to a weekend trip to a peaceful cabin or even a new city, micro-explorers will use Archer to discover and explore their cities at previously unobtainable levels.”

A rendering of the 7-Seater eVTOL jet which shows the 36 ducted fans. (Lilium)

 

Lilium, a German air taxi manufacturer, has announced launch plans that align with Riedel’s analysis with operational hubs at Munich and Nuremberg airports in Germany. The company also announced plans to launch operations in the U.S. in Florida. Lilium’s 7-Seater Jet is designed for efficient regional air mobility with ranges between 40 and 200 kilometers at speeds up to 300 kph. 

 

Wisk, who is developing an autonomous electric air taxi, is predicting its first passengers will vary across demographics like income and age but will likely lean towards people who already frequently travel. Cora, Wisk’s eVTOL aircraft, has been flying since 2017 and has a range of 25 miles with speeds up around 100 miles per hour. Wisk is currently working on demonstrations with NASA to find solutions to integrate autonomous aircraft into the national airspace.  

 

“Our research shows that there’s high interest across a wide range of consumer groups, with similar interest levels across a range of demographics, from income levels, ethnicities, commute duration, age, etc,” a representative from Wisk told AAR. “However, we’ve found that early adopters — those most interested in the concept of air taxis — skew toward those that are frequent travelers, tech-savvy, and living in metro areas.” 

 

These travelers will use eVTOL aircraft for work travel, commuting, and personal use, according to Wisk.  

 

“We see a variety of potential use cases for air taxi service and validated those assumptions with customer research,” Wisk’s representative said. “The data tells us that the majority of consumers would use an air taxi for work travel, whether out of town for work, around town for work, or commuting to/ from work. It also shows many would also use them for personal use and sheer fun, whether they are meeting friends, traveling to appointments or obligations, or running personal errands.” 

 

Time savings is one of the biggest benefits air taxi companies are advertising to potential customers and studies show that this will be a top motivator for consumers. In the study from Riedel, over 30 percent of consumers across multiple countries cited quicker travel times as a motivator for using advanced air mobility vehicles. 

 

“Imagine a world where you are not constrained by traffic — where you can travel from San Francisco to San Jose in 30 minutes rather than two hours, or from Manhattan to JFK in just ten minutes,” Archer’s representative said. “There are millions of daily commuters that will need this service to go to and from work in an affordable, timely manner.” 

 

Air taxi companies will distinguish their aircraft from already available means of transport like helicopters or private aviation by claiming that their product will be available to a broader audience. However, this will require companies to expand beyond the initial base of passengers who may already be eager to jump into an air taxi. 

 

“One of our fundamental beliefs is that air taxi services should be accessible to all and our goal is to ensure that anyone that wants to experience everyday flight has the ability to do so,” Wisk’s representative said. “In addition to safety, saving riders time and reliability are a few of the benefits that will drive and expand adoption.” 

 

Air taxi companies’ strategies for introducing their products to the wider public revolve around education through partnerships with public and private stakeholders such as local governments. 

 

“In the years leading up to our commercial launch, we will work with our partnered cities to help educate city dwellers on the benefits of an eVTOL system, how they work, and why they are a superior travel option both inconvenience and safety,” Archer’s representative said. 

Volocopter’s VoloConnect will be one of two eVTOLs the company plans to release. (Volocopter)

 

Some companies have already started exposing the public to their aircraft. Volocopter, the German company creating an urban air mobility ecosystem, is showcasing its aircraft at public events so people can see them for themselves. Volocopter is developing two air taxis: VoloCity for inner-city missions and VoloConnect for intra-city missions. 

 

“Public acceptance is key when introducing new technologies,” a representative from Volocopter told AAR. “This is why Volocopter has put a focus on educating the public about Urban Air Mobility by giving as many opportunities as possible to the public to witness air taxis and urban air mobility. Most prominent examples are our flights in Singapore, Stuttgart, Helsinki, and recently Paris.”

 

Air taxis will also have to be affordable to enable the wide public adoption that companies are predicting. Archer is estimating its service will cost around $3.30 per seat-mile at launch and decrease as more aircraft enter the market. 

 

“Archer’s business model is similar to Uber, Lyft, and other companies looking to make mass transportation more accessible,” Archer’s representative said. “We plan to launch with a pricing structure on par with that of an UberX.” 

 

Consumers’ most important concern about these vehicles is safety. According to Riedel’s study published by McKinsey & Company, 60 percent of respondents cited safety as a top concern about advanced air mobility vehicles. 

 

Companies are prepared to answer these concerns by citing their vehicle’s redundant systems and cooperation with respected regulators. 

 

“Regarding safety education is a key topic to help people understand the steps we take to ensure our aircraft is safe – from years of testing experience, to most importantly the very high entry barrier of being certified by the EASA,” Volocopter’s representative said. “There will be no air taxi player flying in cities that has not proven their safety level to the regulator. That being said, we are also certifying against the highest safety standards in aviation with EASAs SC-VTOL category enhanced aiming at 10^-9 safety levels: one fatal accident in one billion flight hours.” 

 

However, it will probably be hard to have complete clarity on the public perception of this technology before it is actually in use, Riedel said. 

 

“I think the challenge is, we just don’t know, right,” Riedel said. “I mean people on both sides of the argument are like it’s going to be really hard to convince people to go but people can also say well we used to have operators in elevators, right? People were scared of elevators…To be honest, I don’t know. I think it will come down to are there any big public-facing accidents early on that will get people worried.” 

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