VistaJet has added the Tempus IC2 telemedicine technology to its global fleet of 116 aircraft. Photo: VIstaJet
International private jet charter operator VistaJet has added in-flight telemedicine technology, RDT’s Tempus IC2, to their global fleet of aircraft as the business aviation industry continues to see demand for flights scale up following the reduction of air travel restrictions in several regions.
Tempus IC2 is a tablet device developed by RDT to give non-medical experts the ability to monitor vital passenger signs and communicate with a network doctors and medical experts on the ground that are available 24/7. VistaJet has become the first charter operator to add the IC2 to its fleet, although the technology has been adopted and used by various airlines for several years including Etihad Airways and Icelandair, among others.
VistaJet Chairman Thomas Flohr said he believes “all operators with a global program should have this technology onboard,” in a press release confirming the Tempus IC2 fleet equipage.
“VistaJet crew now have even more resources to give them and passengers complete peace of mind with every flight. The information from the monitor is seamlessly and confidentially shared with the ground-based medical experts — it is the next best thing to having a doctor by your side,” Flohr said.
According to the company’s website, Tempus is capable of transmitting voice and data communications using satellite connectivity. Global System for Mobile Communications (GSM) and Wi-Fi interfaces are also embedded within Tempus that can enable in-flight communications with Medlink, which is MedAire’s 24/7 medical advisory service.
“The parameters available when taking a Tempus call are essentially the same as those one would have in most emergency rooms. Tempus IC2 is invaluable when remotely managing a medical situation, because it gives MedAire’s MedLink doctors the clinical-quality data needed to make a better diagnostic impression,” Dr Paulo M. Alves, global medical director for MedAire, said in a statement.
Using Tempus, VistaJet flight crews will be able to connect to MedLink through “VistaJet’s secure onboard connection,” the company said. That onboard connection was recently upgraded to Luxstream, a business jet in-flight connectivity service enabled by Collins Aerospace in partnership with SES.
While VistaJet did not describe the addition of Tempus to its aircraft cabins as directly associated with COVID-19 related travel concerns, it is one of the latest steps the company has taken in efforts to restore passenger confidence in air travel.
Flight crews are now required to be evaluated twice a day for COVID-19 signs or symptoms, and passengers traveling to or from high risk locations are required to complete a new set of additional travel documents and a self-declaration that is submitted as a legal verification of information to the port of arrival authority at their destination. If a passenger has been determined to have had COVID-19 while onboard one of VistaJet’s aircraft, it is removed from service, throughly cleaned and evaluated prior to flying again.
During his appearance on the Global Connected Aircraft Podcast in March, as COVID-19 travel restrictions were first being implemented, VistaJet Chief Commercial Officer Ian Moore described some of the challenges of flying internationally amid new travel restriction and health concerns.
“Going from A to B these days is a lot more complicated, it’s not just getting the passenger there, it’s getting the crew there, and getting the crew into periods of rest while not getting stuck in quarantine,” Moore said. “Making sure the aircraft can get out again, making sure you can have a fuel stop if necessary in a location where all three parts, the crew, aircraft and client can touch on the ground. The complexity of being able to operate requires a company with experience that can navigate those areas, otherwise aircraft, crews or clients can find themselves in areas they cannot get out of.”
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ZeroAvia’s modified Piper Mirage six-seater turboprop is the first commercial-scale battery electric powered aircraft to complete a successful flight test. Photo: ZeroAvia
ZeroAvia recently completed the first phase of test flights for the U.K.’s first ever electric-powered commercial-scale aircraft, as the Silicon Valley startup works toward its initial goal for the development of a certifiable zero emissions hydrogen-electric turboprop by 2023.
The series of 10+ test flights, completed beginning June 23 at Cranfield University’s airport, used a Piper Malibu Mirage turboprop modified with a 300-kilowatt (kW) battery electric power system along with a customized cockpit display and computer. Each flight is part of Project HyFlyer, a U.K. government-industry funded program launched last year to demonstrate how medium range small passenger aircraft can be decarbonized.
ZeroAvia CEO Val Miftakhov told Avionics International that the goal with the first flight was to match the performance of the aircraft’s stock engine, a six cylinder Lycoming 540-AE2A with a 350 horsepower rating – or the equivalence of 260 kW.
“Cranfield is a sea level airport, and we were at 1,000 feet [mean sea level] MSL, in a pattern, so these are mostly sea level numbers. We recorded the most economic cruise from the flight occurring at 2,000-RPM prop speed, 90 kts indicated and that was with 75 kW of consumption. That works out to about 800 or so watt hours per nautical mile, which is pretty good, given that it’s comparable with what my Tesla Model S does at that speed,” Miftakhov said.
Over the course of two weeks, the ZeroAvia team completed multiple test flights, while capturing data about the temperatures, power flows and torque characteristics of the aircraft at takeoff, cruise and landing. Miftakhov said that the biggest overall challenges in preparing for and operating the flights were the thermal management of the electric motors, inverters and heat exchangers.
On the traditional jet fuel powered set up for their Piper Mirage, incoming air usually flows into the air box off the prop through two air inlets on the nose of the aircraft. It then flows around the cylinders and gets diverted into one of two turbocharger intercoolers to help decrease the temperature of the air entering the intake manifold. Airflow then continues down through the cowling and flows out through exhaust points at the bottom left and right sides of the aircraft.
Under the battery-powered system, the intercoolers were replaced with radiators that acted as heat exchangers for the electric motors and power inverters. An ideal location for the radiators would have been the frontal portion of the air box, which was not available because that space was needed for thermally managing airflow around the ZeroAvia fuel cell system design.
The pilot performing the flight test was using a fully electronically managed power system that provides readouts indicating whether the aircraft is approaching a condition that exceeds the recommended operating parameters. Through a fly-by-wire style system, an electronic interface module takes the mechanical displacement of pilot inputs on the throttle and converts that into an electronic signal for the customized battery electric navigation computer.
“As the computer is deciding what to do with the pilot inputs, it is checking the temperature of the motors and inverters as well as the remaining voltage supply level of the battery,” Mifthakov said. “If the computer detects an exceedance on any of those parameters, it then makes a decision on what to do with that throttle input, and how to de-rate it for example based on what’s available. That will then generate associated messages on the pilot’s display.”
ZeroAvia and its partners for Project HyFlyer are now preparing for the next round of flight-testing using the hydrogen electric powertrain that they ultimately want to use for zero emissions passenger carrying aircraft. In that system, the power inverters and electric motors still drive the propeller, however the electricity is provided by the hydrogen fuel cell system in place of the battery.
“Instead of getting electricity from the battery we get it from the hydrogen fuel cell system, which takes hydrogen from the tanks, combines it with oxygen from the air, and produces electricity,” Mifthakhov said, adding that the biggest cost savings for their preference of hydrogen to battery power is the limited lifespan of batteries compared to the life of the aircraft.
Additionally, the energy density of the hydrogen electric system is “five times better than battery power,” as the weight of the hydrogen fuel cell system is significantly lower, according to Mifthakov.
“A lot of economic comparisons of electrified power trains just use the energy cost and do not talk about the additional operating costs that come in with the use of the battery. On aircraft that use jet fuel, the fuel tanks will last for the duration of the aircraft. Similarly with a hydrogen fuel cell system, your tanks last as long as the aircraft. But for batteries, cycling adds a significant cost element, because a typical high-energy battery can only go for 1,000 to 2,000 cycles. And if you try to operate that for a regional scheduled flight service, where you could have up to eight flights a day or more, it’s much more expensive,” he said.
ZeroAvia is planning its first test flight using their hydrogen electric system within the next several weeks. Project HyFlyer’s ultimate goal is a 300-nautical mile flight in the hydrogen-powered Mirage taking off from the Orkney Islands in Scotland.
While the 2023 goal is a 19-passenger Twin Otter capable of 500-mile regional flights, their next goal will target larger regional turboprops like Bombardier’s Dash-8 or the ATR 500 series by the end of the decade. Mifthakov said the team believes it can achieving operating costs that are half of what are required for a jet fuel powered Twin Otter.
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Thales has appointed a new executive vice president for its avionics division, starting October 1, 2020, pictured here is one of the company’s latest avionics cockpit configurations, FlytX. Photo: Thales Aerospace
Thales has named Yannick Assouad as its new executive vice president of avionics, taking over for Gil Michielin, who announced his retirement from the Toulouse-based avionics maker.
Assouad will begin her new position Oct. 1, 2020, reporting to Thales CEO Patrice Caine. She joins Thales after serving as the CEO of Latécoère, a Toulouse-based supplier of aerostructures and interconnection systems to Thales and other major aerospace and industry manufacturers and airlines. Her other previous stints include serving as the head of the cabin systems division for Zodiac Aerospace.
Announcement of the leadership transition comes as Thales and other aerospace manufacturers continue to respond to the reduction in air travel by passengers and subsequently aircraft demand by airlines. The French government in June announced a 15 billion euro COVID-19 pandemic economic aid package for its aerospace industry, including up to €500 million in loans directly to Airbus, Thales and Safran, according to a New York Times article covering the aid package.
“I thank Patrice Caine for his confidence and I am very happy to be coming back to Thales, where I began my career,” Assouad said in a statement. “With the aerospace sector particularly hard hit by the global health crisis, I will apply all my experience and energy to serve the Avionics teams and their customers so that we can clear this hurdle together and write a new chapter in our return to growth.”
In an Apr. 7 press release, Thales confirmed its expectation for the COVID-19 pandemic to have “the greatest impact” on its commercial aerospace business segment, which represents about 12 percent of the overall company and generated sales of approximately €2.15 billion in 2019. The company also officially withdrew its financial outlook for 2020, which its plans to update “as soon as it is able to do so,” Thales said.
The largest avionics engineering effort that Assouad will oversee in her new position is the development of PureFlyt, the new generation connected flight management system that Avionics was introduced to during a tour of the Thales avionics facility in November. Thales is also developing an artificial intelligence virtual pilot assistant for future business jet cockpits.
“I welcome Yannick Assouad to Thales. Her solid experience will be a major asset in meeting the challenges facing the aerospace sector,” Caine said in a statement. “I also thank Gil Michielin most sincerely for his engagement over the last 38 years and his major contribution to the Group’s success in aeronautics.”
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Amazon is creating a new business segment dedicated to serving the aerospace and satellite industry. Pictured here is one of the Amazon Web Service ground stations. Photo: Amazon
Amazon Web Services (AWS) launched a new business segment last week dedicated to serving the aerospace and satellite industry. The new AWS Aerospace and Satellite Solutions division will be led by retired U.S. Air Force General Clint Crosier, former director of Space Force Planning at the U.S. Space Force.
The company said it plans for the new department to re-imagine space system architectures; transform space enterprises; launch new services that process space data on Earth and in orbit; and provide cloud solutions to support government and commercial space missions.
“We find ourselves in the most exciting time in space since the Apollo missions,” said Maj. Gen. Crosier. “I have watched AWS transform the IT industry over the last 10 years and be instrumental in so many space milestones. I am honored to join AWS to continue to transform the industry and propel the space enterprise forward.”
AWS pointed to its AWS Ground Station program as an example for how the new department can impact space data. AWS Ground Station, which launched in May 2019, is a managed network of ground station antennas around the world for satellite owners and operators. It allows startups to use AWS ground stations instead of building their own ground infrastructure.
This new division comes as Amazon is getting more serious about space. Last year, Amazon announced plans for a Low-Earth Orbit (LEO) constellation Project Kuiper, to provide low-latency, high-speed broadband connectivity. Blue Origin, another venture from Amazon’s billionaire CEO Jeff Bezos is also making moves. The launcher was recently awarded a NASA contract to develop the Integrated Lander Vehicle (ILV) for NASA’s Artemis program, which aims to return humans to the surface of the moon by 2024. Blue Origin opened a new headquarters and R&D facility in Kent, Washington, in January, and a rocket engine production facility in Huntsville, Alabama, in February.
|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.|
Lockheed Martin, which collaborates with AWS to integrate the ground station service with their new Verge antenna network, praised the new division.
“With a background in cloud computing, it’s exciting to see Amazon Web Services extend that experience to space, fostering collaborations with Lockheed Martin to help solve some of the world’s toughest problems,” said Rick Ambrose, executive vice president of Lockheed Martin Space. “Lockheed Martin’s innovation focus is driven by tomorrow’s space missions. We’ve supported missions to every planet, participated in every U.S. Mars mission and built hundreds of satellites, from GPS to weather. Together, we share a vision to help our customers access data faster, and gain new insights from sensors in space that make data even more accessible.”
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Welcome to the first edition of What’s Trending in Aerospace, where editors and contributors for Avionics International bring you some of the top headlines and stories across various segments of the global aerospace industry that you should be aware of for the week ahead.
During three days of testing, the FAA and Boeing completed certification flight testing for the 737 MAX automated flight control system. Photo: FAA
The FAA published an update to its website July 1 confirming the successful completion of certification flight testing on the 737 MAX. Video of tests shows pilots and engineers evaluating changes Boeing has developed for the 737 MAX automated flight control system.
Next steps include a review of the data gathered from flight testing and publishing of a new Airworthiness Directive for 737 MAX operators that will allow them to return the aircraft to service. Video of the flight was published by the FAA as well.
“The FAA will retain its authority to issue airworthiness certificates and export certificates for all new 737 MAX airplanes manufactured since the grounding. The FAA will perform in-person, individual reviews of these aircraft,” the agency said in its 737 MAX update.
Airbus CEO Guillaume Faury released a video statement confirming the French airplane maker’s plans to eliminate up to 15,000 jobs by next year.
Airbus announced the company’s need to reduce “around 15,000 positions no later than summer 2021.” Airbus, which in its first quarter 2020 earnings results reported more than 133,000 employees, said the workforce reductions include 5,000 positions in France and 5,100 in Germany.
Other reductions are spread across Spain, the UK and “other worldwide sites,” according to Airbus.
Airbus CEO Guillaume Faury described the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic as “gravest crisis this industry has ever experienced” in a June 30 press release.
“The measures we have taken so far have enabled us to absorb the initial shock of this global pandemic. Now, we must ensure that we can sustain our enterprise and emerge from the crisis as a healthy, global aerospace leader, adjusting to the overwhelming challenges of our customers. To confront that reality, we must now adopt more far-reaching measures,” Faury said.
The European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) issued an updated version of the EASA-ECDC Aviation Health Safety Protocol, part of a package of updates designed to help airlines adjust travel conditions to the new COVID-19 environment.
Among the updates, include two new safety directives published June 25 that mandate cleaning and disinfecting of aircraft at least once every 24 hours, “or more frequently if deemed necessary on the basis of the operator’s risk assessment,” the agency said in the update.
Under the new directives, EASA is has directed European National Competent Authorities (NCAs) to require airlines to “clean and fully disinfect the aircraft using substances suitable for aviation use,” the directive says. The directive also requires any aircraft identified as having carried a passenger that tested positive for COVID-19 to stop operating that aircraft, “unless, after that identification, the aircraft is cleaned and disinfected using substances suitable for aviation use.”
EASA’s new COVID-19 safety directives come as European borders have begun to reopen to inter-European travel, while remaining closed to flights from the United States.
Aeromexico has filed for voluntary Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, becoming the latest major Latin American airline to take such actions due to to the impact of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic on air travel.
According to CNBC, Aeromexico’s Chapter 11 filing is the latest regional filing in less than two months, following Chile’s LATAM Airlines Group and Colombia’s Avianca Holdings similar actions in May. Delta Air Lines owns a 49 percent stake in Aeromexico, and 20 percent of LATAM.
Canadian investment firm Aimia provided a second $50 million loan to Aeromexico June 29, following a $50 million loan previously extended to the Mexican carrier in May.
“The terms of the agreement are beneficial to both parties. But the customer is at the center of the expanded relationship. Customers will benefit from a more relevant and agile program that represents the best option to reward loyalty both on the ground and in the air in Mexico and around the world across all destinations Aeromexico serves,” Aeromexico’s CEO, Andres Conesa said of the agreement.
Aeromexico plans to continue flying through the Chapter 11 filing, including opening more international and domestic routes as COVID-19 travel restrictions begin to ease.
Gulfstream introduced the new G700 business jet during an NBAA 2019 opening ceremony at Henderson Executive Airport in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Citing guidance from public health officials, the National Business Aviation Association (NBAA) has cancelled its 2020 Business Aviation Convention and Exhibition, which was scheduled to occur Oct. 6-8, 2020, in Orlando, Florida.
“As COVID-19 has emerged as a pandemic, NBAA has consistently looked to local, state, federal and global health officials to inform our decisions and guide our actions with regard to live events,” NBAA President and CEO Ed Bolen said in a statement.
NBAA’s 2021 convention is scheduled for Oct. 12-14 in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Gogo Business Aviation Seeing a Rebound in Daily Flights Using Connectivity
Gogo Business Aviation is seeing an increase in the daily number of flights using its in-flight connectivity systems, a number that reached 3,000 daily flights.. Those are positive signs for the business jet side of Gogo’s business, which reported a COVID-19 single-day low-point of 378 daily flights in mid-April.
“Business aviation hit a low point in mid-April when many aircraft owners chose to park their aircraft and 30 percent of Gogo Business Aviation’s accounts chose to reduce their spending through either account suspensions or service-plan downgrades,” Gogo said in June 29 press release.
“Since that time, however, nearly 60 percent of Gogo’s suspended customers have reactivated their service, with approximately 80 percent reverting to their original service plan,” the company said.
The number of business jet flights with Gogo connectivity onboard averaged 3,500 per day pre-COVID-19, and the number of daily flights since the mid April low reached a high point June 25 at 3,039 flights featuring Gogo that day.
Embraer Delivers First Phenom 300E to Texas Law Firm
Embraer completed the first Phenom 300E light jet delivery at its Melbourne, Florida facility, featuring a suite of new avionics and connectivity upgrades. Photo: Embraer
Embraer announced the first delivery of its new, enhanced Phenom 300E to Texas law firm Dunham & Jones, Attorneys at Law, P.C.
The light jet has demonstrated Mach 0.80 enabled by a a software modification to the aircraft’s Pratt & Whitney PW535E full authority digital engine control (FADEC) resulting in an increased thrust of 118 lbf per engine, which has been renamed the PW535E1. The FADEC software upgrade was coupled with a number of updates to the Phenom 300’s communication, navigation and surveillance capabilities led by new line replaceable units, a new weather radar antenna and Garmin’s G3000 integrated flight deck.
The firm, which also owns a Phenom 100EV, took delivery of the enhanced Phenom 300E last week during a ceremony at Embraer’s Global Customer Center in Melbourne, Florida. According to Embraer, the 300E also features a runway overrun awareness and alerting system (ROAAS) ― the first technology of its kind to be developed and certified in business aviation ― predictive windshear, Emergency Descent Mode, PERF, TOLD, and Gogo AVANCE L5 4G connectivity.
Curtiss Wright describes the SSR/CHS/001 as a “Ethernet Multi-Role Recorder that supports up to four KAM-500 data acquisition modules” with support for up to four user-configurable KAM-500 data acquisition module slots. Photo: Curtiss Wright Defense Solutions
During the recent European Test and Telemetry Conference, Curtiss Wright’s aerospace instrumentation group extended its data recorder family capabilities to include PTP v2 grandmaster and slave support.
The SSR/CHS/001 Ethernet recorder integrates Ethernet recording, audio encoding and a GPS receiver, and the expanded PTP v2 support eliminates the need for a separate grandmaster system.
“Weighing only 4.27 lb (1.9 kg) fully configured, the SSR/CHS/001 is ideal for use in SWaP constrained environments such as rotorcraft, UAV and eVTOL platforms,” Curtiss Wright said in a June 23 press release describing the expansion of the technology.
Curtiss Wright Defense and Power President Lynn Bamford said the new features makes the SSR/CHS/001 “even more compelling choice for smaller data acquisition and recording applications such as production test and smaller aircraft flight test.”
Green Hills Software has extended its solution for DO-178C Level A multicore interference mitigation to Arm Cortex-A72 processor cores.
According to the California-based provider of real time operating systems, the addition of this new “Bandwidth Allocation and Monitoring (BAM) functionality enables software architects to allocate and enforce bandwidth limits to shared resources for each processor core,” for its INTEGRITY-178 Time-Variant Unified Multi Processing (tuMP) RTOS.
“Green Hills Software has demonstrated application WCET growing 8 times longer from just a single interfering core, and up to 13 times longer with 3 interfering cores,” the company said in a July 1 press release.
““Our competitors, such as Lynx Software, noted recently that ‘the FAA has promised to allow the use of multiple cores in a multicore processor chip but only if adequate mitigations can be demonstrated to certifiers, based [on] the CAST-32A specifications.’ Yet no RTOS supplier other than Green Hills Software provides a DO-178C Level A-compliant solution for multicore interference mitigation that meets the CAST-32A requirements,” Green Hills Software CEO Dan O’Dowd said in a statement.
Embention, a supplier of unmanned aircraft autopilot systems, is partnering with Sagetech to ” offer a full certified situational awareness during the piloting of UAVs,” the company said. Photo: Embention
Embention, a supplier of safety critical drone avionics systems headquartered in Spain, is partnering with Sagetech Aviation to develop new flight technologies for unmanned aircraft.
“We’re thrilled to announce a partnership with Embention to provide the smallest, most durable avionics suite for drone manufacturers,” said Sagetech Avionics CEO Tom Furey. “The integration of reliable systems like Embention’s Veronte Autopilot and Sagetech Avionics’ XP or MX transponders with ADS-B, ensure the safe integration of unmanned aircraft in congested airspace, over long-range, beyond line of sight, and at night.”
Embention’s partnership with Sagetech was aimed at pairing their transponders with their Veronte Autopilot system. Veronte is described by Embention as a “miniaturized, high reliable, DO178C & DO254 compliant avionics system designed for advanced control of unmanned systems.”
Their goal is to integrate Sagetech’s ADS-B In/Out transponders with their autopilot system to create new detect and avoid capabilities.
“The use of transponders and autopilots in compliance with aviation standards is a decisive step for drone integration within the controlled airspace,” Javier Espuch, Business Development Manager at Embention said of the new partnership.
Figure 1-2: UAM, UTM, and ATM Operating Environments (FAA)
FAA and NASA have in partnership developed their first ConOps document for enabling urban air mobility operations.
A work-in-progress, the document is intended more to offer a “common frame of reference” to industry, regulators and other actors rather than arrive at specifics of implementation.
“The envisioned future state for UAM operations includes increasing levels of autonomy and operational tempo across a range of environments including major metropolitan areas and the surrounding suburbs,” the authors write.
Initial UAM operations will be conducted within the current regulatory and operational environment, moving toward higher tempo operations via UAM corridors that “leverage collaborative separation methodologies.” The ConOps is designed with a pilot-in-command, rather than autonomous operations.
Azman Ahmad is the general manager of product management for Saudia Airlines. You can catch the video of his fireside chat from the recent Global Connected Aircraft Cabin Chats series here.
During the 2020 Global Connected Aircraft Cabin Chats series, Azman Ahmad, GM Product Management, Saudia Airlines, joined program chair Mark Holmes for a discussion on how he sees the airline passenger experience changing amid the impact of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.
The national carrier is slowly starting to resume flights and has been posting updates on social distancing and cleaning measures occurring on its aircraft via the company’s official Twitter account. Ahmad discussed how the airline is starting to return some of its grounded aircraft to service.
Saudia’s in-flight entertainment offerings include more than 4,000 hours of content and the airline is a customer of SITA FOR AIRCRAFT L-band connectivity managed through its UON service. The Middle Eastern airline operates a fleet of 142 aircraft, including such models as the Airbus A320 and Boeing 787.
Ahmad confirmed that the airline never turned its connectivity service off while reducing flight operations in recent months and believes travel demand will begin to rebound within the next year.
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.
Check out the 2020 Global Connected Aircraft Cabin Chats series on demand by clicking here.
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Unlike many air taxi developers, Wisk isn’t initially pursuing piloted operations — a decision that is sure to delay its U.S. launch. (Wisk)
July 1 marked the one-year anniversary of Wisk, an urban air mobility company formed as a joint venture between Boeing and Kitty Hawk, though it wasn’t revealed to the public until last December.
Wisk has been steadily building a long-term vision to bring autonomous air taxis to cities across the United States and the rest of the world, beginning with the electric two-seat Cora aircraft that has flown more than 1,300 times between seven full-scale aircraft in Hollister, California and New Zealand.
The one-year-old joint venture has more than 300 personnel, concentrated mostly in California, New Zealand and Altanta, Georgia. Wisk has notched more than 120 U.S. and international patents for its 2,800-pound self-flying aircraft. Cora is capable of speeds up to 100 mph, 25 miles range plus ten minutes reserve, and is designed to operate between 1,500-5,000 feet above ground with its 12 independent lift fans and pusher-prop.
Cora is just the beginning of Wisk’s plans, CEO Gary Gysin told reporters during a call hosted by the Vertical Flight Society.
Wisk’s vision for its service is ultimately similar to what is espoused by Uber Elevate and other major UAM boosters: tackling urban congestion and opening up new options for transportation, initially for wealthier individuals, but eventually reaching a more accessible price point.
“This market will probably start with the premium flyers, ‘uber-Black’ type of customers,” Gysin said. “But our goal and why we’re doing what we’re doing — electric, self-flying, etc — is to get the cost down so that we can provide flight for everybody.”
Wisk’s path to that vision, however, has stood out from other well-funded, leading UAM companies for two reasons: two seats, and no pilot.
Most UAM developers — including Bell, Joby Aviation, Hyundai, Archer Aviation and many others — are building four-passenger air taxis intended for aerial ridesharing. Grouping passengers together is crucial to reducing the cost of service, as Blade Air Mobility has done with traditional helicopters and charter jets.
But Uber is primarily a ride-hailing business, with a small portion of its rides — and smaller portion of its revenue — garnered from ride-sharing. In 2016, the company stated in a blog post that uberPOOL accounted for 20 percent of all rides globally. That number has likely gone up, but many drivers report not all of their uberPOOL rides have more than one passenger. Uber did not immediately respond to a request for more comprehensive data.
The average vehicle occupancy rate in the United States, however, has consistently been just under 1.6 passengers per vehicle (including the driver) for the past 25 years, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation.
“Two [seats] is where we can start — and we think it’s a sweet spot in terms of demand,” said Gysin. “If you look at a lot of the market studies, some people will say 1.6 riders, some might say 2.1, but it’s kind of in that area of a two-seat vehicle. And it’s not an incredible amount of flights before we get to profitability. We think we can do that pretty quickly after launch.”
Gysin added, however, that Cora will be a “family of vehicles” and the company is “not opposed at all to larger aircraft [and] more seats,” though future aircraft with more payload may mean other sensors, room for baggage, and non-seating upgrades.
So, perhaps this differentiating factor is temporary.
But most companies are initially pursuing piloted aircraft, expecting great difficulty certifying an autonomous passenger-carrying aircraft and public acceptance challenges.
Gysin defends Wisk’s decision to jump straight to autonomy as offering improved safety, being easier to scale and ultimately “where UAM is headed.”
And Gysin’s answer on public acceptance is simple: people need to experience it first-hand and become accustomed to it, just like autonomous cars.
“It’ll start with people that aren’t as afraid of flying, and they will be in constant communication with the ground, so there will be that comfort level,” Gysin said. “But it’ll be a progression over time. There’s enough people, if you think of the premium passenger that urgently has to get from point A to point B, we think that’s going to be a market that people will grab onto quicker before it drops down to everyday flight for everybody.”
Wisk also intends to initially control as much of the passenger experience as possible. Through its wholly-owned operator subsidiary Wisk New Zealand, formerly known as Zephyr Airworks, current test-range employees will transition to operational crew once passenger flights begin.
“The flights there will start scheduled,” Gysin said. “It’ll be more of a curated service … the South Islands are just gorgeous, you have a lot of tourists, adventurer-sort people that’ll go on gliders, backpacking, that sort of thing. So, we’re going to curate an experience and tie things together and flight is going to be part of it. But it will start as scheduled before we go to on-demand.”
Cora has completed more than 1,300 test flights without incident. (Wisk)
Wisk will be the OEM and operator of its aircraft “for the foreseeable future,” Gysin said, to include its eventual U.S. operations.
The company is not interested in building out an app, though, and has not made a decision to participate in Uber’s ecosystem. Uber is “the type of player” Wisk would partner with, Gysin noted — meaning a company that can handle the multi-modal transit operations and the customer-facing experience — but there are other “credible people” to consider, including airlines that have expressed interest and have some common infrastructure.
“I don’t see this going forever. In time we’ll just be the OEM, but to start we want to control the experience,” Gysin said. “As we start to roll out city after city, you can imagine as this gets more mature, we’ll partner with operators.”
Gysin said his team has models for its expansion, aircraft production and operations reaching out 15 years, with congested U.S. cities acting as the company’s “North Star” but a clear understanding that U.S. regulators will not be among the first to allow autonomous air taxis into cities.
“Our target is very squarely U.S. urban cities. We’re not announcing what the launch city is yet, but we know where it’s going to be,” Gysin said, describing the city as having “horrible traffic” and a “challenging and congested area to fly in.”
“There are some things we’ll do in the interim, after New Zealand and before we’re certified to fly in the U.S., but we’re not ready to announce some of those things right now,” he added.
Gysin wouldn’t share Wisk’s targeted cost to passengers, but confirmed that dollars-per-passenger-mile is the metric his team is focused on and the price will be “significantly cheaper than a helicopter.”
As the market matures and Wisk looks to scale, the company’s relationship with Boeing may prove to be a differentiating advantage. The joint venture has a “master services agreement” with the aerospace giant, granting access to engineers, certification specialists and policy experts.
Perhaps more importantly, Wisk will be able to access Boeing’s worldwide supply chain and manufacturing ecosystem — though, as the UAM sector targets production rates closer to automotive scale than aerospace, that could be a blessing or a curse.
Wisk is also leaning heavily on partners for detect-and-avoid, software development, data links and ground control stations. Gysin said partnerships in some of these areas will be announced later this year and did not provide many details in these areas, though CTO Jim Tighe said communications isn’t an area where “huge technological leaps” are required and not a lot of bandwidth is needed for communications with ground control stations.
Airspace integration is an area of particular focus for Wisk’s straight-to-autonomous strategy, and another area where the company plans to partner rather than develop in-house products.
“Nominally, the aircraft is executing quite autonomously without operator intervention, other than hitting the ‘fly’ button,” said Tighe. “As time goes on, for our operations inside the U.S., we’ll have more of a many-to-one model where we’ll have multiple aircraft being monitored by a single ground control station. That creates its own challenge, which is why a lot of our efforts at the moment are focused on airspace integration activities.”
Wisk’s aircraft will almost certainly not be the first eVTOL making commercial passenger flights in the United States; the Federal Aviation Administration just this week released the first version of its concept of operations for unmanned aircraft integration, and Cora isn’t designed to be optionally-piloted.
Backed by the deep pockets of Larry Page and Boeing, however, Wisk has the funding and the freedom to take a long-term approach to UAM. Jumping straight to autonomous operations is a bold move, but one that could place Wisk years ahead of competitors that are ultimately taking a human-piloted detour to the same destination.
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During the recent “Connected ROI: Aircraft Interface Device” Global Connected Aircraft Cabin Chats session, Collins Aerospace provided an overview of how aircraft interface devices have become central to the flow of data between off and onboard systems and applications. Photo: Collins Aerospace
Avionics and aircraft manufacturers are expanding the scope and capability set of aircraft interface devices (AID), which have become a key technology within modern connected aircraft networks, according to presentations given by experts from Bombardier and Collins Aerospace during a panel featured as part of last week’s Global Connected Cabin Chats web series.
Early adoption of AID technology primarily served the purpose of providing some basic electronic flight bag (EFB) functionality, along with acquisition and transmission of flight and maintenance operations quality assurance data, according to Jason Marmur, business development manager for Collins Aerospace. However, new capabilities are being unlocked as more aircraft operators adopt them and customize them to their flight operational and maintenance needs.
“If you actually look at everything an AID is capable of providing to your operation, you can see there is so much more that it can do,” Marmur said during the “Connected ROI: Aircraft Interface Devices” Cabin Chats session. “Aircraft health data, weather data from the ground, cabin data, navigation database uploads, trajectory based operations and advanced EFB applications like flight profile optimization, can also be enabled with AIDs.”
The expansion in functionality of the AID as it is known today in the avionics industry will continue to be driven by its use of the ARINC 834 standard, which serves as a data communication protocol, or interface, between certified avionics systems and non-certified tablet EFBs, according to Marmur. Using ARINC 834, an AID can provide a subscription-based EFB application with access to aircraft data parameters in both read and write mode. In this way, it can also access all of the ARINC 717 data that airlines are required to capture and record in flight data recorders.
“Today’s AID technology has a number of ARINC 429, 717 discrete Ethernet connections, so you make one 429 connection to your [multimode receiver] MMR, your GPS system, another one to the [flight management computer] FMC, and yet another discrete to the weight on wheels to know when to enable wireless for example. As far as our implementation goes at Collins, we provide a software development kit to help determine what data needs to be recorded and where it needs to be sent. This is how the use cases for AIDs will continue to expand beyond what they were thought to be in their earliest days,” Marmur said.
The number of AIDs and associated applications and technologies available from avionics suppliers has expanded in recent years as well. Collins, for example, provides its InteliSight electronic flight folder, designed to give users the ability to do flight planning, performance tracking and access to weather data with real time updates. The company’s Secure Server Router (SSR-7000) Electronic Flight Bag Interface and Communication Unit (EICU) also features an embedded router capable of wirelessly connecting EFB applications to onboard aircraft and external connectivity networks, and has a built-in AID.
Boeing describes its software-configurable AID as featuring two wireless wide area networks—802.11, one 4G LTE cellular radio and two SIM cards. Photo: Boeing
Astronics has also had its own webFB AID available for several years, serving as a communications bridge between Boeing 737NG ARINC 429 and 717 data feeds and wireless EFB applications. Boeing, through the avionics division it created in 2018, also introduced a software-configurable AID last year as standard on all new in-production commercial airplane models. Honeywell Aerospace introduced its aircraft data gateway in 2017 that also provides the type of AID functionality discussed throughout the Cabin Chats session.
Teledyne is another supplier of AIDs that has continuously expanded the technology’s capabilities in recent years, including a 2019 partnership with Viasat that enables the use of satellite-based connectivity to stream Aircraft Communications Addressing and Reporting System (ACARS) messages in real-time.
Avionica has also become well known for the continued growth in deployment and functionality for its interface device technology. Bombardier is in the process of adding Avionica’s aviONS technology as a free upgrade to all of its in-service aircraft, under its Smart Link Plus upgrade program first launched at the 2019 NBAA Business Aviation Convention and Exhibition (BACE). Their goal with the upgrade program is to give owners of older Challengers and Learjet models the opportunity to access their flight and maintenance data faster and in a way that is customized to their specific flight operational structure.
|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.|
Mike Blackman, connected aircraft business strategy and services specialist for Bombardier Business Aircraft, believes one of the next changes coming to how interface device technology works within aircraft is the business model associated with the various types of services that can be enabled and managed using an AID.
“The models are evolving, if you put this device on your aircraft, some of us become your TV service provider you have a box and then you pay for the services that you’re going to use,” Blackman said during the Cabin Chats series question and answer session. “There has to be some kind of service subscription around it, because there are more services you can get based on what you’d like to do, on an aircraft level we want to improve performance and maintenance, that’s a basic level, but the business model it is a subscription type service.”
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UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson challenged the British aerospace industry to produce the world’s first “net zero” long-haul passenger plane.
UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson in a speech on June 30 challenged the British aerospace industry to produce the world’s first “net zero” long-haul passenger plane, with promise that the government will back high-risk, innovative projects such as this as part of a post-COVID “New Deal.”
In addition to a multi-billion pound government plan to jumpstart the economy, reeling from the ongoing pandemic, Johnson announced intent to increase government funding to back “high risk, high reward” innovative projects — including a zero-emissions passenger jet.
“We lead the world in quantum computing, in life sciences, in genomics, in AI, space satellites, net zero planes, and in the long term solutions to global warming – wind, solar, hydrogen technology, carbon capture and storage, nuclear,” Johnson said. “And as part of our mission to reach Net Zero CO2 emissions by 2050, we should set ourselves the goal now, of producing the world’s first net zero long haul passenger plane.”
“Jet Zero. Let’s do it.”
The UK government has already pledged £125 million from the country’s Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund to invest in aircraft and related technologies it views as part of a “third revolution of aviation,” as described by Gary Cutts, Challenge Director at UK Research and Innovation.
And French airplane maker Airbus recently announced plans to bring a hydrogen-powered regional jet to market by 2035, toward which the French government committed to invest $1.7 billion. Airbus, on the same day as Johnson’s speech, announced plans to eliminate up to 15,000 jobs, including 1,700 in the United Kingdom, as it deals with the financial impact of the coronavirus.
The timeline Airbus is working toward is for a regional jet, capable of carrying about 80-160 passengers.
Developing the world’s first zero-emissions long-haul passenger jet, rather than regional, is a challenge thought to be at least 30 years off and will certainly require billions in investment across fundamental technologies to reach.
“Net zero is an extremely tough but necessary target, and the future of the UK’s decarbonisation [sic] and path to net zero is contingent on key decisions made by the government during this parliament,” commented Professor Sir Jim McDonald, President of the Royal Academy of Engineering. “Three decades is a very short time to completely renew, upgrade, install and secure entire parts of the UK’s national infrastructure but if government is willing to take a truly holistic view of the system then the engineering community stands ready to deliver on the promise and potential of decarbonisation.”
As part of the technology push, Johnson said the UK government will create a new science funding agency this summer to back high-risk, high-reward projects such as this one.
Johnson’s “New Deal” speech was focused not just on leading the world in technology and innovation, but ensuring jobs created by British innovation stay in Britain, aligning with the nationalistic politics of Britain’s exit from the European Union.
“We must end the chasm between invention and application that means a brilliant British discovery disappears to California and becomes a billion dollar American company or a Chinese company, and we need now a new dynamic commercial spirit to make the most of UK breakthroughs so that British ideas produce new British industries and British jobs,” Johnson said.
Across the pond, the United States is leveraging government and military assets, through the U.S. Air Force’s Agility Prime program, to support domestic investment in electric vertical takeoff and landing aircraft, intended for use in urban aerial passenger transport as well as logistics missions. These new eVTOL aircraft are expected to cost more than $1 billion to bring through the certification process.
Details associated with Johnson’s announcement and dedicated funding for this ambitious project have not yet been announced. However, if the government commits resources to this revolutionary project, it will truly mark the beginning of an aerospace revolution — and perhaps force other governments to follow suit or risk being left behind.
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Airbus delivered its first A330 Multi Role Tanker Transport to NATO on June 29 (Airbus Photo)
On June 29, Airbus delivered the first of eight Airbus A330 Multi Role Tanker Transport (MRTT) aircraft ordered by the NATO Multinational MRTT Fleet (MMF) after a ceremony held at the Airbus Getafe site in Spain.
The plane will operate from the MMF base in Eindhoven in the Netherlands and from a forward operating base in Cologne, Germany.
The MMF countries are the Netherlands, Luxembourg, Norway, Germany, Belgium and the Czech Republic.
The latter six countries fund MMF and will operate the NATO-owned aircraft in a pooling arrangement for in-flight refueling, personnel transport, cargo and medical evacuation missions. Airbus said that the A330 MRTT has performed medevac and strategic transport to support COVID-19 relief efforts.
Airbus’ delivery of the first A330 MRTT to NATO comes, as the company prepares to begin testing of an automatic refueling capability for the aircraft.
Earlier this year, Airbus demonstrated autonomous refueling between an A310 and a Portuguese Air Force F-16 fighter jet flown by Lockheed Martin. Airbus plans to start the certification phase for the autonomous refueling on the A330 MRTT next year with the Singapore Air Force.
Airbus said that the autonomous air-to-air refueling (A3R) planned for the A330 MRTT “is composed of many different sensors and computers that all together are able to successfully track accurately the position of the receiver and fly safely the boom to perform the contact without any manual input from the operator.”
“This solution is fully integrated and designed at Airbus with all the software being produced and tested in-house,” the company said. “The current AAR [air-to-air refueling] solution that is being operated by all our customers automatically disconnects all physical contacts when the transfer amount entered by the operator is reached. With the inclusion of A3R the boom will also perform the retraction and fly to a safe position automatically.”
An Airbus Enhanced Vision System (EVS) allows aircraft personnel with 3-D glasses to steer refueling booms remotely into receiver aircraft.
“Airbus controls all the design and aircraft integration requirements providing full control of all the parameters such as depth perception,” according to Airbus. “The EVS, which had its first version developed more than 10 years ago, can be extensively operated for many hours without producing fatigue or visual misleading inputs to the crew. Hundreds of flight test hours together with constant operator feedback were needed in order to fine tune the system and get the best quality colored 3D image providing realistic depth representation for the operators.”
Military boom operators have raised the issue of fuel spilling on external cameras and thus disabling the remote refueling, but Airbus said that it has a number of redundant systems in place to prevent the cancellation of refueling operations.
“The camera system is designed with all the redundancies required to ensure a safe operation and mission success,” Airbus said. “Independently of an automatic or a manual contact the MRTT will always need the cameras to work in order to perform the refueling operation. With this objective the aircraft is equipped with a redundant vision system that will ensure the highest mission success rate. If for any unlikely situation all the cameras will became inoperative the MRTT would have to cancel the mission although this situation has never occurred in more than 200,000 flight hours of the fleet.”
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