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EASA Proposes New Regulatory Framework for Air Taxi Operations

EASA published a Notice of Proposed Amendment to recommend a comprehensive new regulatory framework for urban air mobility, including uncrewed aircraft systems (UAS) and vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) aircraft. (Photo: EASA)

The European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) proposed a comprehensive new regulatory framework for operating air taxis in cities. Manufacturers of vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) aircraft have worked with EASA in developing regulations since 2019, a representative from EASA told Avionics. The proposed rules are open for public consultation until October 1. Following any necessary revisions, the European Commission will review EASA’s regulatory framework in 2023 before making a decision.

EASA published the Notice of Proposed Amendment (NPA) on June 30, including recommendations for creating new amendments as well as updating existing regulations in the EU. Key areas of focus in the NPA are airworthiness certification for uncrewed aircraft systems (UAS), and operational requirements for crewed VTOL aircraft.

The NPA outlines some specific objectives, including ensuring a high level of safety for UAS and VTOL operations; establishing an efficient regulatory framework that allows for innovation and developments in the UAS market; and eliminating any inconsistencies in the regulations across the member states of the EU.

EASA also introduced concepts for standardizing the definitions of urban air mobility (UAM) and for VTOL-capable aircraft. The agency will regulate UAS and VTOL operations not only within urban environments, it states, but also those operations where the aircraft is traveling in or out of an urban environment. EASA’s definition of VTOL-capable aircraft is “a power-driven, heavier-than-air aircraft, other than aeroplane or rotorcraft, capable of performing vertical take-off and landing by means of lift or thrust units used to provide lift during take-off and landing,” according to the NPA.

The document explains that this proposed definition of VTOL aircraft also necessitates limiting the definition of “helicopter” as follows: “heavier-than-air aircraft supported in flight chiefly by the reactions of the air on up to two power-driven rotors on substantially vertical axes.” Helicopters should be considered a subcategory of rotorcraft. Aircraft configured with more than two power-driven rotors must be initially classified as VTOL-capable, according to EASA. 

EASA lays out tasks to ensure continuing airworthiness of uncrewed aircraft, including pre-flight inspections of the aircraft, scheduled and unscheduled maintenance, compliance with any airworthiness directive issued by the agency that is applicable, and maintenance check flights as needed. The UAS maintenance program will undergo a review at least every year to evaluate its effectiveness.

The NPA recommends requirements for VTOL operations with a single pilot under Instrument Flight Rules (IFR) or at night. This includes pilot training related to engine management and emergency handling as well as air traffic control (ATC) communication, autopilot management (when applicable), and using simplified in-flight documentation. EASA also proposes that the pilot should have 25 hours of total IFR flight experience and 25 hours of experience flying a VTOL aircraft as a single pilot.

Because aircraft capable of vertical take-off and landing will introduce novel technologies, and will operate differently than conventional aircraft, the NPA states that there needs to be a requirement for installing recorders as part of the airworthiness requirements for VTOL aircraft. EASA suggests in its proposed regulations that some data can be transmitted and recorded remotely. According to the representative from EASA, “This is a provision established through the requirement of Special Condition VTOL.2555(f) that would apply in case the VTOL aircraft would be remotely controlled by means of a command unit. The proposed operational rules apply only to VTOL with a pilot on board.”

Last year, EASA published a study on societal acceptance of urban air mobility operations in Europe. The study took into account survey responses from 4,000 citizens and 40 qualitative interviews. Although implementing VTOL operations for emergency medical services is one of the most accepted applications for these types of aircraft, one challenge is ensuring the availability of infrastructure such as vertiports, according to the spokesperson from EASA. They added that battery management and noise are two other potential concerns, although VTOL aircraft will have lower noise levels than helicopters.

A few months ago, EASA released guidance regarding the design of vertiports (EASA’s original report can be viewed here). The NPA that was just published also includes recommendations surrounding regulation of infrastructure like vertiports. When establishing a vertiport within the airside of an aerodrome, EASA suggests that a wake-turbulence analysis is needed in order to evaluate risks with conventional manned aircraft flying near the aerodrome. “We will be conducting studies [involving] all the relevant stakeholders such as VTOL manufacturers, ANSP, airport operators and EUROCONTROL as well as the Member States,” the representative shared. “We will be using methods equivalent to the one we have used for establishing the EU RECAT after the safety assessment was performed.”

“Predetermined VFR VTOL routes should be established to prevent conflicting situations (e.g. crossing, head-on or overtaking situation).” – EASA’s proposed regulations for urban air mobility operations (Photo: EASA)

EASA proposes measures for mitigating the risk if there is a large number of VTOL aircraft operations and ATC is not able to safely manage the additional amount of traffic. One recommendation is to assign VTOL aircraft in uncontrolled airspace to predetermined VFR (Visual Flight Rules) routes.

The representative from EASA explained that “in order to be able to allow regular VFR VTOL operations between vertiport pairs, there is a need to establish a network of those VFR routes based on the assessment performed by the operator.” This would follow consideration of aspects such as “the airspace traffic, complexity, their aircraft endurance, availability of alternate vertiports and operation sites for the case of contingency and/or emergencies as well as other aspects such as the existence of other VTOL operations utilizing the same vertiports, the implementation of U-space, the existence of environmental protected areas and the acceptable noise levels.”

Before beginning operations, EASA’s spokesperson noted, the individual national or local authorities from within EASA member-nations would need to approve the establishment of a network of VFR routes that takes into account the previously mentioned aspects.

The post EASA Proposes New Regulatory Framework for Air Taxi Operations appeared first on Aviation Today.

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Australia’s CASA Publishes New Regulatory Roadmap for Advanced Air Mobility

“We wanted to provide a plan that outlined the long-term vision for the Australian RPAS and AAM regulatory regime as well as the integration of these technologies into the civil aviation system.” – Pip Spence, CASA’s CEO and Director of Aviation Safety. (Photo: CASA)

This week, the Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) announced the launch of a regulatory roadmap that describes its approach to ensuring safety for drones and other components of the advanced air mobility ecosystem. The roadmap is the result of 12 months of research, analysis, and consultation. CASA coordinated with industry experts in designing the new roadmap, which outlines the regulatory framework for remotely piloted aircraft systems (RPAS) and advanced air mobility (AAM) over the next 10 to 15 years.

In publishing this roadmap, CASA sets out its long-term plans regarding safe integration of AAM technologies into the current airspace and into future regulations, said Program Manager Sharon Marshall-Keeffe in the announcement from CASA. “We will continue to work with industry to review and update the roadmap to make sure it stays relevant and supports new technologies and innovation,” she added.

CASA identified five challenges inherent in regulating RPAS and AAM operations. The first is diversity in type and size of aircraft as well as the range of complexity in aircraft design. Second, AAM and RPAS are evolving rapidly. In the roadmap, CASA describes innovations in technology and concepts of operation as fast-paced, creating some uncertainty. The third challenge is the scale of operations. There are more remotely piloted aircraft operating in Australia than there are existing airspace users. And CASA expects AAM operations as a whole to scale up in a similar manner.

Another challenge is that drones and other AAM are disruptive technologies, and the existing ecosystem must adapt to accommodate these new operations. CASA lists autonomy as the final obstacle in regulating the emerging RPAS and AAM industries. Though they will likely be critical for a growing AAM ecosystem, automation and interactions between humans and machines will need to be monitored and regulated.

CASA’s new roadmap describes some of the new types of AAM vehicles, made possible with progress in hybrid propulsion systems and electrification as well as innovations in automation. These vehicle types include multi-rotor, tilt wing, tilt-rotor, and powered wing, for both short take-off and landing (STOL) and vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) capabilities. (Photo: CASA)

CASA lists several activities within the roadmap that will need to occur in the next year or two. In 2022 and 2023, the agency intends to publish acceptable industry standards for piloted AAM aircraft, as well as further guidance material for remotely piloted aircraft operations, such as acceptable means of compliance. Other activities outlined for the immediate future are developing design requirements and regulations for supporting infrastructure like vertiports, and coordinating with other government agencies to evaluate cybersecurity risks associated with RPAS and AAM.

In the near future, from 2023 to 2026, CASA expects to publish industry consensus standards for AAM aircraft operated by a single pilot and for remotely piloted aircraft. The roadmap lists the initial implementation of airspace modernization as another objective for the 2023–2026 period. Near-term objectives also include development of guidance for operational approval requirements of AAM, and development of certification requirements for infrastructure.

CASA intends to ensure internationally harmonized standards for AAM, and to publish industry standards for remotely piloted aircraft that are highly automated, in the years 2026 to 2031. The so-called “medium-term” section of the roadmap dictates the development of an integrated traffic management framework that supports all airspace users, as well as the implementation of standard requirements for personnel training and licensing that take into account increased amounts of autonomy in RPAS and AAM operations.

The new roadmap includes long-term objectives—from 2031 to 2036—such as publishing industry standards for highly automated AAM aircraft; establishing mature regulations and processes for approval that support RPAS And AAM infrastructure; and developing standards that support both cooperative participation amongst airspace users and levels of self-separation between each user.

In a press release, Australian vertiport infrastructure provider Skyportz confirmed that they were able to contribute to the creation of CASA’s roadmap. Skyportz CEO Clem Newton-Brown remarked that the document will provide clarity to the industry. “The key to this industry is breaking the nexus between aviation and existing airports,” he stated. “We need to develop a network of new vertiport sites if the industry is to reach its potential.”

The post Australia’s CASA Publishes New Regulatory Roadmap for Advanced Air Mobility appeared first on Aviation Today.

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Gulfstream Completes First Flight of New G800

Gulfstream completed the first flight of its new G800 business jet on Wednesday, June 28, at Savannah/Hilton Head International Airport. (Photo courtesy of Gulfstream)

Gulfstream’s new G800 business jet completed its first flight at the company’s Savannah headquarters on Wednesday, launching the flight testing campaign for what will become the longest-range aircraft in the company’s history.

The G800 program was first revealed by Gulfstream in October 2021 with a range of 8,000 nautical miles/14,816 kilometers at Mach 0.85, powered by Rolls-Royce Pearl 700 engines. According to Gulfstream, the first flight lasted two hours, taking off and landing at Savannah/Hilton Head International Airport.

“We are seeing great interest in the G800,” Mark Burns, president, Gulfstream, said in the company’s announcement of the first flight. Gulfstream also highlighted the 19-passenger jet’s use of a “blend of sustainable aviation fuel” on the first flight.

Gulfstream shared this image of the new G800’s wingtip after completing the first flight on Wednesday. (Photo courtesy of Gulfstream)

Gulfstream is keeping the Symmetry flight deck—based on Honeywell’s Primus Epic cockpit suite—for the G800 that made its debut with the G500. One innovation within the flight deck of the G800 is a new combined vision system that blends enhanced and synthetic vision in the cockpit’s dual head up displays.

The G800 also features flight control computers supplied by Thales, while GE Aviation is supplying the jet’s data concentration network and power and health management systems.

Completion of the first flight of the G800 by Gulfstream also confirms another avionics-related milestone completed by the company. In May, General Dynamics Chairman and CEO Phebe Novakovic explained to investors and analysts during an earnings call how the completion of a new software validation requirement from the FAA was necessary to launch the first flight of the G800.

Upon launching the G800 in October, Gulfstream was anticipating customer deliveries of the G800 to begin next year.

The post Gulfstream Completes First Flight of New G800 appeared first on Aviation Today.

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OPINION: Why Mission Critical Systems are Needed to Achieve Safety in Urban Air Mobility

 

Will Keegan is the CTO of Lynx Software Technologies.

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is such a hot term and there’s strong interest in AI, with Gartner’s recent study finding 48% of enterprise CIOs have already deployed or plan to deploy AI and machine learning technologies this year. Interest in AI is at odds with AI maturity, however. For some industries (e.g. customer experience with chatbots), the “cost of being right” is enough to see AI experimentation and deployment. But when organizations are managing mission-critical AI applications – where the “cost of being wrong” on an outcome could result in loss of life – AI maturity is a must-have, and accuracy and security are key differences to achieving safety.

Rushing safety engineering processes, building with new technology that regulators are still grappling with, and generating an ROI on an aircraft with historical 30-year production lifecycles, isn’t a model for success. For industries like automotive and aerospace, consumer confidence that systems are safe is a must before this market progresses.

My company has partnered on several level 4 autonomy platforms and we see a common design roadblock when organizations build safety nets to mitigate individual points of failure for critical functions. The preferred choice of achieving redundancy is to replicate functions on independent sets of hardware (usually three sets to implement triple-mode redundancy).

Putting aside size, weight, power and budget issues, replicating functions on singular hardware components can lead to common mode failures – whereby redundant hardware components fail together due to internal design issues. Therefore, safety authorities expect to see redundancy implemented with dissimilar hardware.

The adoption of dynamic architectures is hotly debated in the community dealing with mission-critical applications. Safety systems have typically been built around static methods. The safety system analysis goal is to examine a system’s behavior to ensure all behavior is predictable and will operate safely for its environment.

Static systems easily allow analysis of system behavior, given the functionality and parameters to the system are revealed up front for human and automated static analysis. The concept of letting fundamental system properties change dynamically causes prominent analysis obstacles.

The debate around adoption of dynamic capabilities focuses on the notion that a system can modify its behavior to adapt to unpredictable scenarios during the flight. “Limp home mode” is a capability that gains much from harnessing a dynamic architecture. This is where a major system failure happens (e.g. a bird is caught in a propeller) and other parts of the system intelligently distribute required functions across available resources for sufficient functionality to protect human life.

AI is necessary because without human oversight, computers must decide how to control machines at multiple levels, including mission critical. The permutations of variables that can impact the state of system are plentiful; the use of model-driven system control and hazard analysis is essential to achieve level 5 autonomy safely. However, there are hundreds of nuanced artificial neural networks that all have tradeoffs. In three decades, safety standards can only support the use of a few programming languages (C, C++, Ada) with strong-enough knowledge and give clear usage guidance alongside a mature ecosystem of tool suppliers.

Clearly the wide world of neural networks should be paired down, unpacked and guided according to the objectives and principles casted in DO-178C DAL A and ISO26262 ASIL-D. The FAA publication TC-16/4’ “Verification of Adaptive Systems” discusses the challenges particularly well. However, we still don’t have strong guidelines of use and development process standards for artificial neural networks.

The foundation of advanced safety system analysis in the automotive industry is a massive model that maps passengers’ relationships with the vehicle interfaces and traces the vehicle features into functions that result in software distributed on computer parts. In the future these models would become significantly more complex when working with the dynamics of autonomous platforms. The big questions to already be thinking about for these models are a) what is sufficient and b) what is accurate?

Clearly, we need more certification. How can system validation happen for complex systems without those responsible having knowledge in technical complexities like kernel design and memory controllers, which are crucial to enforce architectural properties? Component level suppliers are generally not involved in system validation, but rather asked to develop products in line with strict documentation, coding and testing processes, and show evidence.

However, valid concerns include whether such evidence can meaningfully demonstrate intended behavior of components are consistent with system integrators’ intentions.

In the automotive industry, aggressive claims were made about the timeline for level 5 autonomous platforms (no driver, no steering wheel, no environmental limitations) to become available. The reality was very different. The avionics industry is, rightly, being more conservative. I like the framework that the European Aviation Safety Agency published last year, which focused on AI applications that provide “assistance to humans.”

Key elements of this relate to building up a “trustworthiness analysis” of the artificial intelligence block based on:

  • Learning assurance; Covering the shift from programming to learning, as the existing development assurance methods are not adapted to cover AL/ML learning processes
  • Explainability; Providing understandable information on how an AI/ML application is coming to its results
  • Safety risk mitigation; Since it is not possible to open the ‘AI black box’ to the extent needed, this provides guidelines as to how safety risk can be addressed to deal with the inherent uncertainty

From this, and from conversations we have held with customers, it seems like pragmatism is the word that describes the industry’s approach. Just like lane departure detection is becoming relatively commonplace in new vehicles, we will first see the use of AI in applications where the human remains in charge. An example would be a vision-based system that aids in-flight refueling procedures. These important but peripheral to main system functionality use cases are great places to increase trust in the technology.

From here, we will see the technical deployment of AI in increasingly more challenging systems with “switch to human operation” overrides. Some analysts have indicated we may never reach the point of fully autonomous vehicles on our streets. I do believe though we will reach the milestone of fully autonomous vehicles in the sky. Believing in the “crawl, walk, run” path the industry is currently on is exactly the right one to make that a reality.

The post OPINION: Why Mission Critical Systems are Needed to Achieve Safety in Urban Air Mobility appeared first on Aviation Today.

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Eurocontrol Explains Why 5G Radio Altimeter Interference is Lower in Europe Than US

Eurocontrol’s latest “Think Paper” concludes that the level of risk of interference presented by 5G C-band wireless networks against radio altimeters operating in European airspace is relatively low. (Photo, courtesy of Michael Kidmose)

The latest edition of Eurocontrol’s “Think Paper” series concludes that the risk of 5G C-band wireless network deployment in Europe having an impact on aircraft radio altimeter (RADALT) performance in European airspace is relatively low, due to a number of key differences between how radio spectrum is managed in the band closest to where radio altimeters operate in Europe.

The June 30 publication of the latest Think Paper by Eurocontrol comes a week after a major update related to radio altimeters featured on some in-service aircraft operated by airlines in the U.S. that will be required to become modified with filters by the end of the year. Some key differences between 5G C-band deployment in the two regions were essential to Eurocontrol’s latest determination on the possibility of interference on flight operations in European airspace.

Specifically, in both regions, radio altimeters operate within the 4.2-4.4 GHz frequency range. However, in the U.S., AT&T and Verizon are deploying wireless network services in a band closer to that range than has been permitted in Europe. In the U.S., the services have been allocated in the 3.7-3.98 GHz range, while in Europe it is 3.4-3.8 GHz.

In the paper, Eurocontrol notes, the European Commission has dedicated the band closest to radio altimeters to “so-called ‘verticals’ (company and factory-internal networks operating at lower power levels).”

“Furthermore, the US permits higher maximum power compared to what is generally implemented in Europe,” Eurocontrol notes in the Think Paper. “Taken together, this has created a real risk of interference in the US that, for now, is not considered to be a problem requiring immediate safety mitigations in Europe.”

The agency does acknowledge the possibility of future risk though, based on demand for the coveted C-band spectrum range from wireless networks in Europe. This is especially a possibility because of the larger scale at which telecommunications services providers operate, with Eurocontrol noting in the Think Paper that the global mobile phone market is “160 times larger than the CNS avionics market in total sales volume.”

Eurocontrol uses this comparison in global spectrum allocation between aviation and the telecommunications industry to show why the size of the telecommunications industry will drive the need for more efficient use of spectrum by aviation users in the near future. “This comparison makes the assumption that without suitable spectrum, aviation passenger and cargo revenues could not take place,” according to Eurocontrol.

 

There is also an urgency expressed by Eurocontrol for the development and use of radio frequency filters that can limit the aircraft altimeter’s exposure to adjacent band energy.

Meanwhile in the U.S., the FAA’s latest statement on its ongoing collaboration with AT&T and Verizon noted that the two wireless companies agreed to continue some levels of voluntary mitigations on their services near airports for another year. The FAA is requiring operators of regional aircraft with radio altimeters that have demonstrated the highest risk of interference to 5G C-band networks to be retrofitted with new filters by the end of 2022.

 

 

The post Eurocontrol Explains Why 5G Radio Altimeter Interference is Lower in Europe Than US appeared first on Aviation Today.

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US Air Force Picks LIFT Airborne Technologies’ Helmet for Fixed Wing Aircraft

The U.S. Air Force has made a final selection for a next generation helmet system stemming from an industry challenge first launched in 2019. Pictured here, is the winner of the competition, the AV2.2 helmet. (Photo, courtesy of Lift Technologies)

The U.S. Air Force has picked California-based LIFT Airborne Technologies‘ AV 2.2 helmet to serve as the Next Generation Fixed Wing helmet.

LIFT Technologies’ offering was competing in the prototype phase against two designs by Michigan-based aircraft helmet heavyweight, GENTEX Corp., and Idaho-based Aviation Specialties Unlimited, which teamed with Tennessee-based Paraclete Aviation Life Support.

The AV 2.2, after testing, is to field first for F-15E pilots, and then for pilots of all other service fixed wing aircraft except for the F-35. An AV 2.2 production contract may come in 2024, the Air Force said.

The AV 2.2 is to replace the 1980s-era HGU-55/P by Gentex. The carbon fiber AV2.2 helmet is to be lighter, cooler, and to provide easy accommodation for helmet mounted cueing systems and night vision goggles. The AV 2.2 also features a jawbone-activated light for pilots to view needed information at night when landing or during other maneuvers.

Any helmet weight savings can significantly reduce physical stress, as 200-pound pilots must withstand 135 pounds of pressure on their necks in high, 9G maneuvers.

The $20 million Next Generation Fixed Wing Helmet prototype effort stemmed from an AFWERX Helmet Challenge in 2019 and was one of the first AFWERX initiatives, per Air Force Materiel Command (AFMC). Overall, the cost of the new helmet program could be $400 million to meet an Air Force Life Cycle Management Center requirement.

Air Combat Command (ACC) wanted “a next-generation helmet to address issues with long-term neck and back injuries, optimize aircraft technology, improve pilot longevity, and provide better fitment to diverse aircrews,” AFMC said in a June 27 statement.

Since the early 1980s when the HGU-55/P debuted, “gains in aircraft technology and the demographic of pilots have changed,” Scott Cota, an aircrew flight equipment program analyst with the ACC plans and requirements branch, said in the AFMC statement. “The legacy helmet was not originally designed to support advances in aircraft helmet-mounted display systems, causing pilots to fly with equipment not optimized for them, especially our female aircrew.”

“The implementation of helmet-mounted devices has added weight and changed the center of gravity, leading to discomfort for operators,” per AFMC. “In addition, a 2020 Air Force anthropometric study identified the need to add a size small helmet that better optimizes the fit for affected female aviators, Cota said.”

 

This article was first published by Defense Daily, a sister publication to Avionics International. 

The post US Air Force Picks LIFT Airborne Technologies’ Helmet for Fixed Wing Aircraft appeared first on Aviation Today.

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Lilium Chooses Astronics to Develop eVTOL Power Distribution System

Astronics Corporation was selected to develop an electrical power distribution system for Lilium’s eVTOL aircraft. (Photo: Lilium)

Lilium has chosen aerospace supplier Astronics Corporation for a collaboration in which Astronics will develop and manufacture an electrical power distribution system for the Lilium Jet. The aircraft is an electric vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) vehicle that has been in development since 2015. Lilium expects their aircraft to enter into service following certification in 2025.

Astronics has previously supplied power and connectivity solutions for Airbus and other commercial aircraft OEMs. The Astronics team will use their expertise in providing technologies for the aerospace and defense industries in overseeing design and development of the Lilium Jet’s secondary power distribution units (SPDUs) as well as the charging power distribution units (CPDUs). The agreement involves more than 12 months of collaboration between Astronics and Lilium.

According to Astronics, their CorePower electrical power distribution systems can offer up to 20 times higher system reliability with electronic circuit breakers. The company also estimates a 40% decrease in total life cycle cost by reducing maintenance and installation costs.

An illustration of electronic circuit breaker units developed by Astronics (Photo, courtesy of Astronics)

Each Lilium Jet will use one CPDU and two SPDUs. SPDUs maintain a reliable supply of power from batteries to the systems integrated into the eVTOL aircraft such as flight controls, sensors, avionics, and navigation systems. The CPDU manages battery charging for the aircraft, and it increases safety by detecting short circuit risks and reporting them, according to Lilium.

The Senior Vice President of Procurement at Lilium, Martin Schuebel, commented that for the Lilium Jet’s electrical power distribution system, Astronics is an ideal partner. “Astronics’ expertise is unique, and their collaborative approach makes them a perfect match for us. The partnership will also help pave the way for the coming industrial ramp-up,” Schuebel said.

Lilium recently announced that it completed its second Design Organization Approval (DOA) audit with the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA). This rigorous process involved demonstrating Lilium’s core principles to EASA, such as data management and configuration control, Alastair McIntosh, the company’s Chief Technical Officer, told Avionics International. The company is simultaneously pursuing certification of the Lilium Jet with the Federal Aviation Administration, and also expects to achieve FAA certification in 2025.

Lilium has also been working in collaboration with Honeywell as development of its eVTOL progresses. Honeywell and DENSO Corporation—who have partnered together since 2019—are developing an electric motor for the Lilium Jet. The e-motor will weigh less than 4 kilograms and provide 100 kilowatts of electric power.

The eVTOL developer kicked off its flight testing program in Spain earlier this year. Lilium’s flight demonstrators, the Phoenix 2 and Phoenix 3, are both performing test flights at the ATLAS Flight Test Center in Spain. The full flight test campaign is ongoing, and the company aims to extend the eVTOL’s flight envelope for operation at high speeds.

Lilium will be exhibiting at the Farnborough International Airshow in July, along with other eVTOL developers such as Hyundai Motor Group’s Supernal, Vertical Aerospace—displaying a full-scale model of the VX4, and Wisk—with the Cora eVTOL on display.

The post Lilium Chooses Astronics to Develop eVTOL Power Distribution System appeared first on Aviation Today.

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Diehl Aviation to Develop Optical Avionics Communications for Volocopter’s Air Taxi

Diehl will develop and produce optical avionics communications for Volocopter’s eVTOL aircraft. Volocopter’s VoloCity model was on display at ILA Berlin 2022 last week. (Copyright: Messe Berlin GmbH)

Volocopter and Diehl Aviation are expanding their existing partnership, according to an announcement from Diehl last week. Volocopter has commissioned Diehl to design and produce an optical splitter to provide control information to the 18 rotors on Volocopter’s aircraft. Diehl will also develop the Data Concentration Unit (DCU) for Volocopter. 

In May 2020, Diehl Aviation and Volocopter signed an agreement for Diehl to develop and produce the flight control computer system for Volocopter’s electric air taxi, the VoloCity. Diehl Aviation supplies aircraft system and cabin solutions, and includes the Diehl Aerospace division—a joint venture with avionics maker Thales. Diehl has already completed development of both the primary and backup flight control computers for the VoloCity. Diehl and Thales were also previously selected to supply flight control computers for another electric vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) aircraft—Airbus’s CityAirbus NextGen.

The extended contract between Volocopter and Diehl includes development of the optical splitter, sub-components for monitoring the batteries on the VoloCity, and the DCU. The optical splitter will translate electrical signals from the flight control computer into optical signals. The DCU then gathers and translates optical signals from the aircraft’s rotors. 

The VoloCity will, essentially, be equipped with a “fly-by-light” control system that uses light signals and optical fibers to transmit information, rather than a conventional fly-by-wire that transmits electrical signals via copper wires. According to the announcement from Diehl, this is advantageous because a fly-by-light system is thought to be immune to electromagnetic interference and therefore can increase safety for Volocopter’s eVTOL.

Florian Maier, CEO of Diehl Aerospace, commented, “We are excited to further expand our partnership with Volocopter, an innovative pioneer in the UAM market, bringing our many years of experience and expertise in flight control systems to the table.”

The flight control unit developed by Thales and Diehl Aerospace (Photo, courtesy of Diehl)

At the ILA Berlin Air Show last week, a mock-up of the VoloCity aircraft was on display for attendees to view. Lucie Prinz, Chief People Officer (CPO) at Volocopter, and Alexander D’Orsogna, Head of Business Development, both offered some updates from the company at the event. “We’re going to launch our first commercial routes in 2024,” stated Prinz, “and we have over 30 cities lined up for commercial launch. We are working with partners in operations, infrastructure, and air traffic management. We want to bring this ecosystem to life—not just one vehicle.”

Volocopter’s team has recorded over 1,500 test flights so far. Though the VoloCity aircraft is intended to be the first fully certified electric air taxi for urban air mobility, the company’s other two models in development are also making progress. “VoloDrone, our heavy lift cargo aircraft, which is mainly going to be used for logistics, debuted in Hamburg last year,” Prinz shared. She added, “The VoloConnect, a fixed-wing longer range aircraft, completed its first test flight just last month.” The VoloConnect, with an expected range of about 60 miles, may enter into service in 2026.

Alexander D’Orsogna described Volocopter’s efforts as building a business model, not just creating a value chain. He also emphasized the importance of sustainability in their strategy to enable urban air mobility, and listed the milestones their team needs to achieve. “Our roadmap to sustainable UAM includes technology; certification; the ecosystem, including working with stakeholders and partners in each city and establishing infrastructure like vertiports and charging stations; and finally a global rollout, starting in 2024 in Paris.”

In addition to launching UAM operations in Paris and Singapore in 2024, Volocopter has selected four other locations for rollout in the near future: Rome, Seoul, NEOM, and China. “There are four important dimensions to be considered when choosing a market to roll out in,” D’Orsogna explained: “partnerships, customer acceptance, technology advancements, and regulations.”

The company remains committed to bringing its air taxi services to Paris in time for the 2024 Olympics. D’Orsogna estimates that they will be operating around 40 aircraft at the Olympics, and roughly 2,000 passengers could fly in Volocopter’s air taxis each day.

The post Diehl Aviation to Develop Optical Avionics Communications for Volocopter’s Air Taxi appeared first on Aviation Today.

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AT&T Transmits 5G Network Via Drone

In April, the UAS division at AT&T successfully transmitted its 5G network via a drone. (Photo: AT&T)

Earlier this month, AT&T announced that their drone operations team has achieved an industry first in transmitting its 5G network via a drone. The test was performed in April in rural Missouri with AT&T’s so-called “Flying COW,” or Cell on Wings. These Flying COWs have been operating since 2017 to provide LTE connectivity over a region, explained Art Pregler, Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) Program Director at AT&T.

“We can put them in the air and provide connectivity for 24 hours a day, for several days without landing, providing connectivity for people over wide areas,” he told Avionics. The company’s UAS division is focused on developing solutions that revolve around connectivity—providing connectivity both to and from drones, Pregler shared. 

AT&T’s team has previously implemented a drone program that uses unmanned aircraft to inspect cell towers in the U.S. And in 2016, AT&T and NASA entered a formal agreement for UAS research that focused on air traffic management solutions. AT&T has also been involved in industry efforts to influence the development of regulations for drone operations. A representative from the company took part in the Federal Aviation Administration’s committee dedicated to making recommendations for regulating drone operations in beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS) contexts. 

“5G has tremendous benefits over LTE,” says Art Pregler, AT&T’s UAS Program Director. “For example, it’s 100 times faster than 4G. Lower latency—10 milliseconds—versus 20 to 30 milliseconds with LTE.” (Photo: AT&T)

AT&T’s upgrade to 5G technology for its Flying COW came with some benefits over LTE. 5G is 100 times faster than 4G, Pregler said, which offers a better experience with upload and download speeds. Latency is also lower—10 milliseconds with 5G, compared to the 20–30 milliseconds that you get with LTE. Pregler also noted that there is a 20% overall increase in performance with 5G versus LTE, and all of these advantages enable new possibilities. “We’re pretty excited about what this opens up for us and what we can provide our customers now with these drones,” he remarked.

Following the successful test flight in April, AT&T’s UAS program is upgrading their fleet to essentially provide this 5G network via drone to customers everywhere. The 5G Flying COW is a tethered solution, Pregler stated. “We have untethered solutions, so we are planning to upgrade that as well so we can provide connectivity from orbiting drones rather than tethered drones, so these can fly long distances and stay up for long periods of time.”

The team is also working on a pseudo-satellite drone solution that would be capable of operating at an altitude of 60,000 feet to provide connectivity. This solution could also remain in operation for months at a time. It is still in development, but the pseudo-satellite vehicle may be ready to launch in a couple of years, Pregler said. Other advancements he expects to be launched in the future are tethered multi-rotor drones and vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) aircraft.

One of AT&T’s clients has requested a customized version of the 5G Flying COW solution. A drone launched over the ocean would provide a private bubble of connectivity between multiple ships. The UAS program will be demonstrating that capability in August. 

Another of AT&T’s drone projects in progress involves testing beyond visual line of sight capabilities with the GEOCAST flight control system. The GEOCAST air operations framework, Pregler explained, was developed in AT&T’s own labs, and there are 45 patents behind it; “it’s a very comprehensive BVLOS system for drones,” he said. It allows remote piloting and collision avoidance in addition to precision landing. With a real-time feed, GEOCAST is also capable of avoiding certain zones and airspaces in addition to particular weather conditions.

A couple of weeks ago, the team flew a Flying COW for beyond-visual-line-of-sight operation in California, with the pilot operating the system from New Jersey. The drone in California was providing connectivity to an autonomous drone which was also flying BVLOS. 

“We’re working with the FAA to get the proper approvals,” Pregler commented. “It’s a pretty challenging environment for any BVLOS operator—and it needs to be, for safety reasons.” In addition to working with the FAA, his team at AT&T is also coordinating with a UAS test site in order to get the necessary approvals. 

Ethan Hunt, AT&T’s UAS Principal Program Manager, shared in the announcement that the team flew the drone at an altitude of about 300 feet, and the 5G coverage extended over roughly 10 square miles. “Drones may use 5G for command and control or to stream video, but the AT&T 5G Flying COW is the only drone that provides a 5G network,” Hunt stated.

The post AT&T Transmits 5G Network Via Drone appeared first on Aviation Today.

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Southwest Airlines Invests in Pilot Project for Development of Sustainable Aviation Fuel

Stacy Malphurs, Vice President of Supply Chain Management & Environmental Sustainability for Southwest Airlines, discussed the airline’s efforts to achieve carbon neutrality during a recent interview with Avionics International.

Southwest Airlines recently invested in a technology development project for commercialization of sustainable aviation fuel. The project is led by SAFFiRE Renewables, a new company that is exploring technology for converting waste biomass into low-cost renewable ethanol. The Department of Energy (DOE) is supporting this project, which has the potential to reduce carbon intensity by 84% in comparison with conventional jet fuel. Southwest has matched the grant from the DOE to support SAFFiRE in converting a waste feedstock called corn stover into ethanol that can then be upgraded into sustainable aviation fuel.

The Vice President of Supply Chain Management & Environmental Sustainability for Southwest Airlines, Stacy Malphurs, discussed Southwest’s efforts to achieve carbon neutrality in an interview with Avionics International. The airline has already started flying with sustainable aviation fuel, or SAF: “We have small amounts of SAF that are flying out of Northern California,” she shared. The SAF is blended with conventional jet fuel for these flights. SAF is molecularly the same as conventional jet fuel, Malphurs explained, and is identical from a performance perspective. “It’s treated very much as a drop-in fuel,” she said. Because of this, Southwest does not track the performance data of individual flights using SAF.

Southwest’s decarbonization efforts include monitoring the ongoing research and development related to hybrid aircraft as well as battery-powered and hydrogen-powered aircraft. However, the passenger capacity on these types of aircraft does not match Southwest’s requirements for mission capability, according to Malphurs. Southwest flies 737s, she said, with about 175 seats. Most electric vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) aircraft or other small hybrid vehicles have very few seats. For the foreseeable future, these low-capacity aircraft would not be able to replace vehicles in the airline’s current fleet. The developments that are happening are certainly exciting, Malphurs remarked. “But that’s really the core reason we think that sustainable aviation fuel is going to be the most important lever we have to decarbonize in the next few decades.”

“We’re really actively engaged in SAF. Our long-term plan is to reach carbon neutrality by 2050. But we felt it was incredibly important to have a nearer-term actionable plan for carbon reduction.” – Vice President of Supply Chain Management & Environmental Sustainability for Southwest Airlines, Stacy Malphurs (Photo: Southwest)

Southwest’s long-term objective is carbon neutrality by the year 2050, and the company has a shorter-term goal of replacing 10% of its fuel consumption with SAF by 2030. “We felt it was incredibly important to have a nearer-term actionable plan for carbon reduction,” Malphurs shared. 

A roadblock to achieving these sustainability goals is the limited amount of SAF currently available. Available SAF amounts to less than a tenth of a percent of the conventional jet fuel that is globally available today. “We’ve all sent the demand signals to the market: we want high-quality, low-carbon, economically viable SAF. And we’re ready to fly it,” said Malphurs. Southwest is “very active in engagement with potential SAF producers, and monitoring progress of projects.” The airline signed memoranda of understanding (MOUs) with Marathon Petroleum Corporation and Phillips 66 last year. Southwest has also entered into a 15-year off-take agreement with Velocys for 219 million gallons of SAF, and is in active partnership with Neste for as much as 5 million gallons of SAF through the end of 2023.

United Airlines has also entered into an agreement with Neste for sustainable aviation fuel. United can purchase more than 50 million gallons of SAF in the next three years, according to last month’s announcement, which will fuel flights out of Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam.

Another part of Southwest’s strategy to reduce carbon emissions is engaging with advocacy work in Washington, D.C., in support of an enhanced blender’s tax credit, enabling further growth and development of the SAF market.

Last September, the White House released a new plan for increasing both production and utilization of SAF in the U.S. This plan included $4.3 billion in investments for research and development, as well as a goal of reducing emissions by 20% and producing 3 billion gallons of SAF annually by 2030. Southwest Airlines was cited by the White House as a member of the aviation sector making commitments to support these goals. Other airlines listed were United, Delta, American, Alaska, and JetBlue.

The post Southwest Airlines Invests in Pilot Project for Development of Sustainable Aviation Fuel appeared first on Aviation Today.

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