Collaboration Between ‘Old’ and ‘New’ is key to UAM Success
by David Donald July 23rd 2020 AINonline
While start-up companies enjoy an advantage in developing the disruptive technologies driving the urban air mobility (UAM) revolution, there is still a crucial role to play for the incumbent aerospace industry giants, according to panelists speaking during an FIA Connect session on Thursday.
With a forecast requirement for about 200,000 vehicles over the next 20 years, and with most of them being eVTOL aircraft, the incumbents certainly have an interest in the UAM marketplace. While their relative inertia to innovate internal processes might give start-ups the edge in terms of rapidly prototyping and maturing technological innovations, those companies typically do not have the internal expertise to oversee regulatory compliance for either the air vehicles or their manufacture. That’s where companies such as Airbus, Boeing, and Embraer play a major role.
As a result, many have been making significant investments themselves in start-ups that are tackling some of the key technological issues, such as sense-and-avoid and traffic management systems, as well as the electric air vehicles themselves. Battery technology remains one of the limiting factors to the performance and financial viability of the UAM sector, and investments have come from Boeing and others in this area.
“You have to have that collaboration with that fast, disruptive thinking not bounded by pre-conceived notions that might exist in a 104-year old company,” said Brian Schettler, senior managing director with Boeing HorizonX. “But how do you bring and accelerate development when you get to the tough things of certification, regulation, and even manufacturing? It’s bringing the best of both worlds together.”
Gary Cutts, director of the UK government-backed Future Flight Challenge project, also noted that while start-ups drive the sector, they need to form consortia to present more rounded cases that encompassed the entire “ecosystem” surrounding UAM. That includes the involvement of regulators, operators, and local city governments, as well as an embrace of airspace, communications, and infrastructure requirements.