Translating an idea or invention into a good or service that creates value for the marketplace is challenging. Keeping up with the pace of change in our industry is also hard as things are constantly in flux. As such, we will continually seek out and find innovations and technologies, large and small, that have the promise to bring not just value, but disruptive change, to our industry.
AMADA WELD TECH announces the CD-V Series of Capacitive Discharge Power Supplies and TL-V Series of weld heads.
Featuring a fully controllable dual pulse output and a full-colour 3.5” user interface, the CD-V Series gives consistent welding output for repeatable process results. Typical applications for the CD-V series include battery tab welding, interconnects, honeycomb tacking, fine wire to pad processes, jewellery repair and others.
Some key features of the CD-V series include built-in peak current indication for immediate weld fire confirmation, pulse shaping with adjustable upslope to reduce expulsion during welds, an ultra-fast rise time for conductive material welding, and the ability to go rapid fire between pulses for quick welding of adjacent locations. In addition, the CD-V series makes handling a variety of weld schedules easy, as it is able to store up to 8 schedules at one time, giving the operator the ability to easily change between weld schedules. Other ease-of-use features include a weld counter, programmable squeeze time, and a push button rotary encoder for intuitive operation.
The CD-V series is built in the USA and works with the following AMYA weld heads: Manual Cable Driven – Models TL-V80F-E2-0A, TL-V88F-E2-0A; Standard Air Solenoid Driven – Models TL-V80A-E2-0A, TL-V88A-E2-0A
The TL-V weld heads are designed to complement the new power supplies. There are four variants with air actuated and manual actuated motion. The heads are designed for robust usage and come standard with a robust stand and electrodes.
The nations able to perfect a holistic approach to technological deterrents will make themselves the hardest targets for enemies to strike, according to a new report released by QinetiQ. Superior technologies, deployable with powerful and immediate effect, and exploiting them to their fullest potential is critical for gaining future competitive advantage.
Owning the most advanced technology is not enough to secure a competitive advantage in today’s geopolitical environment. To seize the technological advantage, the way in which the technology is used is just as important as what it does. Effective exploitation of technology is a powerful deterrent in its own right. QinetiQ’s new report, released at DSEI 2021, provides recommendations on how nations can exploit technology more effectively to make themselves the hardest target for adversaries to strike; being superior to the adversary in understanding the threat environment, being more innovative in the application of technology and acting and reacting faster.
The report will address the challenges and look at technologies and other factors that will transform defense over the next decade and beyond to 2040. Download a copy at www.qinetiq.com/insights.
Under the multi-year contract, FE-SIL, located in Bangalore, India, will deliver the required wiring systems for the aft fuselage of the advanced jet that will train the next generation of fighter and bomber pilots. This contract will strengthen FE-SIL’s relationship with Saab and Boeing, supporting them with affordable, global solutions.
The first EWIS ship-set is scheduled for delivery in 2022 from FE-SIL’s Center of Excellence for Aircraft Harnesses in Bangalore.
SASMOS CMD Mr. H G Chandrasekhar said: “We are proud and delighted that Saab has shown confidence in FE-SIL’s capability. We are excited to play a critical role in this program and to be the long-term partner for the world’s latest technology aircraft.”
“We are very proud of the expansion of our business relationship with Saab,” Michiel van der Maat, vice president of GKN Aerospace Defense, said. “Thanks to the FE-SIL team’s continued commitment to quality, on-time delivery and customer focus, we have now been selected for the EWIS aft-section wiring on this exciting new Boeing-Saab platform.”
W. L. Gore & Associates (Gore) announced the expansion of its Coaxial Cables line for defense land system applications. The new product is smaller and lighter than previous offerings, yet capable of transmitting ultra-high-definition (UHD) 4K video with excellent shielding from radio frequency interference.
The cable meets a variety of internationally recognized civil and military specifications, including the latest Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers (SMPTE) 12G-SDI standard. Published in March 2015, 12G-SDI defines a 12 gigabit per second transmission of uncompressed, latency-free UHD 4K video at 60 frames per second on a single wire. Gore is committed to delivering this performance at operating temperatures ranging from -55 to 200 degrees Celsius.
“Military vehicles today include multiple sensors that generate critical video during missions,” said Andrea Menconi, product manager for land systems. “GORE Coaxial Cables can transmit this UHD video reliably and securely, even in the harshest environments.”
Designed for use with remote-controlled turret cameras, local situation awareness, and other video-generating sensor systems, GORE Coaxial Cables are engineered with a specialized fluoropolymer insulation. This provides superior resistance to weather, abrasion and other hazards associated with extreme weather, rough usage and confined routing space.
“Vehicle and system engineers no longer need to compromise,” Menconi added. “Our Coaxial Cables are smaller, lighter and more flexible, while also providing unequalled video resolution performances, high durability and standards compliance to reduce long-term operating costs.”
Archer Aviation, a developer of all-electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) aircraft has been engaged with the FAA through its Center for Emerging Concepts & Innovation and the Los Angeles Aircraft Certification Office to develop the airworthiness and environmental requirements necessary for full certification of its eVTOL aircraft. Archer announced that the FAA G-1 Issue Paper: Certification Basis (G-1 Certification Basis) has been approved and signed, enabling Archer to move further down the runway towards its goal of obtaining an FAA Type Certification for its eVTOL aircraft.
The G-1 Certification Basis is based on the FAA’s certification standards contained in 14 C.F.R. Part 23. With Part 23 as the foundation, the G-1 Certification Basis sets forth the specific Airworthiness Standards and Environmental Standards required for FAA Type Certification. With these requirements now established, Archer says it can focus on finalizing its G-2 Issue Paper with the FAA, which will set forth the means of compliance to meet the requirements set forth in the G-1 Issue Paper. Archer has been working on the means of compliance for the G-2 Issue Paper with the FAA since earlier this year, as well as the necessary testing and methods required to demonstrate safety and compliance of our aircraft.
Archer says since its inception it has focused on ensuring that its design, engineering and business decisions align with what it believes is necessary to design and develop an aircraft that meets the FAA’s rigorous safety standards and achieve FAA Type Certification as soon as possible. Archer says the milestone if the result of a collaborative relationship the company has established with the FAA, led by Eric Wright, Archer’s head of Certification.
“We’re certainly proud to have hit this historic milestone for Archer. Obtaining the G-1 Certification Basis is a significant step forward towards Archer’s and the eVTOL industry’s goal of changing how people will move around urban environments,” said Wright. “This is an exciting time to be a part of the aviation industry as we work to electrify the skies, and we look forward to continuing to partner with the FAA on revolutionizing aircraft transportation.”
“The G-1 certification basis with the FAA is a pivotal breakthrough and yet another proof point that Archer is at the forefront of revolutionizing the future of urban transportation,” said Scott Kirby, CEO of United Airlines. “We are excited to continue to collaborate with Archer to usher in a new era of sustainability, mobility, and exploration.”
“Certification continues to be the shining light at the end of our design and development tunnel,” said Brett Adcock, co-founder and co-CEO of Archer. “While there is still significant work ahead of us, we now have a basis agreed upon with the FAA that will allow us to better focus our efforts on our goal of obtaining certification on an efficient timeline.”
“Our team is pragmatic and realistic about the steps towards launching our urban air mobility network. The aircraft is just one part of the business Archer is building, and we will never lose sight of that final goal,” said Adam Goldstein, co-founder and co-CEO of Archer. “We use accomplishments like the G-1 certification basis to measure our success based on the broader picture of an established urban air mobility network and wide technology adoption. The future is certainly looking bright!”
QinetiQ announced the appointment of George McGuire, CSC, to the role of general manager Business Development. The role took effect on 23 August 2021.
McGuire’s appointment comes as a result of a strategic restructuring of QinetiQ’s Australian business, as it positions to continue its strong growth journey of the past five years.
“George is ideally placed to lead our Business Development team through our next growth phase, due to his 28 years of frontline experience with the Royal Australian Navy, including two warship sea commands. George’s deep understanding of the modern threat landscape provides our customers with a tactical advantage when it comes to assuring mission-critical capabilities,” said QinetiQ Australia’s managing director, Greg Barsby.
The strategic appointment and restructuring come at a time of increasing geopolitical instability, with QinetiQ moving to establish a more agile, nimble approach to responding to real Defence needs whilst ensuring growth is sustainable.
“After leading our Operations & Delivery team for the past six years, I believe I can bring that same customer focus and informed understanding of their needs to this new role. We are committed to supporting the Commonwealth with robust, Australian-led industrial capability, delivered by people with a deep, real understanding of the challenges facing the ADF,” said QinetiQ Australia’s General Manager Business Development, George McGuire.
“Crucially, as a global leader in Test & Evaluation, we’re further investing to grow and enhance this essential sovereign capability across digital and live environments in all warfare domains in Australia. Our operational T&E solutions provide the ADF with the capability knowledge they depend on to make better informed decisions.”
QinetiQ’s restructure establishes two delivery teams: one focused on our advisory services, the other on our growing engineering and technical services. This is further complemented by the rapidly growing opportunities in Robotics & Autonomous Systems and Power & Energy solutions.
FuVeX, a developer of long-range industrial drones, has selected SKYTRAC to provide Iridium Certus connectivity services via the DLS-100 to enable global Command and Control (C2) capabilities for their Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV).
Ensuring connectivity with UAVs while operating Beyond Visual Line of Sight (BVLOS) has proven to be challenging as the traditional options such as line-of-sight radio connections or cellular networks are limited by coverage and range. By utilizing the Iridium satellite network, SKYTRAC’s UAV Data Link System (DLS-100) will provide FuVeX pilots with global connectivity to the UAV regardless of the aircraft’s distance from the Ground Control Station (GCS). Iridium’s new Certus services provide a low- latency IP connection so that pilots can send commands to the aircraft while simultaneously receiving flight telemetry back at the GCS.
FuVeX is partnered with Naturgy to become one of the first UAV operators to conduct Beyond Visual Line of Sight (BVLOS) flight operations for power line inspections – a safer, more efficient, and sustainable alternative to traditional means. As an early adopter of Certus services, FuVeX continues to lead the industry in Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) development by utilizing the latest technology to ensure safe and efficient BVLOS flight operations.
“SKYTRAC’s Certus services provide our UAVs with the critical Command and Control capabilities that we need to pioneer a safer, more efficient and sustainable alternative to conduct power line inspections,” says Carlos Matilla-Codesal, CEO of FuVeX. “We are excited to collaborate with SKYTRAC to enable long range drones safely flying to perform critical operations for society.”
“We are excited to work with FuVeX on enabling Certus connectivity services of their unmanned platforms. Their innovative aircraft design and unmatched BVLOS capabilities have positioned themselves as an industry leader in UAS power line inspection,” Jeff Sherwood, director of Business Development at SKYTRAC adds.
A significant step towards the commercialization of drone delivery has been taken as the Tel Aviv-Jaffa Municipality opened a route along its shores for a pilot scheme made possible by Airwayz, SkylinX and FlytechIL. As part of the pilot program, Nespresso will deliver coffee capsules to a targeted group of customers along the route, paving the way for the future of efficient and sustainable last mile subscription delivery.
“The consumer experience is king at Nespresso,” states Shai Dinur, director of Customer Care and Services at Nespresso Israel. “I believe drone delivery could really transform the ordering process and our responsiveness, reducing delivery times and really going the extra mile for consumers who love exceptional coffee.”
Promoting solutions for a smart city, the pilot program views drone delivery as a solution to reduce traffic and decrease the carbon footprint of delivery in Tel Aviv, whilst enhancing the consumer experience. The pilot will evaluate drone delivery in an urban environment in terms of safety, noise and privacy considerations and other challenges relating to flying drones in populated areas.
Tel Aviv Mayor, Ron Huldai, welcomes the move, stating: “The future is already here. We are beginning a pilot in Tel Aviv-Jaffa that will test, in a measured and correct way, the ability to use drones commercially in an urban space. We do that in a controlled manner to assess capabilities, but also to find the right balance for free and open urban air routes.”
The route for drone flights runs along the coastline in of Tel Aviv-Jaffa, creating a direct connection between the Reading area in the north and Jaffa Port in the south. Moving over urban areas, popular beaches and a busy port, the pilot scheme provides a suitably challenging route to demonstrate the commercial viability of drone delivery.
Using AI (Artificial Intelligence), Airwayz UTM (Unmanned Traffic Management) provides a pivotal role in the program, managing multiple fleets of drones from different operators in the airspace at the same time. Drones and other low-flying aircraft are kept safe from collision and the process is optimized to allow drone operators to maximize capacity of the airspace, making deliveries as fast as possible without overcrowding the airspace.
“This pilot program is another crucial step forward in showing that drone delivery not only works, but has huge benefits in easing our overcrowded roads, contributing to sustainable last mile delivery and meeting the superfast demands of today’s consumer,” adds Airwayz CEO, Eyal Zor, “We will also show it to be cost-effective to prove the commercial benefit, but principally, it will be done safely.”
The pilot also sees Airwayz working in partnership with SkylinX, developer and operator of the drone take-off and landing sites, and FlytechIL, piloting the drones. In addition, Flying Cargo, a leading logistics company will be making deliveries, and GettDelivery, a global transport company, will be helping connect the new service to end customers.
Eden Attias, SkylinX chairman, commented: “Transporting packages with drones will not only decrease traffic, shorten delivery times, save time and fuel and improve customer service, but it will also decrease pollution while being much cheaper. In the not-to-distant future, the field of deliveries will become robotic and the entire process will be without human intervention. We are happy to be one of the companies leading the revolution in Israeli and global markets.”
Hermeus, an aerospace company developing a Mach 5 aircraft, announced they have signed a $60 million U.S. Air Force partnership for flight testing its first aircraft, Quarterhorse. Quarterhorse will validate the company’s proprietary turbine-based combined cycle (TBCC) engine, based around the GE J85 turbojet engine, and is the first in a line of autonomous high-speed aircraft. By the end of the flight test campaign, the company predicts that “Quarterhorse will be the fastest reusable aircraft in the world and the first of its kind to fly a TBCC engine.”
The award was made under the AFWERX Strategic Funding Increase (STRATFI) program led by the Presidential and Executive Airlift Directorate (PE) as a follow-on to a Phase II SBIR contract. The collaboration also includes support from the Air Force Research (AFRL).
“Small business partnership is recognized by the U.S. Air Force as an important component to driving innovation. Reducing risk in high speed transport technologies, as we are doing with this contract, provides near-term and long-term benefits to both the U.S. Air Force and the defense industrial base.” said Lt. Col. Joshua Burger, the Vector Initiative program manager who is spearheading the effort. “We are very excited to see Hermeus translate their demonstrated successes in engine prototyping into flight systems.”
Hermeus says they are taking a different approach than traditional high-speed flight test programs. Hermeus will be “leveraging autonomous and reusable systems, ruthlessly focused requirements, and a hardware-rich program.” The company says these three strategies allow the team to “push the envelope, sometimes strategically to the point of failure in flight test, which accelerates learning while simultaneously improving the safety of flight test crew and the public.” Pushing more risk to flight will allow Hermeus to move through the engineering lifecycle quickly, reducing programmatic costs, they say. When exploring beyond the speeds that airbreathing aircraft have flown before, learning must come through testing in the real world.
The technology set Hermeus has chosen positions the company firmly in the dual-use space for hypersonic technology, i.e. technologies normally used for civilian purposes but which may have military applications. “While this partnership with the U.S. Air Force underscores U.S. Department of Defense interest in hypersonic aircraft, when paired with Hermeus’ partnership with NASA announced in February 2021, it is clear that there are both commercial and defense applications for what we’re building,” said Hermeus CEO and co-founder, AJ Piplica.
Five years in the making, the VA-X4 electric Vertical Take-Off and Landing (eVTOL) aircraft looks set to radically change the way advanced innovative aircraft are designed, developed and integrated into complex urban airspace.
Vertical Aerospace, the UK-headquartered engineering business behind the VA-X4, says its mission is to make air travel personal, on-demand and carbon-free through designing, manufacturing, selling and servicing an aircraft that will travel at speeds of over 200mph, be near silent when in flight, produce zero emissions and deliver all this at an enviable low cost per passenger mile.
The VA-X4 is a one-pilot, four passenger winged vehicle which represents the culmination of multiple design iterations. Eight highly efficient lift rotors will minimize power and noise in hover, and a limited wingspan will allow it to operate in heliports to ensure a fast and efficient cruise with a range of around 100 miles. Further, through careful design and modelling, Vertical says it is confident that the X-4 will be capable of flying a 25-mile journey at an operating cost of just over one hundred dollars meaning a cost of one dollar per passenger mile. And for key shorter missions such as linking airports to city centres, the X4’s anticipated vehicle efficiency will allow it to rapidly charge in under ten minutes.
And all this within a 2024-2025 timeframe. While this may strike even a seasoned industry veteran as ambitious, Vertical President Michael Cervenka, who, in a 20-year career with Rolls-Royce culminating in his heading the UK engine maker’s future technologies division, says the speed with which the X4 will be industrialized is very much down to assembling a dream industrial team, both within Vertical and without, through leveraging the excellence within its strategic industrial partners.
A Stellar Roll-Call
Indeed, Vertical has established an executive team with over 1,200 combined years of experience, one which has certified and supported over 30 different civil and military aircraft and propulsion systems. The industry roll-call features Eric Samson, former VP engineering and chief engineer at General Dynamics, Tim Williams, former chief engineer of Rolls-Royce, Madhu Bhabuta, former chief technology officer of the UK’s Ministry of Defence, Dr. Limhi Somerville, former technical manager at Jaguar Land Rover heading battery systems, Paul Harper, former UK chief airworthiness engineer at Airbus, and Eduardo Dominguez, former CEO of Airbus’ Urban Mobility.
This world-class team with its in-house focus on high value-add design and proprietary technology will combine what it brings to the table with a strategic ecosystem of top-tier partners, each of whom is itself adept at testing, building and certifying some of the world’s most advanced aircraft. The R&D expertise — not to mention commercial and manufacturing acumen — residing in industry partners such as Rolls-Royce, Honeywell, GKN and Solvay will allow Vertical to create a consummately asset-light business model with appealing unit economics.
Most importantly such strategic partnerships will accelerate Vertical’s path to certification, de-risk execution, allow for a lean cost structure, and will enable production at scale. Here, Cervenka says Vertical views certification as the greatest challenge particularly in the field of flight controls although this is significantly offset by those top tier aerospace companies working alongside the business. “Obviously, they are giving us a lot more in-kind support as they are paying for significant aspects of the certification programme and in the case of Rolls-Royce and Honeywell, they are investing directly in the business.”
Supported by such deep industrial expertise, Vertical is aiming for the VA-X4 to be certified to the most stringent European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) large commercial aircraft standards and it is this level of safety assurance, Vertical says, that will help unlock an urban air mobility market of US$1 trillion by 2040 and one which could potentially grow to US$4.4 trillion by 2040.
Meeting Potential Demand
Vertical is developing the traditional airframer integration model beyond what is done today against a future landscape that will be characterized by huge demand in the eVTOL space meeting an inevitable constraint on supply. “The opportunity for us as one of the few credible players capable of certifying a vehicle within the 2024-2025 timeframe is how to meet that demand and leverage that early mover advantage,” Cervenka says. “From both a capital and industrial perspective it makes much more sense to leverage suppliers to do the bulk of the component and subsystem manufacturing and assembly,” he says, adding, “the idea is that all the suppliers do the subsystem assembly and pretesting so when we come to final assembly we will only have the fitting out of the fuselage and to bring in the cabin and cockpit system.”
The one area in which Vertical is very deliberately vertically integrated is on the X4 battery system which from a strategic point of view, is critical both in terms of the performance of the vehicle as any improvement here drives payload and range up and also in terms of keeping the commercial cost down. “We have some leading expertise,” says Cervenka, “and have hired some brilliant people headed by Limhi Somerville who is chairing the European working group that is defining the regulations for batteries so we have a real headstart in helping shape future regulation and that knowledge is a real differentiator for our business.”
For Cervenka, a key strategic investing partner is Microsoft through its M12 venture capital fund, which will play a crucial role in delivering such a very complex vehicle with its radically different physics that have to be comprehensively modelled and simulated. “We are entering a really exciting space because we’re seeing the biggest disruption in aviation since the Jet Age and the rate of technology progress is much faster than aviation has been used to,” he explains. “Aviation has become really expert at delivering small incremental improvements rather than big changes that are happening on a more rapid time scale and at least at an airframe level, it’s not the incumbents like Boeing etc that are well equipped to deal with that and we think the sweet spot is that combination of being an agile, focussed startup that is digitally native.”
Collaboration in the Cloud
“For me, Microsoft is the strategic partner here. Microsoft’s expertise in high performance computing and simulation will be a key enabler in reducing our costs and time to market in embracing new technologies. We are already using high performance computing based on Microsoft’s Zero Cloud system and they are also using us as a pathfinder in helping deploy their capabilities in other engineering organizations.”
“The other area in which we are collaborating is a bespoke cloud architecture. Digital aircraft inherently create a lot of data but then we get into a whole wider ecosystem of everything from airspace management through to wider B2B, B2C services. We have some of the best architects within Microsoft helping us build an architecture to really give us an incredible open system, leveraging all those future data opportunities right across the whole operational ecosystem.”
Leveraging the deep expertise of industrial partners, Vertical confidently forecasts that it will break even with annual sales of less than 100 aircraft — calculated as the number of aircraft sales required to reach positive net income and cash flow in 2024. Here Vertical’s confidence is based on keeping its business agile and lean through being uniquely capital- and asset-lite. “Our competitors are raising in some cases billions in investment, while we have much more of a capital-lite business model both in terms of sharing the cost of certification with partners who have spent huge amounts developing technologies and the fact that they too are investing in the business,” says Cervenka.
“One competitor is essentially going to retain ownership of its vehicle but we think the market is plenty big enough so that we don’t need to capture every part of the value chain. We will therefore be predominantly an OEM and aftermarket business so the amount we need to spend to certify and industrialize our product is lower than our competitors.”
Another consideration is the fact is that eVTOL will be a supply-constrained market unlike the current duopoly of Airbus and Boeing where there is real commercial pressure to drive down margins. “In this world,” says Cervenka, “the cost of the aircraft is a very small part of the operating cost even on the basis of a ten-year lifecycle. That creates a dynamic where there is elasticity in pricing and the potential for us to be really profitable and to create an early return. That clearly gives us options in terms of developing future variants, hybrid variants and bigger vehicles.”
Airlines Take Notice
That confidence was no doubt buoyed by the announcement this summer that commercial partnerships and individual conditional pre-orders had been secured with American Airlines, Virgin Atlantic and lessor Avolon for up to 1,000 aircraft in total, providing a direct route to market and an opportunity to work collaboratively on key go-to-market workstreams.
American has agreed to pre-order, subject to certain conditions, up to 250 aircraft, with an option to order an additional 100 aircraft, Avolon has agreed to pre-order up to 310 aircraft with an option for a further 190, and Virgin Atlantic has an option to purchase between 50 and 150 aircraft. In addition, each customer has pledged to work towards the prompt certification and deployment of aircraft in commercial operations.
A detailed look at each individual airline vision on eVTOL is intriguing: American Airlines will work on passenger operations and infrastructure development while Virgin Atlantic will work with Vertical to explore the joint venture, Virgin Atlantic-branded short haul eVTOL network, which features not only operations but also infrastructure development.
“The world is moving more and more to cities with the mega trend towards urbanisation and ground infrastructure already can’t keep up. And while eVTOL is not the magic bullet that solves all that clearly there’s a huge pent-up demand and it represents a big enabler,” says Vertical’s president. “Our personal view is that intercity, flying point to point, will be the biggest market but it will take time and that is driven in many places by a need for more infrastructure, more advanced ATM systems to allow these aircraft to fly at low altitudes over public places – and also by public acceptance.” Cervenka says he believes that nearer term, the big strategic market will be airport-city centre operations. “That is a real high value market because we are talking 15-25-mile journeys but with a big time saving and therefore the dollar-per-mile you can charge is quite flexible.”
This is where American and Avolon come in. American is the largest airline in the world with a huge operations network globally. As a strategic partner, it is exploring with Vertical areas such as pilot training, US route options and infrastructure provision. Avolon, meanwhile, as the second largest leasing company in the world was swift to recognize the opportunities afforded by eVTOL and saw in Vertical the right fit in terms of potential partner. “Apart from the big order,” Cervenka says, “they give us access to nearly 150 airlines at C-suite level, they have a massive presence across the aerospace ecosystem so everything from Tier 1 and Tier 2 suppliers down to the ATM community. They bring that whole capability as well as having a very well-connected upfront sales force so I think there is an exciting space around what the future business model could be.”
X4 has an obvious appeal for airlines wanting to develop an airport-city centre journey proposition leveraging their brand and customer base expertise as Cervenka points out: “There is a compelling upsell opportunity so if you’re flying into JFK or Heathrow you can suddenly drive a much better journey proposition if you can connect that through an eVTOL. Inevitably, it’s going to start as a first-class market which will then work down.”
Virgin Atlantic‘s ambition to develop an ultra-short haul eVTOL airline looks to have merit as Europe offers significant potential here due to the continent’s population density: 230 cities within 100 miles of a population of 300,000 people — that compares with only 60 cities in the US — with many of those cities currently poorly connected. “Here,” Cervenka says, “we’ll do it very much as a partnership to create a ridesharing business — we provide the aircraft into that business although we will not own the aircraft. This is really compelling because of the cost of ground infrastructure as opposed to setting up ground to ground services with the flexibility that you will obviously need.”
Next Stop — Wall Street
Next steps for Vertical Aerospace will be to list on the New York Stock Exchange in the second half of this year. This intention was announced in June when the business entered into a definitive merger agreement with Broadstone Acquisition Corporation to enable Vertical to become a publicly traded company, with a pro forma $2.2 billion equity. At the same time, Vertical announced investments from American Airlines, Avolon, Honeywell and Rolls-Royce, through a private investment in public equity (PIPE), confirming their status as Vertical’s strategic partners with Microsoft’s M12, 40 North and Rocket Internet SE also investing in the business.
Following that will be a decision on the location of the initial final assembly plant which will be in the United Kingdom where the business can access a skilled workforce and discussions are ongoing with the nation’s authorities over tapping potential support and securing the necessary planning approvals. Cervenka says he sees future opportunities in Asia and the Middle East in the latter part of this decade to site a follow-on assembly facility. The US is another potential assembly location although with only 20 per cent of the forecast market, he believes the centre of gravity will be in Europe and Asia.
In terms of the impact of the global pandemic, Cervenka says Vertical is in the fortunate position of being pre-revenue although the business may well draw advantage in terms of the spare industrial capacity into which it can tap so it does not have to build that capacity itself. “Also, he points out, “the emerging focus on sustainability means that the reality is that there will not be another widebody produced this decade. The X4 has some very advanced technology that any developer of the next generation narrow and wide body aircraft is going to need in order to improve sustainability and efficiency. We can offer a technology route to that market by proving out those technologies on the X4 that will be strategically relevant to their core business.”
In June, Vertical admitted that it had deliberately developed a manned eVTOL in order to achieve the fastest route to certification and Cervenka here explains that that decision was equally down to the issue of public acceptance. While there remains no regulatory framework to allow an autonomous vehicle of the size and weight of the X4, the Vertical president believes that it will be a long time before regulators and the public are accepting of that.
“There is a journey to autonomy however,” he says, “with a starting point where there is a pilot on board but whose workload is dramatically reduced. Honeywell’s flight controls and avionics will massively simplify the job of flying the X4 and all the other activities a pilot has to do in a Part 135 world, reducing that workload by 80 per cent — and that’s a really good starting point for autonomy.”
“My view is that we’ll get to the point where more and more will be automated and the pilot will be there only for the emergency or the unexpected situation. Over the next decade, we will increasingly see vehicles fly with autonomous capabilities but with a pilot and that will be necessary to prove to the regulators and the public that we can build up a whole history of experience where the autonomous systems made the right decisions. Over time, I think we’ll get to the point of remotely operated vehicles where the intervention is carried out outside the vehicle — cargo over uninhabited areas first then gradually passenger-carrying operations and then over built-up areas before full autonomy. I do believe it will come — not his decade though — and most probably using different types of aircraft. And the X4 will be the perfect proving ground for that.”