On the 12th and 13th October 2021, we attended the first AIRTAXI World Congress, which was entirely dedicated to air taxis and Urban Air Mobility (UAM)! This included a showcase of electric vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) vehicles, as well as the implications and challenges that are faced by this emerging industry.
Alongside the informative and exciting presentations and exhibition, the event provided attendees with a great networking opportunity. We were extremely pleased to meet and reunite with incredible people from the UAM ecosystem, including representatives from EHang, Airspeeder, Groupe ADP, eVTOL Insights, Swanson Aviation, Vertical Aerospace, and many more!
AIRTAXI World Congress brought together some of the leading individuals and organisations shaping the air mobility ecosystem. Day 1 reviewed industry progress to date; UAM challenges and opportunities; and the steps that need to be taken to enable the industry’s global success.
The State of The Industry
The congress started with Ian Kiely, CEO of Drone Consultants Ireland, providing an overview of the drones and UAM landscape. He discussed the use of 4G and 5G, eVTOL connectivity and the satellite capabilities to support aircraft operations. The issue of mapping the surroundings was also covered. Kiely spoke about the need for the aerial mobility ecosystem to closely work with a number of other stakeholders, including the construction industry, to ensure access to the most up-to-date information about the built environment (e.g., in case a crane pops up overnight on the usual UAM route).
Later that day, a panel discussion on the topic of 'UAM: Hype v Reality: What is the status quo' took place. This covered a range of companies currently involved in UAM, and how a systems approach needs to be adopted, although we are still gazing into the crystal ball to predict where we will be in the next decade.
“Stop dreaming and start making… We talk about industry creation, product creation, market creation. We can talk a lot about what can happen in the future and when that is going to come - that’s one approach. The other approach is to think - what do we have to do to make this happen?” - Eduardo Dominguez Puerta, CCO at Vertical Aerospace
“This [UAM] is not a way of alleviating a ground transportation demand. This is a way of creating and solving new use cases that are completely insoluble right now. Yes, there might be some replacement of busses or some replacement of trains, but they are entirely different transportation mechanisms. They [mass public transport] deliver very large numbers of people between faraway points. This [UAM] can be about delivering small numbers of people, and opening up different ways of people considering the future mobility as a service (MaaS) ecosystem. A wholly different way to travel” - Nikhil Sachdeva, Lead for Sustainable Aviation at Roland Berger
Air Traffic Management: Challenges & Opportunities
The 'UAM Challenges and Solutions' session looked into air traffic management, ways our airspace is currently used by general aviation, and what we might expect to see in the future. Andrew Sage, Director of Safety Transformation at NATS, spoke about airspace segregation and setting up dedicated corridors as ways that will not meet the needs of air mobility nor help make the industry sustainable long-term. Moreover, according to Sage, Unmanned Aerial Systems Traffic Management (UTM) is an evolution of our current delivery of traffic management services, and how we manage today's airspace. During the presentation, he also touched upon the key elements of co-creating a sustainable air mobility ecosystem (Figure 1).
“The aim of UTM is to provide a single point of truth”, Phil Binks, Head of ATM at Altitude Angel, agreed that it is important to unify and not segregate the airspace. With this technology, we can finally bring all the various aircraft and data sensors together to get a complete picture of what is going on in the sky. With the capabilities of UTM, currently under development, we are looking at obtaining a safe and scalable solution. A key to future air traffic management that has the potential, which with traditional air traffic control methods, are simply limited.
Figure 1: Andrew Sage, NATS - The key to co-creating a sustainable ecosystem: 1. The real learning will only begin when you start flying. 2. Co-operation with other users and communities is key. 3. Airspace segregation will not meet the evolving needs of UAM. 4. Trade-off between aircraft investment and airspace complexity. 5. As demand grows, so must the transition towards automation. The ecosystem of aircraft/vertiport/airspace must be developed in combination to maintain safety and develop sustainable revenues.
What Needs Doing
A number of suggestions were made during the day on how the industry can progress further and ways in which each group of stakeholders can contribute.
The panel focusing on 'eVTOL Manufacturers: current vehicles' status' featured representatives from Vertical Aerospace, Eve Air Mobility and NATS.
“When you are building planes, and you are transporting souls, failing fast is not what you want to do - what you want to do is progress safely”- Eduardo Dominguez Puerta, CCO at Vertical Aerospace
Panellists discussed social acceptance, and how the public will “accept what they can enjoy”. In other words, if aerial mobility is built only for the rich people, the noise and visual pollution will be further disfavoured and criticised, preventing mass-scale adoption.
During the investor interview session, the issue around education and the global community’s understanding of aerial mobility was extensively covered. It is imperative to ensure that individuals receive honest, timely and digestible updates on the industry status as well as what UAM “really is versus what it could be in the future”.
“We believe that this evolution will impact our lives in a variety of different ways, and it will be quite profound, actually” - Michael Spellacy, CEO at Atlas Crest Investment Corporation
At the end of the discussion, the audience was challenged to take a stance. Take a stance on not just what is happening currently, but on “how would you want to participate, shape and engage in UAM to actually push it forward”…
Flight Crowd invites our community to actively engage with the future flight ecosystem. You can do this by expressing your opinions, or by asking questions and taking part in events, and activities designed for the global public by our team.
We invite you to make your mark and own this future that the aerial mobility industry is currently building for the greater good of individuals worldwide.
We thoroughly enjoyed our time at the Congress and thank the organisers for inviting Flight Crowd to join the event.
Stay tuned to read our digest of the AIRTAXI World Congress — Day 2!