eVTOL is Almost Here: What About Pilot Training?

12 May 2022

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SMG Consulting / Marc Philipp Veenendaal.
  • Evangelists and skeptics abound; more questions than answers at the moment

Aside from aircraft certification, perhaps the most critical component of the complex new electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) market is pilot training. And despite OEM advocacy for automation, training may not yield as simple a solution as they might hope. The industry is throwing numerous working groups at the training challenge, but the FAA has just injected turbulence into the process, signalling a change of schemes.

CAT Magazine, the world’s premier publication focused on civil aviation training, is devoting increasing coverage of the eVTOL market – the OEMs, partners and suppliers, regulators, air traffic management, infrastructure, insurance, investment, airlines, lessors, public opinion, and especially safety and training. 

The CAT eVTOL Team – including Rick Adams, FRAeS, CAT Editor-in-Chief; Marty Kauchak, Halldale Group Editor; Robert W. Moorman; and Dr. Mario Pierobon – have set the stage with a series of articles presenting a comprehensive view of eVTOL challenges. These articles will be followed in coming weeks by profiles of eVTOL OEMs, training providers and other stakeholders… to be frequently updated as the market develops and (possibly) transforms the existing commercial aviation sphere.

Marty Kauchak attended the Forum 78 in Fort Worth, Texas, the Vertical Flight Society’s eVTOL- and rotorcraft-focused conference. Please read our exclusive stories from the event.

In a breakthrough presentation at the World Aviation Training Summit (WATS), CAE, Joby and Embraer addressed in depth the challenges of eVTOL pilot training. eVTOL was also high on the agenda for the June 2022 virtual AAETS conference in Korea.

Though the major emphasis has been on the civil market, eVTOL has also attracted significant interest from the defence community for selected missions.

There are already about 100 articles about everything eVTOL on www.halldale.com, with many more to come. We invite you to track the eVTOL pilot training market with us. 

There’s a literal swarm of new, small, electric-powered aircraft eager to take to the skies above and through urban canyons of the world’s major metropolitan areas. 

The World eVTOL Aircraft Directory, started six years ago by the Vertical Flight Society when you could count the number of aircraft designs on a few fingers, currently lists 647 concepts ostensibly in development. There are 220 in the Vectored Thrust category, from the A2-Cal Aptos Blue to the Zuri 2.0; 170 Wingless (Multicopter);106 Lift + Cruise; 98 Hoverbikes / Personal Flying Devices (no personal flying golf carts yet, but there’s always hope); and 44 Electric Rotorcraft.

Some of the names are quite, shall we say, intriguing: the Georgia Tech HummingBuzz, Frogs 282, ManDrone, Kocyba Hummel (a flying collectible figurine?), Kitty Hawk Flyer (unfortunately, already defunct), the marketing-savvy EAC Whisper, and the what-the-heck-is-that? - The Real Guys Flying Bathtub (a whimsical German project).

Even if the market does not meet the expectations of dreamers and investors, it’s certainly been a boon to graphic artists for creating fanciful illustrations of eVTOLs in flight around world landmarks.

There are huge projections being tossed around about the potential eVTOL market size… USD $1 trillion by 2040, $9 trillion by 2050, according to Morgan Stanley. The number of $8 billion in known investment is oft-heard, though the number is dated, so it’s likely much more already in the race to the starting line. Embraer’s Eve alone is said to already have $5 billion in orders for aircraft.

Consultancy Roland Berger is predicting 47,000 UAM vehicles will be flying by 2040. There are thought to be orders for about 10,000 to date. 

Variously referred to as UAM (urban air mobility) or the broader AAM (advanced air mobility), this new market has attracted significant venture capital and private equity, SPACs, automotive companies, legacy aerospace OEMs and tech companies. However, the excitement of the shiny new thing is balanced by healthy skepticism.

At this stage, there are many more questions than answers, such as:

  • What are the markets for these new types of aircrafts? An Uber-style on-demand taxi service that floats above clogged highways? An airport-to-city center shuttle service? Perhaps a scheduled regional feeder service from currently unserved smaller cities into airport hubs? A lower-cost, lower-noise replacement for EMS and law enforcement helicopters? Air cargo for packages larger than an Amazon drone can drop? Of course, the military is showing keen interest as well.
  • How will these new UAM air vehicles and routes integrate with air traffic management? Will they be restricted to ‘skyroad’ corridors, a la trains, trams and buses? Or permitted free flight wherever there’s unrestricted airspace?
  • What infrastructure is necessary to support operations? Adapt existing airports, including general aviation strips, and helipads on hospitals and skyscrapers? Or new-build vertiports with dedicated charging stations?
  • Where’s all the money coming from, and is it real or an IOU contingent on early success? (Among the airlines with announced eVTOL partnerships are Virgin Atlantic, United, Mesa, Lufthansa, JAL, ITA Airways/Italy, Iskwew Air/Canada, Finnair, Azul/Brazil, American, Air Greenland and AirAsia.)
  • Will these aircraft be certified under existing regulations? And how quickly can the regulators come up to speed with the myriad designs and levels of automation?
  • And, rapidly in the wake of aircraft certification, how will pilots be qualified for these ‘smart car’ aircraft? Will there be 2-seat trainer variants, or will all pre-solo training (and pre-passenger flights) be managed via ground school and flight training devices, perhaps using A/M/V/XR? How long will it take to write the guidance and qualify these devices for so many different aircraft types?
  • Where will the eVTOL operators get the tens of thousands of pilots needed? (60,000 by 2028, according to McKinsey.) Initially, commercial airline and helicopter pilots, who will need some differences training for the automation and situation awareness. Later, ab initio cadets. And will there be a career path from eVTOL pilot to a more lucrative airline cockpit?
  • “We also estimate the eVTOL sector will need about 10,000 engineers and associated workers,” Mike Hirschberg, Executive Director of the Vertical Flight Society, told CAT.
  • Will the public accept, no … embrace this alternative transportation option? The OEMs are touting the quietness of electric propulsion versus noisy helicopter rotors. There’s even more concern about safety, especially crashes into buildings and streets. And because of the highly digital nature of the avionics and comms, fears of hackers causing cyber havoc. 

A lot of very intelligent and passionate people are diligently working to solve these conundrums. Sometimes in silos, sometimes in working groups. There are, of course, far more players than can possibly be successful, even if the eVTOL market achieves some of the loftier predictions.

The Elephant in the eVTOL Room

One of the major dilemmas is what pool(s) will the pilots for eVTOL aircraft come from, how will they be trained, and what impact will this new adventure have on the already depleted ranks of commercial flight deck crew?

When various eVTOL aircraft developers have been asked by CAT editors and writers to describe their plans for pilot training, many deflect the question. Perhaps they have been so focused on aircraft design and certification hurdles that some are just waking up to the necessity of qualifying pilots/operators.

“That is absolutely the right expression, waking up,” said Sanjay Kaeley, Head of Product Solutions for L3Harris Commercial Training Solutions. “It has been surprising. I think there is an expectation, a vision that seems to be fixated on the idea that you can just throw someone with a couple hundred hours of flying time onto these vehicles. They are discovering that is not the reality.” 

“From all of the working groups that are going on out there, FAA and EASA are making it very clear that it's all ultimately about safety. If someone thinks they're just going to walk onto these vehicles and fly passengers – the concept of an Uber taxi driver – that's not the reality we're seeing,” Kaeley commented.

“One of the key pieces we're still discovering is how automated these vehicles actually are,” he emphasized. “Each of the OEMs obviously have different interpretations of how they want to control these vehicles. Some of them are converging. Some have the concept of a cyclic and others just sidesticks – forward, backward, up, down – so very simple, almost the controls of a drone. And hence, we're not clear on what those training requirements are. We don't just talk normal operation, abnormals and failure modes – what are the things that the operator in that cockpit is expected to do when something goes wrong?”

Kaeley pointed out, “The ones that we're seeing flying them right now are pilots. They're very experienced pilots. Some of them are test pilots for all the obvious reasons. And that's the only extrapolation you can make until you've got more information about the reliability and failure modes for these vehicles as we move forward.”

At Halldale/CAT’s World Aviation Training Summit (WATS) in Orlando, Florida last week, during the Special Industry Panel: Embracing Training Innovation Across Civil Aviation, Defense and eVTOL, CAE Director of Advanced Air Mobility Chris Courtney said the Simplified Vehicle Operations (SVO) concept “will not reduce training, but instead will demand a change in the type of training.”

“eVTOL pilots will need to be as skillful as ever, but also more knowledgeable, able to instantly comprehend the nature of an automation failure and operate in complex, urban environments,” Courtney explained.

It may be true that eVTOL cockpit designs may reduce pilot workload in flight – up to 80% by some estimates by enhanced automation of ‘functional’ pilot skills. But pilots “will need to learn managing automation systems with the ability to take over manually,” noted Courtney, who was Head of Flight Operations and Senior Technical Program Manager at Uber Elevate and Commercial Flight Operations Lead at Joby Aviation (which acquired Uber Elevate) prior to joining CAE.

eVTOL mission complexities not typically encountered by commercial airline pilots include city environments – flying close to buildings, dealing with the ‘micro-weather’ of swirling around tall structures, communication in congested airspaces and even ‘blackout zones,’ detect-and-avoid, and emergency landing procedures.

The challenges of developing a training program for eVTOL aircraft include:

  • Shorter mission cycles – more critical phases of flight (i.e., several takeoffs and landings per day per pilot versus 2-4 for an airline pilot),
  • Congested airspace – more agile decision making and communication.
  • Passenger interface – the single pilot, the only crew member on board, will be a highly visible interface to the flying customer.

CAE and other aviation training experts are advocating a clean-sheet approach which incorporates the best practices which have been developed in the past decade or so (though inconsistently applied as yet in commercial pilot training). These include focusing training on outcomes (pilot competencies) rather than the prescriptive, box-ticking, hours-based models of the past half-century.

Data analytics, which is now coming on strong in aviation training – including a cross-stakeholder task force (proposed by Christine Bohl, Market Director, Commercial Training Solutions, Boeing Global Services at WATS) to address commonalities of data definitions and applications by training, flight ops and safety departments – can help ensure an efficient training footprint that addresses the mission complexities, performance evaluation and safety requirements of AAM operations.

CAE, not surprising, has been quick off the mark to sign up leading OEMs to assist with their training needs. They have announced agreements with Beta Technologies, Jaunt, Joby and Volocopter.

FlightSafety International, as part of a package with the NetJets purchase of eVTOL aircraft for their corporate clients, will collaborate with Lilium on a mixed-reality training system.

Lufthansa Flight Training announced 18 months ago with Lilium that they would develop a type-rating training course for qualified commercial pilots, leveraging mixed- and virtual-reality technologies.

A new player, created for the eVTOL training space, is Ireland-based VertX Aero, comprised of ASG, Avtrain, and VectorCap. VertX Co-Founder Hugo MacNulty, who is also an Airbus A320/1neo airline pilot examiner at Aer Lingus, said they’re in dialogue with the various European regulatory alphabets: EASA, IAA, UK CAA, as well as OEMs and simulator manufacturers, to prepare for the first cadre of student pilots.

Bold New World Meets Regs Reality

Regulatory authorities around the globe are scrambling to devise procedures for certifying eVTOL aircraft and training pilots (aka aviators or operators). The expectation, eventually, is unique licenses for piloted eVTOL (VPL is EASA’s term) and autonomous eVTOL (RPL). Until those rules can be drafted, dissected, blessed and implemented, ‘special conditions’ will be patched onto existing pilot licence schemes. Pilots will likely need to be type-rated for each separate model of aircraft.

An industry training vendor suggested, only slightly tongue-in-cheek, that his company had representatives involved in “40 or 50” task forces and working groups endeavouring to digest and solve the challenges of eVTOL pilot training and licencing.

One group that has been a bit under the radar is the G-35 Committee, formed by SAE International. The formal title of the group is ‘Modeling, Simulation and Training for New Emerging Technologies and Concepts,’ but most folks use the G-35 shorthand or MST.

The G-35 committee objective is to develop “standards for aircraft, including new market piloted and remotely piloted aircraft, and potentially operated autonomously… to support technology development and certification of aircraft, simulator devices, aviators and operators,” as well as applicability of simulation for flight testing.

The foci of the three G-35 sub-committees are: 

  • Aircraft Certification: using modeling and simulation to verify and validate systems and the whole, including credit toward certification in lieu of flight testing; 
  • FSTD Qualification: using A/M/V/XR to qualify simulation training devices, demonstrating maximum fidelity, for credit toward aircraft and pilot certification;
  • Pilot/Aviator Certification: considering SVO, developing standards for new-entrant pilots using simulation and performance-based CBTA processes.

The G-35 is bringing together diverse groups to accelerate the process of certification and training by the effective use of models and simulations. SAE calls it “the ideal process for developing training data and adequate methods for the emerging field of automation and autonomy in aerospace.”

The co-chairs of the G-35 committee are Marilyn Pearson of CAE and Dr. Andreas Schweiger, Airbus.


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