CAT Increasing Focus on eVTOL & Electric Aircraft Training

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First public crewed test flight of a fully electric eVTOL) air taxi in the US at EAA’s AirVenture in Oshkosh, Wisconsin. Video credit: Volocopter

Civil Aviation Training (CAT) magazine has been closely monitoring developments in the electric aircraft and electric vertical take off and landing sectors since our coverage of the  2019 FAA-EASA Safety Conference.

Until recently, most of the news has been about innovative aircraft designs and investor funding. But now, the very real probability of passenger flights in small Advanced Air Mobility (AAM) aircraft (aka UAM – Urban Air Mobility) is rapidly approaching, and therefore the need for pilots to fly, controllers to direct, technicians to maintain, and ground crew to service these so-called “air taxis” – safety-critical personnel who require certified training.

A McKinsey report suggested the AAM market will need up to 60,000 qualified pilots by 2028, which will put even more pressure on the expected next pilot shortage in the commercial airline market.

CAE announced two weeks ago that it will invest C$1 billion in Project Resilience to develop the “technologies of tomorrow”, including training solutions for AAM and “green light” aircraft technologies. This followed a pact with German-based Volocopter to invest $40 million in an eVTOL pilot training program.

In the coming months, CAT plans extensive coverage of the eVTOL market, including aircraft, vertiports, air traffic management, enabling technologies such as batteries/propulsion, sensors, avionics, AI/automation; regulatory issues; market segments, stakeholders, key people, public acceptance, and challenges, particularly training and safety.

If this “potentially transformative” new market is to succeed in the complex arena of civil aviation, it must prove itself safe beyond reproach. – Rick Adams, FRAeS, Editor

The Volocopter Approach

There is a bewildering global array of eVTOL startups, all ambitious to capture part of what could become a huge market. Chris Long spoke with one of the already established players.

Volocopter has options which expand from cargo, VoloDrone, to urban air taxi, VoloCity, to the city, suburbs, and beyond, VoloConnect, but Christian Bauer, Chief Commercial Officer, emphasises using a holistic approach to blend into a complete urban air mobility package. Constituent elements include creation of an infrastructure, regulatory approval and, not least, convincing and reassuring a public who will eventually be using this service. Environmental issues play a large part in this equation – the green credentials of electric power are a plus, but there remains a challenge of the impact of noise within an urban setting – one which Bauer is convinced has been solved by the configurations of their airborne platforms.

Then there is selection of partners who already have expertise in those specific areas. The reach has included collaboration with EMS operators ADAC Luftrettung, who routinely work in that urban environment,  specialists in the latest composite manufacturing techniques DG Flugzeugbau, and working closely, of course, with the regulators – in this case EASA, which has been working on appropriate regulations since 2017.

The core team at Volocopter has built to over 400, and according to Helena Treeck, Head of Public Relations, the common denominator is a mindset which is both passionate about the project and which searches for innovative solutions to the new challenges. That mindset is not just confined to the younger team members – the value of including experienced but flexible players serves to strengthen the combined talents and produce strong solutions.

The joint attraction of being at the start of an aviation revolution and the challenge of operating a blend of new technology in a completely new operating environment has resulted in a surge of applicants. Some 25,000 applications have already been received to join the Volocopter team. The demographic of those interested ranges from people with no prior aviation experience to those who are experts in this field, but who are looking for the challenge of adapting to this new world.

Bauer sees the project as enormously transformative – a chance to make a huge change in the world of transportation.

eVTOL Single-Pilot Training

The current thinking is that the licence issue will be based on present training and licensing protocols, with a rotary and specific type qualification. Early feedback from the test pilots is that the machine is straightforward to fly (FBW ensures that) so once the crews have been trained and are familiar with the urban environment, within a carefully sculptured operating structure, there should be little difficulty in achieving the desired safety goals.

The Volocopter Project Lead Aircraft Operations, Nadja Löffler, emphasises that, wherever possible, existing and proven process in training and operation will be used. By initially limiting both routes and operating conditions, and by using existing aviation expertise and experience, the safe transition to commercially effective UAM can be achieved as a first step to future extended options.

Initial flights will be conducted with a formally licensed commercial pilot operating the aircraft. To ensure consistent and routine service, that will mean full IFR qualifications to provide all-weather operation. In other words, the first lot of training is very likely to be very close to existing “classic” pilot training. With close parallels to more conventional training pathways, the likely mix of initial recruits will be a familiar combination of ex-commercial pilots, ex-military crews and ab initio trainees.

Liaising with Regulators

A key to creation of an AAM/UAM is to establish and adhere to a specific regulatory environment. The Volocopter Project Lead Aircraft Operations, Nadja Löffler, indicates that to be able to introduce commercial air taxi service operations, Volocopter will seek approval for its own AOC amongst other certifications, initially under EASA rules.

Löffler wants to set the precedent with a regulator which already has a track record of cooperation with her team and other OEMs and which is fast approaching the definition of a means of compliance for certifying this transport node.

Amongst the complex issues to be resolved is how to operate in an airspace where the functions are defined for all vehicles, including these new eVTOLS with passengers and cargo. There is work being carried out under a SESAR European U-Space working group with a view to having a working system for the 2024 Olympics in Paris, France. Given that the overall conditions are very changeable in a high-rise urban environment, it is planned to reduce the operational complications of ATC considerations by using a limited number of clearly defined routes, typically of 15-20 km, with local weather stations giving real-time reports to operators and the aircraft. This will also facilitate accurate data harvesting to build up a greater understanding of those operating conditions, which will initially be limited to daytime VFR flights.

A close look at existing HEMS operations and the use of cargo drone and other rotary operations will help to define how to integrate a UAM into routine operations.

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