Billions of venture capital dollars have flowed into the eVTOL and urban air mobility sector over the past few years with manufacturers attempting to make the promise of flying cars a reality. There is another group of pioneers looking to solve a different issue in sustaining aviation’s future by leveraging the existing infrastructure of more than 5,000 airports in the U.S. that are primarily used by general aviation.
Regional air mobility, as defined by the 2021 NASA report, seeks to change the way that people travel, which will unlock opportunities for those in tertiary locations that are underserved by commercial air service to travel more efficiently–-and more sustainably—unlocking mobility and movement currently available only to those who fly their own aircraft or utilize business aviation.
About Regional Air Mobility Summit
More than 30 leaders gathered this week in San Francisco, California, to solve business challenges and to push the industry forward. Of the event, McKinsey and Company, the organizers, said, “The Regional Air Mobility (RAM) Summit [is] an event for senior leaders across OEMs, technology providers, operators, infrastructure players, and others in the regional ecosystem to connect, exchange thoughts, deepen relationships, and further the industry.”
Some of the key industry professionals in attendance at the event included:
- Marc Ausman, CCO at Electra Aero
- Andreas Kollbye Aks, CEO at Wideroe Zero
- Greg Davis, President & CEO at Eviation
- David Doral, CEO at Dovetail Aero
- Josef Kallo, CEO at H2Fly
- Dave Merrill, CEO at Elroy Air
- Kevin Noertker, CEO at Ampaire
- Marc Piette, Founder & CEO at Xwing
- Svilen Rangelov, CEO at Dronamics
- Fred Reid, Senior Advisor at Surf Air
- Robert Rose, CEO at Reliable Robotics
- Vinay Roy, Chief Product Officer at Vista
- Ian Villa, COO at Whisper.Aero
Key Topics at the Summit
As companies continue to sign purchase orders for advanced aircraft, the industry focuses now on commercialization. After investing hundreds of millions of dollars into research and development on airframes, companies are now turning attention to the operational challenges they face as they look to move passengers and cargo.
During the summit, McKinsey planned to share analysis from their upcoming reports, “Regional Air Mobility: Back to the Future,” “How customer experience will make or break regional air mobility,” and “The green fuel premium: electricity and hydrogen costs for novel propulsion in Regional Air Mobility.”
Robin Riedel, McKinsey partner, global lead of disruptive aerospace and global co-lead of aviation sustainability, said, “As much of the public and investor focus of the last two years has been on the shorter range eVTOL and urban air mobility space, we created the Regional Air Mobility Summit to provide executives leading the way in regional air mobility with a forum to come together and discuss the industry’s most complicated and pressing topics. The promise of regional air mobility is significant, yet it will require a broad set of unlocks to create this new market.”
Novel Propulsion, Autonomous Capabilities
A major feature of regional air mobility relies on sustainable pillars such as hydrogen or electric propulsion, which will be addressed in the McKinsey analysis. The infrastructure buildout for a different type of fuel or charging requirements will take significant investment and evolution, but the leaders in RAM have said that “multiple technologies do not need to mature simultaneously in order for RAM to advance.”
Jerry Gregoire from Redbird Flight Simulators has made the tongue-in-cheek argument that the future of aviation is ‘steam powered,’ highlighting some of these issues, including energy density, which will be a key topic in the novel propulsion advancements.
Autonomous capabilities are also key for RAM, and as those technologies evolve the business case for RAM grows to become far more commercially viable. The question remains, though, as outlined in a previous article in FLYING, “How Will Self-Flying Aircraft Make Ethical Choices?” Safety is the number one priority, followed by the end-user experience and general public perception. Those will continue to be barriers to implementing RAM.