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3 October 20217 minute read

Advanced Air Mobility: Aviation Reimagined

The decarbonisation of the aviation industry is firmly on the global agenda and thankfully unrelenting, as highlighted during last month’s ICAO’s 2021 Stocktaking on aviation in-sector CO2 emissions reductions1 seminar.

International roadmaps are in place and, certainly as far as the UK is concerned, the long walk along the path to achieving net zero carbon emissions by 2050 is well underway.

The global drive for a more sustainable future will result in significant change to the industry; alternative fuels will power more long haul flights, aircraft will become more efficient and increasingly electrified, and precision satellite guidance will drive further efficiencies2. Aviation will be well and truly reimagined.

Advanced Air Mobility (AAM), which encapsulates and extends the more familiar phrase Urban Air Mobility, is at the forefront of a more sustainable aviation industry.

We are introducing a series of articles, entitled Aviation Reimagined, which will focus on the future of AAM. This series will provide an overview of the AAM market, identify corporate trends, the legal landscape and, in particular, the challenges the sector needs to overcome – with insight as to how – before it can really take off.

In this issue of Aviation Reimagined, effectively an overture, we touch upon aspects of the AAM sector which will be explored in future articles.

AAM – the future of flight

AAM is a concept of air transport using electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) aircraft to move people and cargo between places not currently or easily served by surface transportation or existing aviation modes.

eVTOL aircraft may be powered by hybrid electric systems, batteries or potentially hydrogen fuel cells, and will provide a better environmental impact by reducing emissions and noise pollution.

Uses in the short to medium term will likely include (i) air taxis, (ii) cargo deliveries, (iii) emergency services, (iv) defence, (v) humanitarian, and (vi) agricultural, though larger shuttle type aircraft will inevitably emerge. eVTOL aircraft may even become part of integrated end-to-end air mobility solutions.

Recent eVTOL aircraft orders placed by major airlines, including Gol, and industry support from leading lessor Avolon3, demonstrate confidence in the sector and scalability.

AAM – timeline

The below timeline provides an overview of the current phase of the sector, and notably when we may be able to swap long car journeys for short, and environmentally-friendly, air taxis.

While still in its infancy, industry experts are optimistic that an AAM ecosystem will emerge over the next decade, and by early 2050 (maybe sooner) the AAM sector will be firmly off the ground and flourishing with an estimated market worth of USD9 trillion4.

Timeline image for article

AAM – key players

Established OEMs (Airbus5, Boeing6 and Embraer7) are heavily involved (independently or via strategic relationships/JVs) in the AAM sector, and will play a significant and welcome long-term role.

In addition, new players grabbed recent headlines, including:

Archer Aviation – the US manufacturer has recently taken a closer step towards certification and commercial flight, following receipt of a G-1 issue paper from the FAA, which provides it with airworthiness and environmental requirements for certification of its eVTOL aircraft. Like other startups in need of crucial funding, Archer utilised a SPAC process (to be discussed in future editions) and listed on the NYSE this month8.

Joby Aviation – the US manufacturer has initiated the process of becoming the first eVTOL airline. The California-based company has started the process to receive an FAA Part 135 Air Carrier Certificate9. Joby is now in the first of five stages of this FAA process, and wasted no time capitalising on the development by listing on the NYSE in August 2021.

Vertical Aerospace – the British manufacturer already has a pre-order book of 1,000 eVTOL aircraft, with clients including American Airlines, Gol and Virgin Atlantic. Vertical has recently entered an MoU with Bristow, which has placed an order for 25 aircraft with an option for more, but notably will support Vertical with its certification, infrastructure and regulatory requirements10.

Volocopter – the German manufacturer has recently secured EASA production organisation approval11, making it the first and only eVTOL company to hold both the requisite design and product organisation approvals. We will discuss the certification/ regulatory process in future articles, but Volocopter’s development is a significant step towards commercial launch.

The call to decarbonise the aviation industry has resulted in an innovation explosion and there are too many other notable stakeholders to mention here, but they will no doubt feature in the Aviation Reimagined series.

AAM – challenges

The AAM sector is developing at an incredible rate, and before an ecosystem in which it can truly flourish exists. A number of challenges need to be overcome before the sector can meet anticipated demand and realise its true potential. Our Aviation Reimagined series will explore some of the challenges, including:

  • Legal governance – longevity of SPAC vehicles, the rigorous and costly certification process and whether current regulations are fit for purpose.
  • Infrastructure and airspace management – take off and landing sites present issues; where will vertiports go (on top of buildings, rivers), will charging stations be readily available and what regulations will apply, how best can we utilise regional airports and helipads, what legal implications needs to be considered and laws introduced? How will air traffic control cope with increased pressure and within which corridors will eVTOL fly? Will the infrastructure (terminals) accommodate turnarounds with sustainable connections (a truly smart city needs to exist to avoid restricting eVTOL to a short-term environmental benefit)?
  • Public perception – what will the passenger experience look like and the ticketing/contractual process (conditions of carriage/conditions of use for vertiports)? Is it only for the rich and famous and will it be a public nuisance in terms of traffic volume and noise?
  • Insurance and claims – insurance coverage for eVTOLs will likely be a new product addressing unique risk exposures that will need to be assessed by insurers, but will insurance be affordable in the absence of data to produce a sound risk profile? What will AAM policies look like; a traditional policy with bespoke endorsements or will new policies emerge? The level of damage and injury potentially inflicted by eVTOL flying in urban environments will be significant, likely result in costly claims (against operators and manufacturers) and will arguably necessitate adjustments to mandatory insurance requirements and, as a result, ultimately impact capacity.

Clearly there is much to consider and many questions to be answered over the series, so do look out for our next edition which will focus on corporate trends and legal governance (certification and regulation).

If you have any specific queries that you would like to be addressed in Aviation Reimagined or aspects to feature in the series, please email Tony Payne or Tristan Thompson.

DLA Piper is one of the world’s largest law firms, with a presence in over 30 countries across Asia Pacific, Europe, the Middle East and the Americas. We have a leading aviation team, and with our global presence we can quickly and easily access specific experience of our acclaimed lawyers, and intrinsic local knowledge of custom and law, working with you to help your business take flight and efficiently react to challenges of this exciting sector.

We are already working with established and startup aviation stakeholders, including operators, manufacturers, regulators, air/verti-ports, insurers, financiers in the sector and would welcome the opportunity to support your business through the evolving and complex landscape of the aviation and aerospace industry. Please do get in touch to hear more about how we can help your business.

1 2021 ICAO Stocktaking on aviation in-sector CO₂ emissions reductions  
2Decarbonisation Road-Map: A Path to Net Zero 
3Avolon vertical eurospace announce worlds largest evtol aircraft order 
4Morgan Stanley downgrades early estimates of UAM market size  
5Urban air mobility: safe, sustainable and convenient  
8Archer Aviation Is Latest eVTOL Firm To Start Public Trading 
9Joby takes first step securing part 135 air carrier certificate  
10Brazil’s Gol Orders 250 Vertical Aerospace Flying Taxis  
11EASA issues first approval for defined drone operations to Volocopter