After eVTOL aircraft developer Jaunt Air Mobility announced it had established Access Skyways – a group of partner companies which will provide expertise around the integration of Advanced Air Mobility – we spoke to Simon Briceno, Jaunt Air Mobility’s Chief Commercial Officer, about this in more detail.
The company, which is an Uber Elevate partner, is also currently developing its Journey eVTOL air taxi, and as part of its roadmap, estimates it will enter full rate production by 2026.
Q: Can you tell us more about the background behind setting up Access Skyways?
SB: “We really see an immediate need to work closely with experts, in particular on the infrastructure side of the ecosystem, to ensure that those elements are in place and ready for our customers when we enter service. As you know and many other people in this space understand, the ecosystem is quite an enormous undertaking.
“My background prior to joining Jaunt Air Mobility was in aviation and aerospace and in particular, designing aircraft and these eVTOL technology platforms.
“Much of the eVTOL technology is mature and I think we can all see it’s almost ready to take to the skies, but when you start to really think about transporting passengers and providing commercial services, you have to address many other things. Like with today’s commercial aviation, there are rules and standards which have to be followed, whether it’s from an aircraft airworthiness standpoint or on the ground infrastructure at an airport or heliport.
“As a company we are in the business of selling aircraft, but these aircraft need supportability. And our customers in particular ask a lot of questions about our aircraft, and have equally as many questions about how it’s going to fly, where it’s going to land, take-off and how it will be charged.
“We have taken our philosophy at Jaunt where we believe in collaborating with Tier 1 aerospace supply companies on our aircraft development. We are following that very tried and true approach as well, and just like we’re doing on the aircraft, we believe that partnering with the right expert companies on infrastructure and aircraft supportability is key.
“We don’t intend to do all of this ourselves. It has to be an effort where we engage with the local transportation community, mass transit agencies and with local planning organisations in the cities and areas we plan to operate. Working with them and these partner companies, we hope to grow and provide an integrated solution for urban air mobility.
“That is what it comes down to. Integrating our aircraft into a viable and feasible operation. This has been in the works for some time, but it takes time to bring in some of these companies. – we’re still working on two more and will hopefully have news about this shortly.”
Q: PS&S Integrated Services and PRICE Systems are the first partners to join Access Skyways. Do you have a set number of companies you’d like to bring in?
SB: “We hadn’t really thought about any minimum or maximum number of partners we’re trying to achieve. We started by thinking about some of the critical areas that need to be addressed with operators in the near term, and those highlighted in the infographic are what we really see now in 2020/21, as being important for the entry into service of our aircraft. It’s being able to have partners with experience and expertise in these areas.
“It’s been a coordination, both an outreach from our side and the existing connections with those companies. With PS&S and PRICE, having worked together previously and then realising that collectively, we are going to be able to address these challenges together.
“We’re just crossing the T’s and dotting the I’s on the next two partners and once that’s done, you will see how they will complement the three that are part of Access Skyways now, and how we can fulfil all of these key areas and go beyond that.
“As we work towards addressing new ecosystem challenges down the road, such as more autonomous operations, there’s going to be a need for expertise in that area, and we are open to partnerships with others going forward. Today, we are starting with this initial group to address the needs we have in the near term.”
Q: You briefly mentioned the challenges which the group needs to solve earlier in our conversation. Are there any in particular that you feel are more pressing than others at the moment?
SB: “I would say outside of the aircraft, and that’s important to distinguish as there are plenty of technical challenges for aircraft OEMs, such as battery certification. We feel very confident with our aircraft configuration and its pathway to certification, because of the fact we can certify under existing rules. But outside of the aircraft, when we refer to the ecosystem, in my opinion there are challenges with airspace integration, infrastructure and gaining public acceptance.
“Those three are, at least right now, the biggest challenges to address. The good news is that all three are being addressed extensively. For example, NASA and the FAA have spent several years looking at the airspace integration aspect, with programmes like Unmanned Traffic Management and NASA’s UAM National campaign.
“On the infrastructure side, a key focus is the electrification aspect. And thirdly and most importantly, the public acceptance is one that is both tied to the aircraft and tied to the infrastructure, and is one in which we weigh heavily.
“This future market really won’t happen without having the public on board. A lot of people think public acceptance is just about making safe and quiet aircraft. But the reality is when you start thinking of new vertiport locations, this is real, physical infrastructure that could be very close to where people live. So you have to work with that local community and the various groups to show there is a clear value proposition and clear benefit that introducing this transportation service brings to them.
“One fourth challenge which probably ties in closer to the aircraft, is maintenance and repair. The MRO for electric aircraft is going to be very different than it is for turbine and piston engines. Today’s aviation MRO companies will need to work closely with eVTOL aircraft OEMs and operators to build the knowledge and maintenance capabilities over the next several years and be ready to support eVTOL aircraft when they enter service. That’s why early outreach with them is equally as important.”
Q: Can you tell us how this group will work together going forward, and as more companies start to join over the next couple of years?
SB: “We have been working for several months to determine the cadence and working relationship and objectives, and what we want to accomplish over the next X time frame. Much of that is still in the works and we’re kicking it off, but at the same time, still have a bit to finalise.
“From an Access Skyways objective standpoint, we’re going to work together to address very key customer requirements and needs, whether they are operators or government entities looking to explore the urban air mobility space and get involved. We are also working with other AAM initiatives which have been developed.
“Many of these customers have questions about the ecosystem and have expressed an interest in having studies performed, analysis and things of that nature. That is our target. It’s not just about ‘here is the aircraft’ and we walk away. It needs to be a comprehensive package so to speak.”
Q: Are there any particular questions which keep coming up more often?
SB: “On the electrification side of the infrastructure, that is relatively new to many people. We intend as an OEM to operate in existing infrastructure – like existing airports and heliports. That infrastructure is there today. What you don’t yet see is any kind of charging infrastructure for any of these vehicles because they are very much still fuel-based.
“There are questions about how that is all going to be implemented and part of it is because of the quantity of energy that has to be transferred into the aircraft.
“The next area is certainly one where these aircraft are going to land and take off. What is the cadence and tempo of operations, how do you design the vertiport for initial operations, and then for scaled operations? And how does that work with existing transportation modalities or mass transit operations that customers might have available?
“Those are the questions that we’ve been asked, and at this point, we’re talking about the air taxi and urban air mobility markets. There are other markets, such as tourism and cargo, where you have similar and in some cases, the same challenges but have slightly different operations.”
Q: Is Access Skyways open to companies all over the world?
A: “Absolutely. In fact, the two companies which are coming on board are global. There are no borders in what we are trying to do.
“This is a global initiative and the intent behind Access Skyways is to hit the ground running and provide integrated answers to our operators and customers. But that doesn’t mean we are not talking to other partner companies that we work with either independently or can become part of Access Skyways in future. We have not created any restrictions or limits, this is just the beginning.”
Q: What impact do you hope Access Skyways can have on the industry, as Advanced Air Mobility gathers more momentum?
SB: “As we go through our own company growth, we talk with a lot of people who still have barely heard of this space or this future market of Urban Air Mobility. Even those we have talked to, and the operators and customers who have done their research, still have many questions about how the ecosystem will look like and how it will work. We’ve found that they often get very siloed responses or answers that only address one part of the ecosystem, like the aircraft or the infrastructure.
“One of the goals behind this effort is to approach operators and customers who want to know more about what an integrated solution might look like, and provide them with a comprehensive answer and not one where it is just about the aircraft. It is to help the customer understand what the entire package looks like, from concept to operations.”
You can find out more about Jaunt Air Mobility’s Access Skyways group, by visiting www.jauntairmobility.com/air-mobility