Initial AAM Certifications Remain on Track for 2025

Moderator: Joel Hencks, Panelists: Daniel Wiegand, Jean Botti, Mark Henning, Jia Xu

24 May 2023

A 2023 European Business Aviation Convention & Exhibition (EBACE2023) Sustainability Summit session took a candid look at a key question surrounding the advanced air mobility (AAM) segment: are we just two years from certification of such vehicles for public use? The answer may surprise you.

“We are fully on track for a type certification before the end of 2025 in Europe,” said Daniel Wiegand, co-founder and chief engineer for innovation and future programs at Lilium, which has been test flying its four-five passenger electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) aircraft since 2019.

VoltAero, developers of the Cassio 330 hybrid-electric, fixed-wing aircraft, launched its certification program in October 2021 and recently broke ground on its final assembly line. “We’ve worked with local French authorities since 2015,” added Jean Botti, company CEO and chief technical officer. “This background helps us to work with our dedicated team at EASA (the European Union Aviation Safety Agency) to develop this [aircraft.]”

Moreover, these certified AAM will be usable vehicles. Mark Henning, managing director for AutoFlight, noted the company recently set a world record flying its full-scale prototype a distance of 250 km (155 miles.) “It was important to show to the world out there that eVTOL isn’t science fiction anymore,” he said.

While the technical challenges appear solvable, the regulatory environment remains uncertain. EASA has already published comprehensive guidance for AAM certification, but the FAA has yet to match with its own requirements.

Nevertheless, Jia Xu, chief technology officer for Honeywell AAM, noted encouraging results from the company’s inaugural air mobility regulations and policy summit last year in Washington, DC. “Sure, there are gaps that we have to work on,” he said. “When you look at across the board at what has been done, there’s been a lot of progress.”

Batteries remain one notable regulatory sticking point, however. “There are fundamental differences [between EASA and FAA} regarding how to manage [thermal] runaway,” Botti noted. “That obliged us to create a team to advocate for similarities, but we’re not there yet. We are very far from it.”

Infrastructure development is another factor. While AAM may ultimately operate from dedicated vertiports, initial operations will likely focus on existing airports and heliports. “Six hundred helicopters operate every day in Sao Paulo [Brazil],” Henning said. “They already know how to do urban air mobility.”

There’s also the matter of pilot training. Wiegand noted Lilium partnered with Lufthansa three years ago on pilot training and recently signed an agreement with FlightSafety International for AAM simulators.

“I think it’s the job of the OEM to provide the infrastructure for pilot training, but we should not expect that there will be 1000s of pilots on the first day,” he noted. “EASA has mandated a commercial pilot license for eVTOL but they’re also working on simplified vehicle operations. Over time that will make it easier to train a large number of pilots.”

“We already have kernels of infrastructure, existing airspace procedures [and] visual flight rules onto which to start bootstrapping AAM operations,” Xu added. “That’s really the critical first step. We can scale from there.”