AAM – Advanced Air Mobility is revolutionary as we will soon see *Electric Aircraft flying in a more sustainable and, eventually, cheaper way than current aircraft. It is only a matter of time before this sector will replace traditional modes of air transportation, such as those that use existing fossil fuel piston and rotor engine aircraft like helicopters, over shorter distances. In doing so, AAM will be part of the industry’s effort to attain net zero carbon goals by its 2050 to 2060 timeframe, which was set by several countries in the wake of the Glasgow COP26 climate conference.
We are getting better at storing and using electricity and hydrogen to generate power and we are getting better at designing and making things quieter, lighter, and stronger under multiple conditions. We are also getting better at managing complex systems with the help of software, predictive analysis, artificial intelligence, and machine learning techniques, which helps us manage multiple aircraft safely, at an airfield or urban air complex environment.
There are five leading countries in Asia, excluding China and its Special Administrative Regions (Hong Kong, Macao and Taiwan), that have indicated their clear intentions to support the development of AAM in their respective countries, with a top-down Government approach.
It is clear that each country’s Government from our selection has set out its own national roadmap or flightpath to commercial operability. We will explore the most critical factors in the short to medium term, such as but not limited to, vehicle development and manufacturer announcements, publicly reported investments, trials and latest regulatory status, infrastructure needs, existing helicopter operators, commercial routes and their viability.
A collective timeline of development and operational commencement is forming. The period 2023-2035 is referred to multiple times by regulators and manufacturers and within that timeframe it really depends on that country regulator’s type certification status. It is worth noting that there will likely be limitations & restricted operational capacity that will be imposed in the years following certification, which will enable e-VTOL movements to be conducted.
The flexibility of e-VTOL’s to operate from a congested urban and city centres significantly increases the utility of electric propulsion systems due to their reduced noise footprint. This will increase the interconnectedness of existing mass transit networks and complement existing public mobility transport systems.
“World Economic Forum quoted: ‘The policy-making framework for these new aviation technologies must be principles-based, ensuring that the framework can evolve during the multi-phased, iterative innovation process. By engaging with vehicle manufacturers, service providers, infrastructure developers, community-based organizations, academics and government stakeholders, public officials can anticipate and even enable new ideas as they create policy and regulations to support the roll-out of new technologies in the public interest to benefit the many, rather than the few. These efforts have led to the creation of “Principles of the Urban Sky”, published publicly in September 2020, which the community believes are fundamentally important to the adoption and longterm success of *UAM – Urban Air Mobility. These principles can serve to orient policy-making efforts in cities & countries throughout the world’.
So which countries are currently leading the field in developing the UAM – Urban Air Mobility sector in Asia? One of the points of reference to answer this question was the KPMG index study of Air Taxi readiness, published in October 2021. From the below table, we can deduce several Asia-Pacific countries are highly ranked in the race to accommodate UAM commercial operations in the region.
The Australian Government recognizes the potential for AAM development to significantly shift the operating dynamic of the aviation industry. There is also a role for UAM solutions to play in addressing the road congestion issue in many Australian cities. The Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA), with assist from other government agencies, is currently considering a range of necessary requirements to support AAM & UAM operations, such as:
The Australian Government’s National Emerging Aviation Technologies *(NEAT) Policy Statement position’s Australian businesses and industries to adopt and integrate emerging aviation technologies.
The Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Communications (DITRDC) in collaboration with state, territory and local governments, and relevant Commonwealth agencies and authorities, are developing the systems and updated regulations required. The three cities already conducting digital airspace authorisations in conjunction with CASA – Civil Aviation Safety Authority of Australia are Canberra, Adelaide and Perth, with over 200 operators approved and taking part in trials. In early December 2021 it was further announced, in collaboration with the Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Communications (DITRDC), Airservices Australia, and the State of Victoria, that CASA signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) to support the development of advanced air mobility (AAM).
‘Working alongside commercial operators to provide regulatory support while maintaining safety standards will be essential as this sector continues to grow’. Said Acting Branch Manager Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems (RPAS), Sharon Marshall-Keeffe.
The Aviation Safety Advisory Panel is tasked with setting up a technical working group to co-design the roadmap with CASA which commenced in December 2021. There are nine principles that they are working on, which cover issues such as regulatory cost, acceptable levels of safety, streamlining processes and supporting innovation. A deadline was set at time of writing for a draft roadmap to be ready for public consultation by the end of 2021.
The Australian Government plans to support the adoption of emerging aviation technologies in partnership with industry:
The Federal Government has already committed AU $35.7 million to developing air taxi and drone freight through the National Emerging Aviation Policy, and the Victorian government has committed a further AU $12 million to the new Swinburne Airhub which aims to advance capabilities across aerospace, defence, software development and advanced manufacturing.
The Federal Government and the Victorian Government signed a memorandum of understanding in November 2021 to foster the longterm growth of the advanced air mobility industry for both passenger and freight services.
Sydney, as Australia’s most populous city with over 5 million people, enjoys a vibrant general aviation environment. However, like many major cities, pre-Covid it suffered from a year over year increase in its average daily commute time. It enjoyed a temporary reprieve in 2020 due to strict lockdowns imposed by the State Governments. But it is predicted that in 2022 congestion is due to return to pre-Covid levels and will continue to increase in the years ahead.
Existing operator Sydney Seaplanes is a prime example of where future demand for UAM services might come from. It recently placed an order for 50 e-VTOL’s from Embraer’s Eve Urban Air Mobility.
Currently, Sydney Seaplanes operates conventional Cessna Caravan’s to destinations with a typical 10-20 minute flight duration to places including.
Existing Destinations are:
It is also trialling return flights from Sydney Harbour to Canberra’s Lake Burley Griffin. Whilst Nautilus Aviation placed an order for ten (10) e-VTOL’s from Eve to primarily serve eco-tourism development to destinations such as: Port Douglas, Townsville, Darwin, Horn Island, all from its base in Cairns. Another city operator, Microflite, operates helicopter CBD transfers and scenic tours that demonstrates where and how UAM e-VTOL’s can be integrated into existing infrastructure with a lower noise and carbon emissions footprint.
Destinations served from downtown Melbourne include places like Geelong, Lilydale, Phillip Island, Mornington Peninsula, Moorabbin as well as from and to the airport to downtown CBD transfer services.
Another popular potential commercial & ecotourism friendly related route for e-VTOL’s, is replacing existing scenic helicopter operators from Cairns to a private sand cay in the middle of the Great Barrier Reef.
When it comes to business transfer route potential for UAM. Sydney for obvious reasons is a priority for operators to develop, followed by Melbourne just by sheer population size and the demand to relieve the transfer time in peak hours. Further domestic short-flight destinations of interest are from Sydney’s CBD district to places like Canberra and Port Macquarie as the furthest point distance for e-VTOL’s to reach, to closer destinations like Gosford, Newcastle Lithgow and Wollongong. The map depicts the potential of outlying suburbs of Sydney to become part of a UAM/AAM flight connectivity network.
We spoke to pioneer and entrepreneur Clem Newton-Brown, Director and Founder of Skyportz based in Melbourne, Australia, who has been advancing the case for Australia to be a world leader in the emerging clean, green, electric air taxi industry for a few years now. He also placed an order with US based Electra Aero for 100 hybrid electric aircraft for take and landing with just a 30-metre distance requirement.
He, like many others, has been banging on about the current missing piece of the puzzle – the infrastructure and where will all these e-VTOL aircraft land and take-off from. e-VTOL’s future cannot just be for replacing fossil fuelled helicopters and utilising existing airport/helipad infrastructure only
To fulfil their true potential and achieve the scale needed to make the whole sector commercially viable and sustainable, it needs these aircraft to be able to land in places where helicopters can’t go – think business parks, manufacturing hubs, industrial land, shopping centres, car parking garages and eventually city rooftops. Skyportz has quietly amassed a stable of more than 400 sites across Australia in partnership with various industrial and commercial property players such as Secure Parking. These sites are ready to be activated as soon as the land use planning rules allow. — Clem Newton-Brown Director and Founder of Skyportz
An agreement is made between the owner of the premises, who provides details of their potential site for flight operations & Skyportz, which is in the business, or potential business, of procuring infrastructure (including installation of navigational or communications hardware) for prospective use by vertical/short take-off and landing aircraft and delivery drones (“Air-Taxi”). Once verified, the site will be added to the Skyportz map as a bona fide site that is available for future investment and AAM/UAM operations.
In terms of potential Australian commercialisation of future operations of UAM vehicles, some of the larger Australian helicopter operators are:
Australia is a relatively small, low-density market compared to other countries like China with mega-cities and huge urban populations where affordable and available land is scarce. However, Australia’s regulators publishing these guidelines, standards and procedures are highly respected and it will definitely be a strong benchmark for other countries and cities to take a note of in the region.
In 2018, the Public-Private Committee for Advanced Air Mobility in Japan was established to discuss the development of various services such as passenger transportation, scenic flights, and air ambulance services throughout the country. Japan aims to implement UAM in society not only for its “Expo 2025 Osaka, Kansai, Japan (Expo 2025)” but also for transportation in depopulated areas, mountainous regions, and isolated islands, as well as for logistics in times of disaster. The public and private sectors, including many key players such as relevant government ministries, experts, aircraft manufacturers, and service suppliers,
are committed to pursuing studies on technical issues, proactive use cases, and system designs. For AAM in broader terms to be accepted in Japanese society, it is essential to ensure its overall safety. The Bilateral Aviation Services Agreement (BASA) between Japan Civil Aviation Bureau (JCAB) and US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA)/ European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) has been taken into consideration to develop appropriate safety provisions covered by BASA for next-generation of UAM in Japan.
The Ministry of Economics, Trade and Industry (METI) and the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism (MLIT) have jointly established the Public-Private Committee for Advanced Air Mobility, bringing together stakeholders in the public and private sectors to realize AAM in Japan. Through this public-private committee, several working groups (WG) have held discussions to improve the system, including safety standards for aircraft and flight operations, as well as the certification of pilot skills. These WGs are scheduled to run through to 2023.
Although various types of AAM are envisioned, the e-VTOL, which is currently at the forefront of development, is classified as an aircraft under the Japan Civil Aeronautics Law, as it can be used for aviation with people on board. As a result of organizing the types of aircraft to be considered in the short term (2023-2025) and the mid-long term (2025+), unmanned flights will be included in the short-term screenings. The workflow of safety provision developments for e-VTOL is in progress.
Japan is well on the way to establishing piloted UAM operations by its initial Expo 2025 deadline. It is taking a holistic and cautious approach, but one that is engaging all stakeholders. Japan typically likes to observe what the FAA and EASA governing bodies announce in terms of regulation standards in these areas, and incorporates them into the Japanese Civil Aviation procedures. It is also keen to attract international OEM’s and in 2021 invited the likes of Joby Aviation, Volocopter & E-Hang to present to the Japanese regulators and industry stakeholders to demonstrate their latest products and updates.
Japanese Government approvals for such new technologies at present must align with requirements for traditional commercial aircraft used in passenger and cargo operations as a e-VTOL is described as an aircraft. However, civil aviation authorities worldwide, just like Japan’s, are in the process of adapting regulatory frameworks to account for fundamental differences in e-VTOL technology and operations as compared to traditional aircraft. This is what takes time.
In terms of early route adoption in Japan, all existing authorised helicopter routes, especially along coastal areas, are potential for future e-VTOL authorised commercial operations. Initially the first authorised routes of e-VTOL’s that the Government have announced are between certain airports and Yumeshima, the site of the Expo 2025 in Osaka, Kansai (within a 20-30 km range) with a Flight level above Ground of 150m or more.
A further 2. 5 km in length approved air transportation route is in Osaka Bay operating above ground level: 50-150m, as well as a package delivery service by drones will be available to operate by 2023. This is a two-point package delivery service introduced between isolated islands (5-20 km in duration) above level 300m above sea level and 150m from any major obstacles.
Citing Our Airports, it is possible to visualise by way of their location map, the current available aerodrome infrastructure that exists in Japan. There are over 2,500 marked sites for general aviation airports and existing heliports and helipad locations, many of which would be able to accommodate Japan’s e-VTOL’s of the future. However the potential demand still needs to be measured through further public engagement & education on its safe operation as a new technology.
Manufacturers currently & actively engaged in developing Japanese UAM Market are:
SkyDrive Inc is the leading home-grown manufacturer today, having raised over USD37.5M through a series B fund in August 2020. Japan has a historic positive relationship with purchasing and operating rotor aircraft, and has one of the largest helicopter fleets in the world for the landmass of its country.
Several large fleet operators operate common types of helicopters and cater for all tasks, whether it be for weather reports, forecasting, passenger carriage of workers, tourism, power line cleaning, heavy lift, reporting news, humanitarian disaster recovery and HEMS services, as well as private VIP use. Japan has multiple airports and existing heliports that are able to cater to take-off and landing points of reference for the early adoption of UAM in the country. It is envisaged that all AAM operations in Japan will continue to operate during daylight hours and in favourable weather conditions to begin with, then slowly move towards autonomous operations and piloted solely from the ground.
Here are some of the Helicopter operators with the largest fleets – many are available for charter or to lease:
Many of these helicopter operators would be prime candidates to partner with operating e-VTOL’s at scale in Japan. Based on existing helicopter take-off and landing infrastructure points in Japan, the following Japanese prefectures, rather than specific cities, will likely take the lead in developing and operating e-VTOL’s as part of its national implementation plan announced by the civil aviation authority JCAB – Japan Civil Aviation Bureau. Favoured Prefectures in Japan in alphabetical order with our ranking of the Top 5 areas of development in AAM.
SkyDrive, is the leading Japanese manufacturer in this space with early investors. By observing who they are, reveals the diversity of interests and actors in the ecosystem originating from Japan. Participants in the Skydrive ¥3.9B JPY / $37.5m USD Series B fundraise in August 2020 included:
Development Bank of Japan (owned by Tokyo’s Ministry of Finance) which also invested in Airbus Ventures Fund III alongside Fuyo General Lease and Mitsubishi UFJ
Drone Fund, whose backers include SoftBank and mobile operator NTT DoCoMo, and whose portfolio also includes Hidden Level and Sabrewing in the US and Canadian SkyX
ENEOS Innovation Partners, the oil/petroleum conglomerate’s fund that was established in 2019 with ¥15 billion JPY / $145m USD to invest over three years in mobility and renewable energy— it’s also working with all-polymer lithium-ion battery specialists APB Corporation
Obayashi Corporation are working with SkyDrive on drone delivery to construction sites and also has an interest in APB Corporation, alongside Toyota Tsusho, Sanyo Chemical, and (through a licensing agreement) Nissan
Sumitomo Mitsui (through their Finance & Leasing subsidiary) which is also investors in Drone Fund and (through MS&AD Ventures, and other subsidiaries) in Volocopter Z Corp, who were originally Yahoo! Japan’s corporate VC arm, now part of Softbank
Outside of the SkyDrive deal, there’s plenty of other activity, with Toyota having invested in Joby Aviation (through their AI Ventures arm) alongside Sparx, a fund originally setup with capital from Toyota and Sumitomo Mitsui.
Japan Airlines (JAL) has invested directly into Volocopter through its $70m USD Innovation Fund, which is (at least partly) administered by Palo Alto VCs Translink Capital. The airline envisages a mobility-as-a-service business, centred on aviation that will offer air taxis from the airport to multiple destinations. JAL also reached an agreement with aviation leasing company Avolon to buy or lease as many as 50 e-VTOLs from Vertical Aerospace. The deal mirrors Avolon’s contract with Brazil’s Gol airline to purchase or lease up to 250 Vertical Aerospace e-VTOLs.
Another reason Japan is a forerunner for UAM implementation in Asia is to help address its chronic traffic problem, especially commuting to and from the CBD of Tokyo to other areas of the city. Despite the perception that Japan has one of the world’s most efficient train services, the sheer size of the metropolitan catchment population area of Tokyo workers puts it under tremendous strain during peak times. Many urban commuters still heavily rely on driving to and from the city for work. Despite COVID-19 and the Tokyo Olympics 2020 curbs combatting congestion, the average commute time is still a major cause for concern, as it has been increasing up to and including 2019 pre-Covid and is expected to return to pre-covid levels in 2022.
ANA view air taxis as a potential new industry and an opportunity to extend its air travel services.
In 2021, Honda and one of Detroit’s Big Three – Stellantis (formerly known as Fiat Chrysler Automobiles)—jumped into the e-VTOL game. The participation of these legacy manufacturers provides a powerful vote of confidence for an untested 21st century transportation idea. Honda is developing its new aircraft as part of a mobility ecosystem, which would include ground transport, air transport, and a reservation service system.
Based on our analysis and strong Japan Government support, Japan is an ideal AAM market due to its enormous urban centres by population, a topography that makes additional transportation infrastructure and highway widening expensive.
Utilisation and adaption of its vast existing helicopter take-off and landing bases will be a major draw and opportunity for AAM’s fast-paced development in-country. It can also address some of the relatively long car journey transfers between airports and CBD districts in major Japanese cities as well as from the city itself to designated countryside and mountainous destinations popular at weekends for residents to visit, despite the efficient train network. One concern would be the cost delivery by Japanese operators in order to appeal to a wider consumer base over time as well as taxes introduced into the sector if treated the same as conventional aviation services. It would greatly affect adoption rates if operators sought to set the price too high and if the Government taxed this sector too early.
The Korean Transport Ministry published a white paper on urban air mobility in 2021, with the first services planned for launch by 2025.
According to the white paper, an air corridor will be built for air taxis to fly between Seoul and the outskirts of the city, including Incheon International Airport, during the early stages of the project. UAM aircraft will be allowed to fly at an altitude of 450 meters with a margin of 150 meters, with plans to share helicopter air routes during the initial stages of commercialization. The corridors will be managed using a commercialized mobile communication system which is designed for mobile phones at first before pivoting to a digital communication system.” (Source Korean Transport Ministry)
According to the transport ministry of Korea, at least 50 vertiports serving 200 or more routes will be in operation nationwide by 2035. Also, the average e-VTOL vehicle price is estimated to fall to 750 million won (627,300 USD) with an airfare per kilometer estimated to reach 1,300 won (1 USD) per person by 2035. Sounds ambitious, but its noteworthy that the Government of Korea is happy to disclose its estimates at this early stage.
To demonstrate the Korean Government’s commitment to UAM, the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport (MOLIT) announced that it had conducted a demonstration of Korea’s Urban Air Mobility (K-UAM ) services at Gimpo International Airport on November 11, 2021.This event was held to try out and validate Korea’s UAM Concept of Operations in an airport environment, as airports are the place where the first commercial services of UAM will be introduced by 2025 in Korea.
In particular, through this demonstration, it was found that the current air traffic control system that manages domestic and international flights at the airport can also monitor and manage UAM aircraft in real-time. This shows that the existing air traffic operations can be conducted in harmony with UAM operations. During the flight demonstration, the UAM aircraft was under integrated monitoring with the existing domestic and international flights. This feat was enabled by transmitting the flight data of the UAM aircraft to System Wide Information Management (SWIM), which is being developed under the National ATM Reformation And Enhancement (NARAE) 2.0 plan.
All essential information for air navigation, including flight information of domestic/international flights and the UAM demonstration aircraft, was shown on a single SWIM monitoring screen. Voice communications between the pilot of the UAM aircraft and the ground control during the demonstration used both the airband frequencies (VHF/UHF) and commercial communications networks.
This is also in line with the government’s K-UAM Concept Operations, which promotes utilization of commercial communications networks in UAM traffic management, after verifying safety and security of using commercial networks. The real-time image monitoring technology, which is one of the potential UAM traffic management tools proposed by NASA, was also introduced at the event. Domestically developed imaging equipment installed at the airport automatically detected and tracked the flight route of the UAM demonstration aircraft and monitored its take-off and landing.
UAM-related devices and equipment were also introduced at the event, such as three-dimensional digital twin technologies for simulating UAM traffic changes in urban areas, and patented vertiport lighting devices for safe landing of UAM aircraft. The event also presented UAM traffic management technologies and concepts of operations developed by private-sector entities, which enable more precise traffic management and real-time information exchange between service providers.
In November 2021, Hyundai Motor announced that it had signed an MOU with Korean Air, Incheon International Airport Corporation, Hyundai Engineering Construction (Hyundai EC), and KT at the Incheon Paradise City Hotel, and agreed to cooperate in the successful establishment of domestic UAMs and its ecosystem, and revitalization of industries.
At the event, officials from the five companies, including Hyundai Motor President Shin Jae-won, Korean Air President Woo Ki-hong, Hyundai EC President Yoon Young-joon, Incheon International Airport Corporation President Kim Kyung-wook and KT President Park Jong-wook, attended.
This partnership was initially signed by Hyundai Motor, Incheon International Airport Corporation, Hyundai EC, and KT in September last year, and updated this time around to include Korean Air as the latest to join the partnership. The cooperation partnership includes the establishment of the UAM ecosystem and promotion of social acceptance, establishment of UAM project cooperation roadmaps and demonstrations, and joint activities of K-UAM roadmaps and UAM Team Korea.
This approach is exciting as it pulls together major Korean aviation stakeholders with the leading Korean corporation in the space in Hyundai in striving forward to meet the upcoming timelines set for achieving critical objectives. Korea is genuinely aiming to be one of the world’s leaders in the UAM space, with ambitious targets, which is why from our analysis deem Korea to be an excited destination for UAM operations implementation and early adoption in the region.
Another home-grown Manufacturer to recently announce its plans for e-VTOL development is Overair. Spun off from Karem Aircraft, and backed by Hanwha Systems, Overair is seeking FAA Approval for its Butterfly optimum-speed tiltrotor e-VTOL by 2025. The company has flown subscale models and plans to demonstrate a full-scale version of the propulsion system by summer 2022. South Korea’s Hanwha aims to commence pilot-less operations by 2025.
It will be interesting to see if any of these operators will announce orders of Korea’s homegrown product or whether foreign manufacturers will be able to persuade some to place orders. Korean Air 8 Fleet, LG Electronics 3 Fleet, Samsung 15 Fleet, Sejin aviation 4 Fleet, and Tongil Air 4 Fleet.
The Aerial Map depicts airports/helicopter points across South Korea. In terms of favoured locations, there are four areas of interest we have identified that provide sufficient existing infrastructure that they can potentially exploit. The top 3 areas are all positioned in the north of the country, with the 2nd and 3rd placed areas closest to the North Korean border, and Busan and its surrounding areas as the exception in being the main area in the south preparing for implementation of the first UAM operations.
Commuters from these areas spend 1.5 hours on average a day driving to and from work, according to the transport ministry. By comparison, it takes 110 minutes to travel from Seoul to Busan in the southeast region of the country via the KTX high-speed train.
The South Korea Government and Korean Corporations are taking the development of urban air mobility seriously and its top down and collaborative approach with business will serve it well in reaching the milestones it has tentatively set out in its national roadmap. With all
the recent announcements it has attracted non-traditional service providers to explore the demand for such services in the future. One example is South Korean mobility group Kakao, which plans to commence a joint feasibility study with e-VTOL aircraft developer Volocopter to explore the potential for launching urban air mobility (UAM) services in the country. Under a memorandum of understanding signed in November 2021, the companies plan to release their findings in February 2022 to support ongoing efforts backed by the South Korean government to see UAM operations begin in 2025.
Kakao Mobility operates an app that allows customers to book services such as taxis, car parking, and electric bikes, as well as train rides and airline flights.
“As the largest mobility platform in South Korea with 30 million registered users, Kakao Mobility has deep insights on traffic patterns and customer needs in the Korean mobility market,” said the group’s chief technology officer, Seungil You. “Starting with the cooperation with Volocopter in the Korean market, we are looking forward to expanding our partnership across the UAM industry worldwide as well as our business in an airspace mobility platform of the future.” (Source Kakao)
These are all positive sentiments for what is positioning South Korean major cities, Seoul and Busan as early adopters of UAM services in Asia.
Its business-friendly environment and future-focused policy and regulatory settings make New Zealand an attractive choice to research and develop new ideas and products, including the development of UAM. It stands out from the other Asia-Pacific countries with its unique positioning as an R&D destination for AAM testing and development. With its unique expertise, talent and technology, coupled with its relatively small scale and location, New Zealand offers surprising advantages when it comes to making things happen.
There are many factors that make New Zealand an attractive destination to undertake R&D and testing, including:
The New Zealand Government has committed to raising economywide research and development (R&D) to 2% of its GDP by 2027, and is supporting businesses in growing their R&D activity to achieve their ambitious goal.
New Zealand supports innovation through a number of mechanisms, including:
Another incentive is offered by the Edmund Hillary Fellowship, which offers a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for visionary entrepreneurs, investors and start-up teams to live and work in New Zealand and to create scalable, positive global impact.
Launched in early 2017, up to 100 international and 20 New Zealand-based Fellows are selected each year to join its threeyear programme, and become part of a diverse community of exceptional entrepreneurs and investors. International candidates accepted into EHF can apply for a Global Impact Visa, a threeyear open work visa for New Zealand.
As COVID-19 restrictions have eased in New Zealand, like a recoiled spring, traffic congestion has returned to even greater levels in Q4 2021 and over the Christmas period. A future where using the sky for smallscale aircraft becomes increasingly attractive for major city dwellers.
“We can’t continue to use road transport; 3D mobility is really important, it requires a very different mindset from government policy, regulators and community. We have to create that, because it’s not there at the moment.” — Anna Kominik, Asia Pacific Director at Wisk
Wisk, a unit of Boeing Co., has been testing Cora, an autonomous electric aircraft that takes off and lands like a helicopter, from its base in Tekapo, New Zealand, for the past five years. Wisk has been liaising with regulators, including the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration, to get approval for public use of its air taxi, which can carry two passengers up to 100 kilometres (62 miles) at speeds of up to 150 kilometres per hour or km/hr (93 mph). Kominik said the creation of an “ecosystem” of use cases was critical, as the industry and technology develops.
California-based Wisk selected New Zealand because it was unique globally in allowing “beyond line of sight” trials of autonomous aircraft. Kominik said New Zealand’s tight border restrictions had prevented some key personnel from entering during the 2021 pandemic outbreak in the country, but it also spurred the opening of a new testing site in Australia. In February 2020, Wisk announced that it had signed a memorandum of understanding with the New Zealand Government to establish the Transport Trial under the broader Airspace Integration Trial Program (AITP). Since then, both parties have been undertaking detailed planning of a highly structured and integrated program, with the implementation of the trial conducted in Q4 2021. Insitu Pacific Pty Ltd, a Boeing subsidiary, is also a part of the program. With the backing of Boeing’s expertise in integrating piloted and autonomous technology alongside Wisk’s decade-long e-VTOL experience, puts the Transport Trial in good stead.
These trials are enabling the private sector to work with the regulators closely in designing the regulation for the future operation of e-VTOL’s to be integrated into existing airspace regulation and within multiple operational environments such as urban cities, emergency response and airport transfers.
The New Zealand Government has established an Airspace Integration Trials programme to facilitate the safe testing, development and market validation of advanced unmanned aircraft, and to accelerate the integration into its aviation system.
The programme builds on the potential for innovation under New Zealand’s current Civil Aviation Rules. It provides the mechanism for Government to work with leading, innovative domestic and international industry partners to test and demonstrate unmanned aircraft for a range of purposes including passenger transport, cargo delivery, agricultural services, and hazard management and monitoring services.
The programme will be centrally managed by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment’s Innovative Partnerships’ team, working alongside the Civil Aviation Authority, the Ministry of Transport and other key stakeholders to support industry partners to take their technology from testing to in-service operations.
Wisk New Zealand (formerly operating in New Zealand as Zephyr Airworks) became the first industry partner in the programme in early 2020. The Government signed an MOU with Wisk to support the establishment of a world’s first passenger transport trial of Cora, its self-flying, all-electric air taxi in Canterbury, New Zealand.
Wisk has been testing Cora in New Zealand since 2017 after more than nine years of development in the United States. With the agreement in place, a passenger transport trial program in Canterbury is underway.
Swoop Aero is an Australian drone-powered logistics company founded to transform the way the world moves essential supplies. The company seeks to sustainably transform health supply chains to improve health outcomes in both urban and rural communities.
Swoop Aero’s Kookaburra aircraft will help to bridge transport and infrastructure gaps that currently limit access to essential supplies. The Kookaburra will also be able to assist responses to natural disasters such as earthquakes, severe weather events and epidemics.
Another homegrown manufacturer is Vickers Aircraft Company based in Hamilton, with its 4-seater Vickers WaveTM Amphibious Light Sport e-VTOL. Its gearing up for flight tests in 2022 with its prototype. Developing an eVTOL with amphibious capabilities opens possibilities not yet explored in this space, and with the New Zealand Government leading the world from a regulation standpoint, New Zealand is on track to be the first country to allow approved manned eVTOL passenger flights.
In terms of potential New Zealand commercialisation for future operations of UAM/AAM vehicles, some of the larger fleet current helicopter operators in-country are:
It is interesting that Wisk chose Canterbury, New Zealand on the South Island to base itself and conduct its multiple hours of testing and development. We can note the existing infrastructure of aerodromes and helipads in the below Our Airports map, where the greatest activity and potential for domestic UAM and AAM development is taking place.
From the map to the left you can make out Canterbury which is located due West of Christchurch the main city district on the South Island. There is also the Otago region, due South of Canterbury which has a number of destination points depicted for general aviation and existing helicopter operations. In fact, the Canterbury region has the most potential operational locations in the whole of New Zealand, driven no doubt by one of its largest industries, agriculture.
When considering other regions, there are three situated on the North Island of New Zealand, namely the regions of Auckland and its surrounding areas as well as the inland area of the Waikato Region, the other one being the Bay of Plenty Region. The topography of both Islands and distance to cover may well restrict early adoption of e-VTOL’s countrywide, until battery life and recharging stations are in place, however the major catchment and population areas of Auckland, Christchurch and Canterbury are the top 3 picks from our current analysis.
New Zealand’s economy is on the road to recovery in 2022, having gone through a strict border lockdown for most of 2020/21. It is an open economy for doing business with a common law system and a friendly regulatory environment. It is keen to attract and support entrepreneurial endeavours and direct foreign investors seeking to develop new technologies that are eco-friendly. AAM is one sector it recognises that makes sense for it to support in helping efforts to decarbonise aviation.
Singapore is a highly urbanised country with a population density of more than 8000 people per sq km. It is also a major air hub with a small and congested airspace. This presents unique conditions for the implementation of Advanced Air Mobility (AAM) systems.
Urban air mobility fits into Singapore’s Smart Nation vision of using technology to solve problems and address challenges, as the authority seeks to collaborate with businesses like Airbus and others to push the boundaries of these technology applications.
Singapore launched its first e-VTOL Research and Innovation Centre in 2019 at Nanyang Technological University (NTU), Singapore. Its Mission Statement is to be the world’s leading research and innovation centre for manned and unmanned e-VTOL aircraft. Seeking to nurture talent, create and incubate innovative e-VTOL technologies, and transform the future of transportation.
Singapore is tackling its own UAM development path in three parts:
Certification & airworthiness considerations in the design of e-VTOL’s, Singapore regulators are closely following the latest policy developments at ICAO, and the approach FAA (USA regulator), EASA (European Regulator) & CAAC (China’s Regulator) are taking in advancing type certification for this new type of technology in aviation.
Airspace Management, how does one safely integrate this mode of air mobility into the existing airspace management systems that typically catered for fixed wing and limited helicopter movements in what is one of the most congested airspaces in the world relative to its size (pre-Covid) for international aircraft movements? There have been several visualisation demonstrations conducted of UAM operations over the past few years in Singapore, with the most memorable one of Volocopter and Skyports showcasing their products in 2019 at Marina Bay. It certainly captured the imagination of the future potential of UAM in the city. Singapore’s Government is working in collaboration with firms like Thales as technology options for implementing tracker ID for Unmanned Aircraft, including utilising ADS-B (Automatic Dependence Surveillance-Broadcast).
AAM Supply Chain – How are local and regional aerospace and automotive firms able to participate and position themselves in the future supply chain in this new industry? AAM production volumes are expected to be higher than in Aerospace. Development of composite materials is one such opportunity using a co-development approach that could be applicable to both AAM and the automobile industries.
Mr Kevin Shum, Director-General of CAAS said “CAAS is committed to working together with the aviation community to promote safety and innovation, to advance aviation. This enhancement of the Working Arrangement is testament to the strong partnership between CAAS and EASA. It will help to develop Singapore as a centre of excellence for the aviation technology sector.”
The Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore (CAAS) and the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) have updated their bilateral Working Arrangement to facilitate CAAS’ validation of EASA aircraft type certifications in December 2020. The amendment to the Working Arrangement on Airworthiness Certification allows the two regulators to collaborate on facilitating aviation innovations, such as electric-vertical take-off and landing (e-VTOL) aircraft. This facilitates aviation companies in Singapore to innovate and benefit from rapidly developing aviation technologies. This will help speed up the process of type certification and airworthiness approvals in the months and years ahead.
The policy-making framework for these new aviation technologies must be “principles-based”, echoing the World Economic Forum commentary earlier, by ensuring that the framework can evolve during the multi-phased, iterative innovation process. By engaging with vehicle manufacturers, service providers, infrastructure developers, community-based organizations, academics and government stakeholders, public officials can anticipate and even enable new ideas as they create policy and regulations to support the roll-out of new technologies in the public interest to benefit the many, rather than the few.
Despite the challenges over the past two years, According to JTC – Jurong Town Corporation, Singapore has maintained a strong base of aerospace activities. To seize new growth opportunities in digital services, autonomous technologies and sustainability, aerospace companies based in Singapore are looking to fill 1,000 new positions over the next two years. These roles include data analysts, robotics and automation engineers, and aircraft technicians.
Mr Jeffrey Lam, Commercial Aerospace President of ST Engineering, said, “Despite the current challenges that the aviation sector is facing, its fundamentals and long-term prospects remain strong. ST Engineering continues to invest in its capabilities and capacity, and we are reviewing opportunities for the expansion of our capabilities and capacity, including the hiring of aviation professionals to support in growth areas so that we can continue to strengthen our ability to support our global customers.”
Singapore after all is a small Island country – condensed enough to travel end to end in forty-five minutes depending on traffic. Again due to COVID-19 movement restrictions imposed for most of 2020/21, the average commute time has reduced on average from pre-Covid levels. However, in 2022 the movement restrictions have all been lifted and Work from Home restrictions have also been lifted.
Singapore has always regarded itself as a leader in smart, digitally enabled mobility, always portraying itself as an open and welcoming international financial and service orientated centre in Asia-Pacific. Despite the pandemic challenges over restricted international flights and quarantine procedures, it could be argued Singapore and its economy will come out of this crisis stronger, having put in place policies that are attracting more investors to its shores. With the ongoing uncertainties brought on by regional geopolitics, Singapore is seen as a stable destination to do business, and to attract entrepreneurs in high technology and services industries. The Singapore Government is trying to strike a balance to appease locals concerns around unemployment and the impression that they are missing out on some highly skilled opportunities and positions. It will also depend on the pace of the broader economy’s recovery in whether this is a short-term phenomenon or may linger into a medium-term protectionist sentiment.
Due to its small size, there are only a limited number of commercially licensed helicopter providers that currently offer domestic charter helicopter services on the island. These companies tend to fall into two different categories of specialization: sightseeing and leisure travel providers, and logistics or engineering firms that have added helicopter transfer and mission-based trips to their range of services.
Singapore Heli Services provides helicopter services throughout Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, other parts of Asia and international waters.
Hevilift – Established in 1994, HeviLift is a leading Fixed and Rotary Wing aviation services provider operating in Australia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar and Papua New Guinea. Fleet in Singapore currently only one AW139 in operation.
The main demand footprint to start with for the justification of UAM e-VTOL’s in Singapore in terms of favoured routes is really around passenger transfers to and from the main International Changi Airport to downtown Singapore business district, Marina Bay and the Sentosa Cove areas, perhaps even onto Jurong Island itself where it would alleviate traffic in peak times to and from the CBD in particular. The other routes which could also make commercial sense would be between the business aviation airport Seletar and Changi International Airport, which doesn’t have any direct train or convenient bus schedule, especially if you need to transfer urgently between the two airports. Other domestic destinations of interest are more from a leisure demand point of view and sightseeing of the city itself with the exception of demand coming from Singaporean residents in the Woodlands area, where the main land crossing into Johor Bharu in Malaysia is situated. This would easily cut car journey times down by 30-45 minutes in peak times in some cases. It could be also an option for Malaysians living in the Johor region, who wish to conveniently transfer to Changi Airport having sent their luggage on ahead, or simply to visit the Centre of Singapore more conveniently.
The map on the next page depicts the current existing aviation infrastructure locations, it gives a better sense of the potential routes that could be operated in safe air corridors across Singapore airspace. There are a number of suitable parks, carparks and building and recreational areas that would be able to accommodate landing/take-off points for e-VTOLs, but it will also greatly depend on local residents’ acceptance of multiple air vehicles and drones flying around the Island. Singaporeans are typically cautious in nature, with safety, public nuisance, noise and accountability ranked as major priorities, especially when it comes to public transportation and latest mobility development efforts. If it is only deemed for the privileged few, the industry will likely not be able to realise its full potential growth in the city.
The Singaporean Government together with the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore at this stage seem fully committed to its implementation in becoming a leading city Island nation to adopt and operate AAM more broadly in its society. It will also be interesting to see if the likes of Singapore Airlines jump into this space as a future customer.
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