Volume 01 | Issue 08 | July 27, 2020
Electric Use Cases, Touchless Travel & Why Mars?

EXCLUSIVE: AirMap CEO David Hose is transitioning out of his leadership role as the company initiates a search for a new chief executive.

AirMap, a venture-funded UAS service provider based in Santa Monica, Ca., has struggled to hit its revenue targets for many quarters as the UAS service industry as a whole continues to face a sector that just isn’t growing as explosively as they had hoped — in part due to the slow regulatory process that is preventing drone operations from taking place at scale.

More information will be available on AviationToday.com tomorrow, but for now, you get the scoop first!

Today’s issue focuses on Longshots, COVID-19 Recovery and Sustainability and Electrification.

Hope you enjoy. Thanks for reading.
Early Use Cases for Electric Airplanes
Last month, Pipistrel made history, receiving EASA's first-ever type certification for an electric airplane. (Pipistrel)

Electric aviation is almost here.
We’re likely more than a decade away from all-electric narrowbody jets, but Pipistrel’s two-seat Velis Electro received its EASA type certification last month and other manufacturers are following close behind. Pipistrel tells me they’re beginning deliveries this month, planning for 31 by the end of the year and reaching full-rate production next year of 10 aircraft per month.

What (and where) will initial uses of electric aircraft be? Will they simply provide zero-emission and lower-cost versions of existing services, or will they create new services and markets?

Training will be the primary application for early electric aircraft. Bye Aerospace has now reached 360 orders for its eFlyer 2 and eFlyer 4 aircraft pending certification, with UK-based Skyborne Academy recently placing an order for 10.
  • In California, the cities of Reedley and Mendota recently purchased four Alpha Electros to be used as trainers by a local sustainable flying club — once an FAA petition is sorted allowing these specific aircraft to be recertified as special light sport.

  • Many pilots are grounded for the moment, but long-term, the pilot shortage remains a pressing issue for the industry. Electric trainers offer a 40-60 percent reduction in cost, according to operators we spoke with, that can be passed on to students.
Short-range travel experiments. Some of entrepreneurial early-adopters plan to test use cases, public interest, and reaction to lower-priced aviation options, as well as bundling the “electric flight experience” with tourism or other ventures.
  • UK-based Nebo Air will take delivery of two Velis Electros for initial use between London and the Midlands, mixed with tourism and activities for passengers to explore while the aircraft recharges during a pit stop at the team’s hobby farm in East Anglia.

  • Nebo Air is applying for funding through the UK’s Future Flight Challenge; if they receive backing, they expect costs to be about 40 percent lower than using traditional aircraft. Without that funding, costs are expected to be 15 percent lower due to air finance loan servicing.
These early projects have plans for rapid expansion, and Nebo Air told us they’ve spoken with more than 25 airfields that are interested in joining the network.

One common limitation these projects face is infrastructure at airports; namely, chargers. Installing an electric charger can cost about $30-35,000, and that’s a hefty investment for smaller airports to make. Government assistance in this area, such as by the UK’s Future Flight initiative, could have a noticeable impact on how quickly use cases and routes can be tested.

In the meantime, the number of hybrid or all-electric aviation projects continues to rise:
  • Oxis Energy and Texas Aircraft recently announced plans to electrify the Colt S-LSA using lithium-sulfur batteries.

  • UK-based Electric Aviation group unveiled a design for a 70-seat hybrid-electric regional aircraft it hopes will enter service in 2028.

  • And Zach Lovering, former lead of Airbus’ Vahana technology demonstrator team, founded Aera Aircraft to build an electric commuter aircraft, though public details are scant at this time.
Will COVID-19 Accelerate the Move to Touchless Travel?
A report by the Security Manufacturers Coalition recommended $3.7 billion in investments related to accelerate the post-COVID aviation sector.

For nearly 20 years
, security experts have advocated transitioning to a more seamless travel experience using touchless screening technology.

That future is now within reach — in part because the technology is ready, but also because the novel coronavirus pandemic has created urgency to move to a touchless passenger flow.

Airports and airlines have begun to do their part, many working with U.S. Customs and Border Protection on biometric air exit. Using facial recognition, foreign nationals and U.S. citizens have their face image captured when departing on international flights for rapid check against a database, eliminating the need to present their passports and boarding passes.

Some airlines and airports continue to introduce touchless features on the front end.
  • American Airlines, as part of its “Clean Commitment,” is rolling out touchless check-in kiosks for checking bags where passengers can scan the boarding pass on their smartphone from the pass they printed at home and the kiosk will print out bag tags.

  • Delta Airlines has deployed face recognition technology at an airport terminal in Atlanta for passengers to check-in at self-service kiosks, check baggage, identify themselves at the TSA checkpoint, board an international flight, and on their return for processing by CBP to renter the U.S. The airline is also using the technology as an option for entry into its VIP lounges.

  • United Airlines passengers are using the airline’s mobile application to can their boarding pass at the check-in counter and drop their bags off with no contact.

  • Singapore’s Changi Airport is using automated kiosks that feature screens equipped with infrared proximity sensors to detect the motion of your fingers as passengers point to options, so check-in and luggage drop off is accomplished without touching the display.

  • Tampa International Airport now features a contactless experience with “e-gates” and self-service digital bag drops that were implemented prior to the outbreak of COVID-19 in the U.S., in February.
But airlines have been severely impacted by the precipitous drop in customer traffic due to the pandemic, which may slow wider rollouts of contactless technologies across the industry.

A June survey of 4,700 passengers who recently traveled across 11 countries by the International Air Transport Association (IATA), shows that the introduction of contactless travel solutions could help to restore passenger confidence in getting back onboard aircraft.
  • When asked what measures would make them feel safer onboard aircraft 37 percent cited COVID-19 screening at departure airports, 34 percent agreed with mandatory wearing of facemasks and 33 percent noted social distancing measures on aircraft.

  • About 40 percent of passengers surveyed said they would be willing to check in online to reduce interactions at the airport.
TSA recently began to deploy potentially transformative technologies at the checkpoint in the form of computed tomography (CT)-based carry-on baggage scanners, Automated Screening Lanes (ASLs), and facial recognition. These technologies provide touchless benefits for security officers as they won’t have to manually handle bags and bins nearly as frequently. Biometrics are also in the evaluation phase.
  • TSA administrator David Pekoske has made checkpoint CT a priority and wrote in June that the agency needs to push ahead to a “near contactless experience” at the checkpoint through new concepts and technologies.

  • The problem: TSA’s advances here are all at the speed of typical government acquisition processes, which means slow, not to mention potential funding inconsistencies. For example, the Trump administration requested less than $30 million in funding for checkpoint CT next year, enough to purchase about 100 of the systems. House appropriators have upped the funding to $75 million. Senate appropriators have yet to mark up their budget for TSA next year.

  • A recent report by the Security Manufacturers Coalition, which represents the security detection industry, urged the U.S. government to spend nearly $4 billion in the coming years on aviation security technology that would reduce physical interactions between security officers and the traveling public, potentially boosting public confidence in flying as well.
For the time being, the drive toward a touchless air travel experience still has plenty of friction points.
Why COVID-19 Isn’t Reducing Government-Industry Appetite for Mars Exploration
On July 30, NASA will launch its Mars 2020 Perseverance rover from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on July 30. The mission includes the Ingenuity Mars Helicopter, which the agency hopes will become the first aircraft to attempt controlled flight on another planet. (NASA)

This week, NASA will lead the United States to launch a new exploration mission to Mars — the third state to do so in the past two weeks, during a global pandemic.

As COVID-19 consumes the public’s attention and government resources worldwide, many have questioned whether the billions in investment required to eventually send humans to Mars is worth funding.

Why Mars?
  • Each independent mission being launched to Mars is looking to achieve exploratory goals, such as the UAE’s mission to study the dynamics of the Martian atmosphere, or NASA’s attempt to perform the first controlled flight of an aircraft, the “Mars Helicopter,” on another planet.

  • Engineers and scientists across the space community believe Mars has the most similar properties to Earth, and studying its atmosphere and seasonal time cycles could provide more information about Earth itself.

  • As more commercial initiatives such as Virgin Galactic and the ambitions of SpaceX advance, more government funding and public interest is establishing human spaceflight to Mars as a “long shot” that many in the aerospace community believe could be achievable sooner than we think.
During an FIA Connect 2020 webinar, leaders from the European space community explained why they believe that government investment in the development of Mars exploration missions and eventual human spaceflight should continue despite the current problems with the COVID-19 pandemic many regulators are still addressing.
  • “I think the events of the last four months means that the investment in Space increases quite dramatically over a five year period ahead and we will start to have industrial activities up there that we wouldn’t have conceived happening in 50 years happening in five, that will be one of the COVID effects,” said Will Whitehorn, former president of Virgin Galactic and current president of UKSpace.

  • “I’m not so happy about all of these discussions coming from politicians. The normal people, whom I think are more important, they don’t worry about that. We asked them, we made a big survey and they said yes. Go for Space. Go for the Moon. Go for Mars. People are really looking at it as a positive mission for humankind, and not just as a question as to whether the Euro or the Pound is invested well. It is invested well, but this is not the point,” said Jan W├Ârner, director general of the European Space Agency.
Read more on the conversation surrounding Mars and COVID-19.
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