Topics ranged from the latest developments in advanced air mobility to the personal journeys of an astronaut and a decorated Olympian.
A far-reaching conversation about AAM was moderated by Cyrus Sigari, jetAVIVA co-founder and executive chairman and UP.Partners co-founder and managing partner. While the conversation touched on the aspirational, there was a significant dose of how to practically progress.
“I giggle at the fact that next year is the sixtieth anniversary of The Jetsons and we’ve all been hoping and waiting for them to be a reality,” said Sigari. “Watching all of these products fly from our panelists—you’re all collectively building The Jetsons. And that’s cool.”
From their various perspectives in the AAM ecosystem, representing different product life stages, the panel agreed that educating society about the benefits of the technology is key to broader understanding and adoption. This seemed especially true for people in communities who have traditionally seen vertical flight (i.e. helicopters) as somewhat of a nuisance.
“We have focused on noise as one of our differentiators,” said Eric Allison, head of product at Joby Aviation. “Dealing with noise is not just some pixie dust you sprinkle onto the aircraft afterward; it’s something that has to be designed into it from the very beginning.”
“What will be a transformative thing is just the pleasure of flying in an electric aircraft,” stated Kyle Clark, CEO of Beta Technologies. “You get in the aircraft, with no engine noise, a pretty quiet propeller, and the visibility is miraculous. You will be able to cruise through the air and actually hear the wind.”
Melissa Tomkiel, president of Blade Urban Air Mobility, cited that already serving a range of urban centers through helicopter, seaplane, and jet travel sets the company up to take advantage of new technologies.
“Many of us are talking about the vehicles they are building. We’re building the ecosystem that surrounds UAM,” said Tomkiel. “We are being strategic about acquiring infrastructure necessary for processing passengers on to the aircraft. Once these EVAs [electric vertical aircraft] get certified and enter commercial production, it’s just going to be a technology swap for us.”
Tomkiel also stated that much of the cost built into the shorter air mobility flights is not so much connected to propulsion or operations as it is related to infrastructure, such as landing fees.
“It’ll be really important as we open up the market for UAM and AAM that there are good partnerships with government and municipalities to help subsidize landing fees,” she said. “That’s the biggest portion of our costs.”
With all of the technology-centric discussions, Martin Peryea, CEO of Jaunt Air Mobility, reminded attendees that for AAM and UAM to be understood and embraced by the public, important conversations need to stretch beyond those with people in the industry.
“There are many people in a lot of communities that are pretty disconnected to what we are doing, and the benefits it will provide them,” Peryea said. “We need to communicate the word.”
The morning also included inspirational stories and lessons from Dr. Sian Proctor, a geoscientist, space artist, and mission pilot for the September 2021 SpaceX Inspiration4 all-civilian orbital mission, and decorated Olympic ski champion Lindsey Vonn.