Think Tank (5/2023)
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eVTOLs: A Revolution in Aerial Mobility?
05 Sep 2023

RSIS organised a webinar in partnership with the Association of Aerospace Industries Singapore on 5 September 2023 to explore the current state of electric vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) aircraft technology and potential use cases.

The panel comprised Mr Derek Cheng, Head of Commercial APAC, Vertical Aerospace; Mr Andrew Cummins, Director, Strategy and Business Development, Archer; Mr Damian Kysely, Head of EMEA, Skyports Infrastructure; and Prof James Wang, Director, eVTOL Research and Innovation Centre, Nanyang Technological University. The webinar was moderated by Mr Chris Leck, Adjunct Senior Fellow, RSIS.

Panellists discussed a wide range of potential use cases for eVTOL aircraft from logistics to tourism. In the military domain, for example, eVTOLs could potentially be used in non-kinetic missions such as emergency medical evacuations, resupply, and transport within bases. The panel agreed that in the short term, eVTOLs would primarily contribute to an evolution of the traditional aviation industry. A revolution in aerial mobility would only be possible further down the road once the technology and supporting infrastructure matures.

Panellists then went on to discuss key technology areas that could be improved on. One key technology area that panellists highlighted was batteries, which comprise a significant proportion of the overall weight that an eVTOL aircraft has to sustain in flight. The panel was generally optimistic about current advances in battery research and the potential for improvements in capacity while reducing weight. On the other hand, the panel felt the potential for hybrid VTOLs as an interim option was limited by the costs introduced through having more components that add weight and require maintenance.

Another technology area that the panel explored was autonomy in eVTOL operations. While panellists noted that there was existing mature technology for ‘’hands-off’’ flying, managing autonomously-operated eVTOLs at scale was not a straightforward task. To build trust in autonomy for eVTOLs, further R&D and investment in related enabling technologies is needed. As these technologies mature, the role of humans in eVTOLs could shift from being pilots to operators trained primarily to ensure safety and manage emergency situations.

The panel also discussed safety and related regulations. In addition to emphasising the criticality of safety, panellists highlighted the eventual need for regulations to be harmonised across borders as eVTOLs scale in adoption. With regard to infrastructure, standardisation was needed to ensure equitable access for all current and future eVTOL aircraft in the market. Regulators will ultimately have to reckon with a wide range of interrelated challenges such as charging infrastructure and noise in dense urban operating environments.

In terms of Singapore’s role in the current evolution of and potential revolution in aerial mobility through eVTOLs, the panel noted potential opportunities in developing regulations, operating models, public-private partnerships, and R&D. To deepen its industry ecosystem, Singapore would have to focus on assisting key players to scale and take advantage of network effects as they integrate into a cluster.

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