Rotorcraft Asia 2019 Wows With Latest eVTOL Tech

Rotorcraft Asia 2019 Wows with Latest eVTOL Tech

April 10, 2019

Rotorcraft Asia 2019 and Unmanned Systems Asia 2019 held in conjunction with the 7th World Civil Aviation Chief Executives Forum debut the latest electric Vertical Take-off and Landing (eVTOL) technologies to show how the twin worlds of rotorcraft and unmanned technologies are coming together to revolutionise the way we work and travel. We get the low down from Asian Sky Group Chairman Max Buirski on APACs Rotary Market, an introduction by Volocopter’s CEO Christian Bauer on the debut of their eVOTL urban aircraft and the latest in Drone technology from Periculum Labs Board Advisor Markus Scherer on the plethora of business opportunities Drone Technology brings to market.

By Joanne Leila Smith

Rotorcraft Asia 2019 and Unmanned Systems Asia 2019, the region’s first integrated platform for rotorcraft and unmanned systems, has 100 companies from 23 countries, showcasing their latest technology products and services to attendees from 56 countries at the Changi Exhibition Centre in Singapore this week.

Legacy brands and start-ups from around the world converged to offer and discuss how Urban Mobility solutions will help revolutionise the transport landscape and provide new mobility services; Traffic Management solutions for land and in the air; improvements in surveillance, monitoring and inspection services, and, enabling systems’ solutions to support UAV operations and developments.

One of the star features of the Forum was undoubtedly the Asian debut of Volocopter 2X aircraft, which is capable of transporting two passengers for 30-minute urban air missions. German-based Volocopter CEO Mr Florian Reuter shares some key highlights on the journey to market and how he thinks it will transform urban air mobility.

“We received a first permit to fly from the German authorities from the Ministry of Transport and a permit to fly in Dubai. The goal of this new concept electric aircraft is to set a new standard in safety and offer a transport alternative for city travel.  What is important to know is that we have a redundancy system, so if a rotor or a motor fails, the aircraft can safely land, which we do not have in classical helicopter design today. These 18 rotors are suspended by nine fully electric battery packs. If one battery pack fails, we can still land.  The total flight time capacity is around 30 minutes, with a speed of 100km per hour, that’s 62 miles per hour, which is perfect for an urban mission such as a flight from an international airport to the city centre,” says Reuter.

According to Reuter, Volocopter will fly with a pilot and one passenger, but in the future, it is planning on a fully automated aircraft – which has already been tested in Dubai.

“The technology has to be certified right now and with regulatory bodies that takes some time.  We are hoping to perform a test flight in Singapore and we’re in talks with the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore and the Ministry of Transport who are helping us to set up test trials here. The goal is to establish our first commercial route here and to showcase this technology first in Asia,” says Reuter.

The breadth of industries represented for unmanned systems that are embracing and deploying drone solutions in traditional sectors such as agriculture, construction, oil and gas and emergency medical services to maximise resource optimisation and operational efficacy demonstrates how much value this technology will bring to industry.

Capturing 33% of the global market share between 2018-2027, ASCEND by Cirium forecasts the Asia Pacific to be the fastest growing and leading region for helicopter deliveries. Similarly, for unmanned systems, Goldman Sachs Research forecasts that drone spending between 2017 and 2021 in the Asia Pacific is estimated to be USD14.2 billion, the second largest market globally after North America, driven by growing demand from the commercial and civil government sectors.

According to Experia Events Managing Director Leck Chet Lam, drone deployment in agriculture in Japan and China have saved on manpower, improved the quality of produce and reduced environmental footprint.

Rotorcraft Asia 2019
ACSL showcases it autonomous flying drone for navigating in GPS denied areas at Rotorcraft Asia 2019. Photo courtesy of Experia Events.

“Drones survey crops. They know where crops are thriving or not. Farmers can send another drone to spray pesticides in a specific area, rather than the entire crop so impact on environment is reduced. In Japan there are cherries, strawberries, apples, which are perfect – I think that’s the beauty of technology. Other areas which drones or unmanned systems and even helicopters are also making an impact are in medical emergency services for the delivery of medical supplies to remote areas.  Air taxis as a form of transportation has arrived. As they are all electric, carbon emission is cut right from the beginning,” says Lam.

According to Asian Sky Group Chairman Max Buirski, Asia Pacific will be the fastest growing and leading market for helicopter deliveries over the next decade. He says industries need to get on board to tap into growth opportunities in this region.

Asian Sky Group is a business and general aviation consulting firm based in Hong Kong, with offices around Asia, including China.

Buirski says Australia is the largest market for helicopters, being the longest market for helicopters in terms of usage – it is the freest in terms of airspace, ease of operation and range of use. However, over the past few years, Mainland China has emerged as the fastest growing market in the region – and has just overtaken Japan.

“A few years ago, there was almost no helicopter use in mainland China that wasn’t military related. Today, it’s now the second largest market, and the fastest growing for the second year in a row. Mainland China added over 83 helicopters last year. What’s also interesting about Asia is that it’s one of the only areas in the world where the helicopter market is still growing. The helicopter market has been in a global downturn, which is largely due to the downturn in offshore oil and gas. When the price of oil collapsed a few years ago, it took the entire market with us because one of the largest and major drivers of the helicopter industry is the oil and gas business. We saw two of the four largest public helicopter operators gone bankrupt in the last year and a half, the largest is teetering on bankruptcy, the second largest helicopter leasing company in the world has just gone bankrupt. So, we have had a major depression across the industry. But the Asia Pacific region is still growing – we’ve grown for three consecutive years. So that’s quite remarkable compared to what’s happening elsewhere,” says Buirski.

According to Buirski, Asia’s fast growth, primarily driven by Mainland China, has seen a 4.2% compounded growth from 2014 to 2018. While he says there has been a massive number of helicopters ordered in the past five to six years while expansion was high, he predicts the pace of orders will start to slow.

Rotorcraft Asia 2019
Asian Sky Group Chairman Max Buirski says the medical emergency services industry is a highly lucrative market for the helicopter industry, which is largely driven by China. Image courtesy of Experia Events, Rotorcraft Asia 2019.

“Most of that decline will come from China. Offshore oil and gas are extremely critical to the economies of Southeast Asia and so you find a lot of helicopters servicing that industry here. It has been decreasing steadily each year due to the oil and gas downturn. However, on a positive note, the medical emergency services industry is a growth market for the helicopter space right now, which again, is driven largely by China.  This is an area that’s traditionally only been big in western developed economies. In the United States and Europe, you tend to see a lot of medical use of helicopters, and what we are now seeing is Asia embrace it as well. So as countries get richer, get more developed, citizens start to demand more. In Japan, not surprisingly, which has been the most developed country in Asia for the longest, already has a very large air medical business,” says Buirski.

Japan has the largest EMS fleet in the Asia Pacific region, with 86 civil turbine helicopters, representing 32% of APACs EMS fleet. Interestingly, while Australia has the largest offshore fleet in APAC, it also witnessed the largest off-shore fleet reduction in 2018.

Drone Technologies are also creating a buzz, as global commercial drone adoption is expected to grow at a CAGR 34% from 2017 to 2021. According to Periculum Labs Board Advisor Markus Scherer, APAC will witness the highest growth compared to other continents and will be the second largest market by 2021, with China to remain the largest in the region, accounting for almost 50% of the market. For Scherer, it’s important that consumers in this space understands the historical shift the aviation industry is undergoing and how some of these changes will impact everything.

“Right now, we’re really just on the cusp of that disruption. Over the coming years, we’re going to see commercial drones be fully integrated into the civilian air space. It will be a step-by-step process. The commercial drones’ industry is roughly worth between USD8.7 and 12.2 billion. If we put that into context with other industries, it’s not that big. But it has been growing at a substantial rate over the past two years. When we look at market share, the United States makes up the bulk of the market in terms of value, but Asia Pacific is moving in the right direction and growing faster than other areas.  China is well known for its commercial hobbyist segment. They throw the drone and it comes back to you, there are GoPro cameras on helmets and drones that follow you etc. There are drones for agriculture and Air Mobility taxis, so China has really moved forward very quickly here. So today, and moving into the coming years, the hobbyist segment is still going to remain the largest single segment by volume. But we do see that the B2B segments, most notably infrastructure and agriculture, are really going to grow B2B applications of drones’ usage and that has been one of the major shifts over the past year is where B2B applications have become much more important,” says Scherer.

According to Scherer while Drones is a new industry, it is already being disrupted by software, with the biggest challenges facing the industry being centered on what to do with all that data.

“Every day, drones are deployed to gather information and they create massive stores of data. The challenge for the industry is how to create actionable, added value insights for clients; so you get lots of pictures, but what do you do with them? The use of AI and machine learning has really opened the door and created new B2B segments for data services and analytics in the commercial drone industry. We’re seeing it in infrastructure, agriculture, oil and gas, whereby analytics is really adding value for clients. This market is projected to be bigger than the drone hardware market by 2021,” says Scherer.

While APAC has the highest growth rate, it makes up the third largest market globally. According to Scherer, this has a lot to do with the cost of value services, whereby more developed and wealthier economies have had a higher willingness to pay for higher value-added services. However, in APAC, the distribution of the growth for such services are emerging as equal.

“What’s noticeable is that China remains the largest market, but it’s not as large as the overall commercial drone industry. And we see that Australia has a very wealthy market. While it’s only 6% of the commercial market, it’s 17% from a market value for data services, and analytics. So, there is quite a big difference in who’s willing to pay for data services. Another key industry that’s really benefiting from data services and analytics is the mining industry, with a high growth rate of around 57%,” says Scherer.

One of the most interesting shifts in the market according to Scherer, will be urban area delivery, whether it’s a drone delivering pizza, or catching an air taxi into town. While some believe this to be a reality for the distant future, Scherer believes it’s going to happen a lot sooner than many realise.

“Today, when we look at the industry, we have visual line of sight missions, which means I have one operator piloting a drone which does not leave that operators visual line of sight. That’s the industry norm today. That’s the safety model. And of course, in the aviation industry, safety is paramount. It’s already happening now, where we see step-by-step integration of beyond visual line of sight missions which means I no longer see the drone, but I am still one pilot on one drone. But the biggest step is really going to be the integration of unmanned systems and creating unmanned traffic management systems to make sure that drones and other types of vehicles in our airspace are going to be able to communicate with each other. The United States, Europe, China and Japan are all working on how to resolve the scalability factor,” says Scherer.

In order to bring down the number of operators required for drones and make them affordable; the market needs to move beyond the one-to-one model today and get it to a ratio of 1:50, i.e. one person overseeing 50 drones. This means that autonomous drones need to self-pilot and make decisions in real time.

Rotorcraft Asia 2019
Subaru’s Shotaro Sugihara showcases their Special Assignment Helicopter from Japan at Rotorcraft Asia 2019. Image courtesy of Experia Events.

According to Scherer, to overcome this problematic, drone manufacturers will need to infuse our current capabilities with artificial intelligence and machine learning. His view is that the capacity is available now, the issue is making the product certifiable.

“Periculum Labs is working specifically in this space. Our focus is about making drones autonomous and enabling them to make mission critical decisions on their own. Regarding unmanned traffic management, if we’re going to see mass adoption of drones within dense urban areas, drones will not fly point-to-point. The person will put in an address, and the drone is going to have to be able to create the best route for the flight instantaneously. That same destination will be different tomorrow, due to traffic and weather at the time of when the mission is created. If something happens, like a wind gust and the drone gets pushed off its path it will need to be able to make a real time decision about what to do as a next step. This might mean it needs to land in a safe place or return to home base,” says Scherer.

From a scalability and regulatory perspective, the reason why drone technology needs to have a high level of operational efficiency is simply because it needs to be insurable.

“To achieve certifiability, we need to be able to quantify the risk of an autonomous drone falling out of the sky and hitting a parked car or a person that can create a lot of damage. So, understanding the quantifiable risk is something that the regulators need to be able to do in order to make sure this technology can be fully integrated into our air-traffic management systems,” says Scherer.

For more information visit Rotorcraft Asia 2019.

(Featured image of Baey Yam Keng Senior Parliamentary Secretary Ministry of Transport and Volocopter CEO Mr Florian Reuter at Rotorcraft Asia 2019.  Image courtesy of Experia Events.)

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