AAM Reality Index, Infrastructure Readiness Index Show Flights, Demos Up

AAM Infrastructure Readiness showed marked progress between August and October, including a piloted short flight from the test vertiport at Rome’s Fiumicino International Airport using a Volocopter 2X prototype. 

Credit: Volocopter

The Advanced Air Mobility OEM Reality Index and Infrastructure Readiness Index reflect continued progress in the industry, from first flights to demonstrations that prove out flight, operations and infrastructure.

The two indexes—updated this week from the previous August report—showed marginal changes in rankings or scores as the entire industry appears to be making progress and moving toward more realistic timelines somewhat simultaneously.

The Reality Index’s fourth-ranked OEM, Lilium, improved its score this month from 7.7 to 7.8 and moved from number five on the list to number four, slightly edging out Eve Holding. According to Sergio Cecutta, partner at SMG Consulting and creator of the two indexes, Lilium’s score increased as new CEO Klaus Roewe began leading the team after being appointed to the position effective Aug. 1 and formally taking the reins at the annual shareholder meeting on Oct. 27. Roewe led Airbus’s A320 and A320neo programs introducing performance improvements, cutting unit costs and increasing market share. 

In addition, Lilium’s uncrewed large-scale demonstrator, the Phoenix 2, achieved full transition from thrust-borne to wing-borne flight in early October, behaving precisely as the computer models predicted.

Leadership and technology maturity are two of the five factors contributing to the Reality Index scores; the remaining three are funding, production readiness, and certification progress.

But it was Eviation that saw its score improve the most, moving from 5.9 to 6.1 between August and October and shifting from its ranking of 17 to 15. 

Eviation’s Alice all-electric commuter aircraft prototype completed its first flight in late September, climbing to an altitude of 1,000 ft. during an 8-min. piloted flight. The first flight followed high-speed taxi tests on Sept. 17, shortly after Eviation received an FAA permit to fly.

More conventional than the original tail wheel-configured, three-engine aircraft unveiled in 2017, the redesigned Alice has tricycle landing gear, a T-tail and two tractor propellers on nacelles mounted on the aft fuselage. The aircraft is now powered by a pair of 850 shp/640-kW magni650 electric propulsion units from MagniX. Batteries are housed beneath the fuselage and use 56 segmented containers called cassettes. 

Regent also improved its score from 6.0 to 6.1 as the company completed its first series of flights in Narragansett Bay, Rhode Island, using all three modes of maritime operation—floating, foiling and flying. The Regent seaglider begins its journey as a boat and transitions through hydrofoil to airborne flight. 

While Wisk did not see its score improve, the company did roll out its Generation 6 vectored thrust vehicle, which will be used for certification with the FAA for passenger service. The production vehicle marks the beginning of the final leg of the journey. The startup does not say when it expects certification, although it does anticipate operating by the end of the decade. 

Nor did EHang see a score change, despite the Chinese startup gaining approval of its project-specific certification plan from the Civil Aviation Administration of China. 

"Many companies are definitely making progress, but not crossing any new milestone we track," Cecutta explains. "For example, for EHang we wait for the [type certificate] to be awarded. For Wisk, the unveiling of Gen 6 is an important step on their roadmap, but we wait for the first flight of the aircraft.

"But the transition of Lilium's Phoenix 2, the first flight of Eviation's Alice and the takeoff from the foil of Regent's demonstrator are all milestones that moved their ratings.

Leaving the AAM Reality Index this month is Kittyhawk Corp., which announced in September that it would cease operations, leaving the Boeing/Wisk joint venture intact.

As for the Infrastructure Readiness Index, Cecutta says, “The spotlight has been turned to infrastructure. The many vertiport demonstrations, announcements and cooperations point to the fact that the infrastructure had been lagging the development of the vehicles, and it needed to catch up if we want to start commercial services in 2024-2025.”

Among the demonstrations was a flight by a Volocopter 2X prototype using Italy’s first fully functional vertiport at Rome’s Fiumicino International Airport. The demonstration was conducted in partnership with airport operator Aeroporti de Roma (ADR), infrastructure company Atlantia and UrbanV, a company established by ADR with the operators of the Bologna, Venice and Nice airports to develop vertiports internationally. The partners aim to launch service between Fiumicino and the city center in time for the Catholic Jubilee in 2025.

Volocopter was also part of another partnership that demonstrated flight from Pontoise Aerodrome, near Paris. The work, conducted as part of the European Union-funded CORUS-XUAM project, focused on emergency procedures as the partners moved beyond the roles of the pilot and air traffic management to define other necessary infrastructure roles. Other partners include airport operator ADP, French aviation regulator DGAC and RATP, the state-owned public transport provider for the Paris region. The intent is to conduct a full-on passenger carrying demonstration during the Paris Olympics in 2024.

Eve also hit the road with its demonstrations, moving to Chicago to address the commuter use case using a helicopter surrogate to test out ground facility requirements for passengers and operations, as well as turnaround times using varied levels of ground service availability. Previously Eve conducted a demonstration in Rio de Janeiro to prove out the airport transport use case.  

“We think demonstrations are important, as this is a new type of aerospace infrastructure—different from an airport,” Cecutta says. “We need to study and understand the entire value chain in detail, the interfaces between the different companies coming together to make a vertiport feasible—from airspace to digital infrastructure, from passenger experience to multimodal connectivity.”

The Infrastructure Readiness Index continues to be led by Groupe ADP, followed by Beta Technologies, Ferrovial and Urban-AirPort, all of whom share the same score of 6.3 on the 10-point scale. UrbanV jumped from a score of 4.6 to 4.9 following the demonstration in Italy.

Skyports has entered into partnerships with Volocopter, Eve Holding, Wisk and Joby Aviation. In addition, Volocopter is beginning to figure out its own infrastructure elements beyond its aircraft. 

BlueNest entered the listing for the first time as it works on operations for the coast of Spain and Costa Rica. The teams involved in South Korea’s UAM Challenge continue to sort through options and introduce new capabilities and will undoubtedly enter the listings by year’s end. 

The factors considered for SMG’s Infrastructure Readiness include funding, leadership team, partnerships, regulatory progress and deployment progress of the companies’ vertiport networks. 

Carole Rickard Hedden

Carole Rickard Hedden was Executive Editor for custom content and Program Excellence for the Aviation Week Network, providing custom content and research to industry executives.