Electric Flight: The Material Difference

Aviation Week interviews Henkel’s global head of strategy, Ruairi O’Kane, about the role of materials suppliers in realizing the transformative ambitions of the urban air mobility (UAM) sector. 

Q: To what extent are regulations and standards regarding UAM materials advancing quickly enough to meet the ambitions of the UAM market?

A: In these early stages of UAM, many suppliers are leveraging existing materials from the adjacent aerospace and automotive industries.

However, this brings regulatory and certification challenges. UAM materials must also meet the industry’s ambitions in areas such as component optimization; production methodologies that align with build rates; and a cost structure that supports the various proposed UAM business models.

The default position for certification is to design around aerospace-qualified materials as there is data and confidence from years on commercial or defense programs, so we see a tendency to select adhesives, composites and other material solutions from this bucket. Then there are the evolving regulations regarding toxic substances, which are likely to drive selection of more environmentally friendly materials.

Q: How do you see UAM regulations evolving and what role should suppliers play in the process?

A: The entire UAM ecosystem is working towards the goal of safe and sustainable mobility. Depending on how you consider regulations, either those associated with the production of the vehicles or with operation, there is a different role for suppliers in line with their engagement within the value chain.

Henkel and other materials suppliers can help OEMs to implement more efficient and sustainable manufacturing processes, for example with out-of-autoclave techniques for adhesive and composites production, and also through automation and additive manufacturing.

Q: Given the green credentials of electric flight, how important is sustainability in the UAM supply chain, and what can suppliers do to ensure this?

A: Sustainability is a key factor driving advanced mobility, so UAM manufacturers must ensure materials are aligned with global ambitions to address climate change and the negative effects of urbanization. Therefore, it’s vital that all along the value chain the sustainability impact of participants is assessed.

The concept of UAM as a more sustainable mobility sector is clear, but every factor needs to be considered: raw material feedstocks; logistics; the CO2 footprint throughout the value chain; health and safety; and end-of-life processes for the vehicles themselves.

Henkel is committed to growth through sustainable development, and we aim to be climate positive in our own operations by 2040; to reduce the carbon footprint of the raw materials we use by 30% by 2030; and to enable 100 million tons of CO2 to be saved by our consumers, customers and suppliers by 2025.

You can also read more about Henkel's Aerospace Industry here.