Alon Abelson at the TAIEX vertiport regulation workshop
We’re getting closer to a world where you can hop on a quick flight as easily as driving - the aircraft are built and tested, and people have been itching to fly since the beginning of time. But there are still a few technical issues to iron out… which is why the Technical Assistance and Information Exchange instrument of the European Commission, or TAIEX, invited key aviation industry figures to a workshop in Tel Aviv to discuss issues surrounding eVTOL integration.
Alon Abelson, our CEO, joined industry leaders and representatives from the CAAI and EASA to share expertise on various aspects of the advanced air mobility sector, such as airworthiness certification, integration challenges, and vertiports.
One of the subjects discussed was the vertiport. These are facilities from which eVTOLs can operate, just like buses have bus stations and aircraft have airports. At the moment, these facilities are in the conceptual phase. But things are moving: both the FAA and EASA have published prototype specifications of what vertiports will look like, which is somewhere between a helipad and an airport. These documents are non-binding, with both authorities stating that they are waiting to see how these vehicles will behave and perform before making concrete decisions.
You might wonder why we can’t just use helipads - after all, eVTOLs take off and land vertically, just like a helicopter. However, there are key differences.
Firstly, eVTOLs vary in design - there are already various sizes, and in the future we might see vehicles growing considerably larger. Some eVTOLs are fixed-wing and require runways. Most importantly though, it is expected that the frequency of use of these facilities will be far higher than that of the average helipad. A vertiport will need to take into account the movement of passengers and eVTOLs around different areas of the facility. This is without mentioning that some may be built within existing airports, which will require a whole new level of safety regulations.
The future of air traffic control
All of this work on the part of regulators indicates that they expect eVTOLs to take off in a big way (so to speak). We think so too. But how will our existing air traffic control systems cope? Alon, who has years of experience as a military air traffic controller, shared his thoughts at the event.
He said that we can’t expect legacy ATC technology to handle such a dramatic rise in aircraft numbers. ATC technology has ensured that flying is the safest way to travel, but 80% of the air accidents that do occur are the result of human error, and increases in workload will increase the chance of accidents. In the long term, the answer will be the automation provided by UTM technology. In the short to medium term, UTM technology can supplement our existing systems to provide support to human ATC operatives as well as giving us full airspace coverage regardless of aircraft type. Alon added that in the future, instrument flight rules (IFR) and visual flight rules (VFR) could be replaced by digital flight rules (DFR) - but our current focus should be on doing whatever’s necessary to make sure that we create an infrastructure that enables this new class of aircraft to operate with complete safety.
eVTOLs in Israel
Israel was the natural location for TAIEX to hold these discussions. The country is a leader in the development of the drone industry in general, and the AAM sector in particular. For example, the government has invested millions in the Israel National Drone Intuitive, a sandbox which has - amongst countless other innovations and broken records - provided the test flight facilities for the world’s first personal-use eVTOL. High Lander’s UTM was used to supervise this very flight - you can read more about that here.