A podcast at the intersection of technology and flight. Here we discuss the most important forces shaping the market of advanced air mobility, with a particular focus on why and how they matter to those building a business in this very exciting and growing industry.
#61 Eric Leopold, Threedot (ex-IATA): Air transport in the digital age
Welcome back to The Vertical Space for a conversation with Eric Leopold, a long time veteran of IATA, the International Air Transport Association. We start the conversation talking about the state of the airline industry and its current priorities such as the post COVID recovery, digital transformation and sustainability. As most of you know, there are large regional differences in the maturity of the industry and therefore priorities, so we generalize the discussion on bottlenecks that airlines and airports face as the demand for air travel grows and potentially doubles over the next 15 to 20 years.
Here we touched on capacity, ground infrastructure, workforce, the IT infrastructure and how advanced air mobility can solve some of these bottlenecks. We also discuss whether the hub and spoke network model continues to be prevalent in the future.
Another key theme in the conversation is digital transformation. What are the opportunities on the business side and on the operational side? And how airline and airport CIOs are thinking about prioritizing their budgets across projects? Part of the discussion is the role of generative AI in the travel experience. For instance, instead of going to an online travel agent to buy your ticket, Eric suggests we might be able to buy , our flight in a supermarket or a bank or any other retail location for that matter. Or we might use generative AI and a voice interface to guide us through the travel booking process, one that is more personalized and more in tune with our individual preferences.
If you're looking for an expert and pragmatic opinion of the challenges and opportunities that aviation is facing you're in the right place!
#60 Eric Watson, Zipline: Drone delivery and the Zipline experience
Welcome to our conversation with Eric Watson from Zipline.
You can’t help but be impressed with the inspiring and important work that Zipline has done with their partners in Africa – with medical and healthcare outcomes that are remarkable. So, you will really enjoy hearing about Zipline and their first platform in Africa – Eric gives an excellent overview.
We then transition to their work in the United States with their Platform 2. We discuss how their experiences in Africa helped and contributed to their US performance. We discuss what’s similar and what’s completely different between the two markets.
Eric is a pro at discussing the US certification process – and he takes it from ground up as if he were starting from scratch. What’s required, what has changed throughout the years, what’s working well, and what can be improved – and how the certification process is different than what they first anticipated upon launching in the US. He also discusses where there’s been tremendous progress in the last year.
In advanced air mobility, there’s always this struggle with product-market fit. Many of the players in the market have been accused of having a technical capability and are in-search for a market or a problem to solve. It is entirely refreshing to hear that Zipline started with a massive problem to solve in Africa – and from that impressive work, have demonstrated success and medical outcomes in Africa that are amazing.
What it really comes down to is how that success translates into the bigger, yet more complex and more competitive market in the US – where their unique platform two can deliver with precision “on a dinner plate” with almost no noise whatsoever. Listen from Eric on how they believe they can compete in this much different market.
Eric, thanks for joining us!
#59 John Langford, Electra.aero: Bringing eSTOL to Market
Welcome back to The Vertical Space and a terrific conversation with John Langford, CEO of Electra.aero. We talked about the key drivers for advanced air mobility, and how factors such as market acceptance, use case, certification, tech readiness, and infrastructure requirements dictate what type of vehicles will fly first with commercial relevance. We extensively discussed eSTOL - its advantages and disadvantages compared to other proposed vehicle types of today. John explains why Electra decided to use blown lift, STOL technology and hybrid electric power. Listen to what use cases they're targeting with a soccer field sized operating spaces. We then discuss Aurora Flight Sciences, from the very early days to the eventual acquisition by Boeing.
#58 Kara Kramer, AeroVironment: A deep dive into the Replicator initiative and future of military UAS
Welcome back to The Vertical Space and our conversation with Kara Kramer, Director of Business Development at AeroVironment. This is a discussion around the evolving role of UAS in warfare, including in Ukraine, the critical role of the supply chain to ensure we can properly engage in those wars, and the recent announcement of the U.S. DoD Replicator Initiative.
Kara immediately jumps into the fragility of our UAS supply chain - something we've talked a lot about over the last couple of years, but she says that with all of the talk and awareness, not much has really been done about it relating to our preparation for UAS in warfare. Then we enter a very cool discussion that the outcome of future wars, as Peter says, may revolve around the capability to produce high volume electronics.
We discuss the state of the UAS market, particularly defense UAS and especially around mass. How many drones can you produce and field? How quickly can you scale what's needed to maintain scale? And lastly, how would you rise to meet that demand? Kara discusses how mass is achieved, how DoD forecasting orders is the greatest limiting factor and how even large businesses can't invest without effective DoD forecasting requirements. We discuss the impact of Ukraine on UAS and the impact it's having on our vision of future wars.
We then discuss DoD's Replicator Initiative and what drove its birth, how it surprised industry, how it will leverage unmanned systems to prepare for mass and how it's meant to address the growing threat from China. Finally listen to what Kara sees as the future of warfare and her advice to you, our entrepreneurs.
#57 Valerie Manning, Overair: Reality Check On Commercializing eVTOLs
Welcome to our conversation with Dr. Valerie Manning, Chief Commercial Officer of Overair. This is a discussion around the value of advanced air mobility, of eVTOLs and Overair's unique value to meet these requirements. We've had this discussion many times, on the value of the advanced air mobility and eVTOLs, but it changes over time and of course, based on the experience, education and the workplace of the person responding. And so as such, this is a conversation with Valerie that's really worth listening to. We discussed the state of advanced air mobility market today compared to several years ago, the most notable milestones, what's not getting enough attention and the road to commercialization. We then discuss what has changed about the viability and the use case of eVTOLs in the last several years, both positive and otherwise. We spend a bit of time discussing whether or not there's a real first mover advantage in advanced air mobility, comparing Boeing's potential advantage in the early days of aviation and perhaps where Overair may have a slow mover advantage as their vehicle will learn from the experiences and the learning curve of the initial launch vehicles and early stage eVTOL markets. We then discussed Valerie's work as Chief Commercial Officer, what the role entails a bit about their go to market strategy, and a more detailed discussion around the trade-off between selling aircraft and operating transportation networks.
#56 Robert Rose, Reliable Robotics: Exploring the future of autonomy in aviation
Welcome back to The Vertical Space and our conversation with Robert Rose, co-founder and CEO of Reliable Robotics.
This is a conversation about autonomy. We discussed the arc of automation and, what evolved in the conversation, the arc of safety in aviation from its early days to today. You'll notice how Robert will closely and consistently link autonomy to safety in the beginning, throughout and at the end of the conversation; an irrefutable argument. He essentially says autonomy is going to happen so get used to it. But he makes the hard medicine taste just a bit better by tying the key arguments to safety.
We spend a bit of time on the motivation for pursuing autonomous flight by segment; GA, Part 135/121 with a safety imperative for automation being more required in the former than in the latter. After a few attempts, we eventually get to other reasons why autonomy is needed in addition to, and beyond the safety case. As we've discussed many times the podcasts, we discussed the need for autonomy for many of the advanced air mobility business models to scale, and to meet their financial projections.
Robert discusses the autonomous capabilities of Reliable Robotics, and as Robert says, what makes them unique is their ground up designs for automation and certification, where it's more difficult for others to go back and design for automation if that wasn't the original intention. We spent a lot of time discussing the processes required to certify automation systems, and get into a really interesting discussion around the design of their air to air radar, it's value, market size, and why build it on their own versus purchasing off the shelf radar and whether or not it's core to their autonomy focus or perhaps a distraction to that focus. He wraps up his talk with great advice to entrepreneurs.
Three clever guys take the time to explain a cool subject and postulate where the industry is going. I’m looking forward to future episodes.