Alan Lim, Head of Engagement for Alton Aviation Consultancy, shared his perspective on the development of advanced air mobility (AAM) in the Asia-Pacific region during a recent interview with International Avionics. Lim is an experienced aviation professional who previously worked for Singapore Airlines as a pioneer member of the airline’s business transformation team. Lim offers multiple insights into the unique benefits and challenges of integrating AAM in Asia-Pacific, and he also discusses some of the key players in the AAM world.
The four developments that Lim sees as critical for the AAM industry and electric vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) vehicles are aircraft certification, infrastructure, commercial viability, and technology. Certification of eVTOLs and other AAM vehicles will roll out in the next few years, Lim said. “We’ll especially see some of the cities in Asia-Pacific trying to get to the forefront and get planes to market as soon as possible.”
When it comes to infrastructure, “what we’re seeing is a lot of different companies in the space trying to work with different partners to get the necessary vertiport infrastructure in place and using existing airports. As eVTOLs are certified, the infrastructure has to come as well,” Lim explained. Skyports, he mentioned, announced at the recent Singapore Airshow that it would work with local authorities to explore the possibility of using Seletar Aerospace Park in Singapore as an AAM hub for the region.
Many companies and organizations are working with regulators to develop a concept of operations for AAM in the Asia-Pacific region and in particular for eVTOL aircraft manufacturing to become a viable and sustainable business model. Some of the components needed for a concept of operations are route planning, flight operations, safety management, sales and marketing, according to Lim.
The fourth key area of development described by Lim was technological advancement. There are various startups constantly releasing new designs for AAM, including improvements in battery technology and electric propulsion technology. Developments in AAM technology along with the other three previously mentioned areas “will be key to making AAM a reality and helping OEMs bring their vehicles to market,” Lim said.
Alan Lim named Volocopter as one of the most prolific AAM companies advancing eVTOL services in Asia-Pacific. Volocopter has a memorandum of understanding in place with Skyports to develop infrastructure for air taxis, and the company is working towards a launch date of 2024. Volocopter recently announced plans to begin offering sightseeing flights, and eventually “to connect to other cities in the region, for example in Indonesia, or even in Malaysia,” Lim said. It will likely be one of the first AAM OEMs to commercially launch services in Singapore. “Two other regions with similar plans to launch AAM services are South Korea and Japan,” he added.
Three other companies with competitive strategies for AAM in Asia-Pacific are EHang, Eve Mobility (a subsidiary of Embraer) and Vertical Aerospace. EHang, a Chinese company, has received orders to supply planes for sightseeing and charter flights. Similarly, Eve has received orders for aircraft for tourism operations in Australia, with the aim of starting flights in 2025-2026, Lim noted. “Vertical Aerospace received orders from AirAsia and Japan Airlines for approximately 100 aircraft each, and this put them at the forefront with the number of orders they received from customers,” he said.
Bringing AAM to Asia-Pacific markets presents both unique challenges and benefits. “The region is home to most of the world’s busiest and congested cities like Tokyo, Seoul, Manila, Beijing, etc.” Asia-Pacific is well positioned for use cases targeted by OEMs, particularly urban air mobility and short-haul air taxis. Additionally, regulators in Singapore, Australia, Japan and South Korea are all very supportive of the development of AAM and are interested in cooperating with their North American counterparts to determine the certification of different types of aircraft as well as the regulations and infrastructure needed to support operations. Since Singapore does not have urban congestion to the same degree as other countries in the region, it can be used “as a showcase for some of these new concepts and technologies, for tourism operations, and as a bench of trial for intra-regional operations, which is the next step for AAM operations.
A key difference between Asia-Pacific and North America is the prevalence of private airport infrastructure and helicopters. The use of helicopters is not as widespread in Asia-Pacific countries as in the United States or Europe. Lim remarked, “It is difficult to find suitable locations for infrastructure, [such as] to house vertiports. The ideal scenario is to place vertiports on the roofs of skyscrapers in a city, but it is not always so simple: is the roof of this building suitable for vertiport operations, for example? » It is necessary to find suitable locations and then build the necessary infrastructure.
“From a regulatory perspective,” Lim said, “Asia-Pacific as a whole is a relatively diverse region with many different countries, regulators with different viewpoints, and communities with varying acceptance of AAM and eVTOLs. For any operator considering cross-border operations, this is one of the unique challenges they will face.”