With eVTOLs, Embraer is inventing an trade from scratch. Get to know the backstage
- November 17, 2022
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In recent years, eVTOLs (electric vertical take-off and landing) have become one of the great promises of the aviation sector, attracting hundreds of millions of dollars in investments.
But how will this market work? How is the development of the aircraft? What are the biggest challenges?
To answer these questions, we spoke with André Stein, the CEO of Eve, the Embraer-owned eVTOL manufacturer.
Below are excerpts from the conversation:
How is the development process going? What stage are you in now?
We are just in the development phase. And not just the aircraft. We are developing the entire portfolio of support services and a solution for urban air traffic control. We are following much of what we learned from Embraer. We are a separate company, but we continue to work with Embraer. All of this is being developed using Embraer engineers and using the same processes.
This is a win-win relationship because we have access to Embraer engineering, Embraer IP and their infrastructure. The Gavião Peixoto site, for example, is one of the largest flight test centers in the world, and we can use it together with Embraer engineering.
But how is the timing of the development?
At the beginning of the year, ANAC approved the start of our certification process. This is a big milestone for the project, because it means that you are developing something together with ANAC, with ANAC committing resources for development. ANAC is our primary certification body, but we are also working with the FAA in the United States and the ASA in Europe.
During this development, we will have several milestones along the way to enter into operation in 2026. We have been working with proofs of concept, but mainly with the already established aircraft processes, coming from Embraer itself.
How do you think this market will be in the future in terms of competition? Because today there are more than 100 companies developing these aircraft…
There are 100 companies, but serious companies that are developing projects real there are about six. Because it’s one thing to make a big drone and put a person inside to test or play with, it’s another to make a product for aviation, with scale, and that can be used commercially. The level of demand for commercial use is much higher.
Still, I think six companies is still a fair amount. Which is good, because if it was just us, we wouldn’t be able to move the market. You need this movement to create the market, the network of suppliers, infrastructure and adapt the regulatory environment.
What is the biggest technical challenge, in terms of technology, in this part of development?
That process of certifying something new is probably the biggest challenge, because you’re working closely with the regulatory environment to write the rules. And it’s a certified aircraft, so there’s no shortcuts or simplifications. This is the big challenge.
When you talk about technology, one of the beauties of the concept of disruptive innovation is using technology in a new application, not waiting for a new technology. For example, the question always arises: ‘how will the battery be?’ But we are using existing battery technology.
Today, batteries are a long way from providing the power to fly hundreds of passengers thousands of kilometers – you don’t replace a commercial jet with an electric plane. But here we are talking about taking some people for not so distant routes.
So, in terms of technology, chemistry, cell, today’s technology is ok. But you have a whole certification process for something new, which did not exist before, which is very complex.
It’s the same thing we hear about the challenges of self-driving cars. It is a challenge, but not a barrier to entry into service. Our project is to start with the aircraft with an operator on board, with it piloted.
But in the medium term, is the idea for aircraft to be autonomous?
I think this medium term will vary a lot from country to country. It has several visions. But we are prepared to accelerate this, making the eVTOL as ready as possible in terms of technology to be autonomous in the future.
But we are working together with the regulatory environment to acquire enough information, real data, to turn the key only when we understand that it has the level of security that it needs to have.
From a technology point of view, do you now have everything you need to get your aircraft up and running?
Yes, it does. But not approved for aviation, and that’s where the challenge lies. The autonomous car itself, if you stop to think about it, has some aspects that are much more complex than what we are talking about [com os eVTOLs]🇧🇷
When you talk about urban air mobility, you are operating in a structured environment. It’s not that you’re going to take off and you don’t know where you’re going. You already take off knowing your final destination and all possible alternatives along the way.
So, even with the pilot on board, it’s already much easier, it’s a much simpler operation than a helicopter, for example.
Another point is that eVTOLs are fly-by-wire planes. That means they have a computer running the plane; the pilot inputs into that computer, but it’s the software that does everything.
When a pilot is flying a helicopter or mechanical plane, the pilot is concerned with fiddling with the controls. already a system fly-by-wire it is much simpler to operate. Today, the vast majority of commercial aircraft are fly-by-wire, but in the smaller aircraft category it is still somewhat new.
What will be the main use of eVTOL?
The big market we see is the urban one. But any segment that has this shorter distance, which can benefit, will be a potential market. At the beginning of the operation, we are talking about a maximum autonomy of about 100 kilometers.
Will eVTOLs replace taxis and Ubers, for example?
Do not replace completely. It is an occasional replacement for land transport. When I say that it will not replace it, it is because taxis and Uber will not cease to exist. The eVTOLs will complement them. So if you have time, go by car. But if you need speed, then use an eVTOL.
This became even more interesting with the story of hybrid work. Because as you go to the office once, twice a week, you no longer need to live next to the office, you can live in a farther and larger apartment. And going from time to time makes even more sense for urban air mobility.
But how will it work? Will you have an app where you will call the aircraft and it will stop near your house?
Not. It is very similar to what we have in commercial aviation. You will have predefined ‘vertiports’, and the idea is that the number of ‘vertiports’ will increase over time. In a mature market, the perspective is that you are always close to a ‘vertiport’.
Last year we operated a helicopter in Rio on a route, and we published the concept of an operation, how it would work, and the number of operations and ‘vertiports’ in the city. In a city like Rio you would be talking about a fleet of about 240 eVTOLs flying in a network of ‘vertiports’ spread across the city.
Another point is that we have to ensure that entry into the vehicle is easy. If you have to go through a boarding process that takes 20 minutes, you already lose part of the attractiveness. So you have to make sure it’s super smooth. You have to ensure efficiency.
But you can buy the trip in an app. In Rio, we closed a partnership with Flapper, for example. But the model will depend a lot on the business model of each one. It would be as much to buy a ticket for 3 pm, when you already know you have a flight, as to see if there is an available flight to the airport.
Is the 100 km limit due to the battery?
Yup. That’s the beauty of disruptive innovation… The battery is still a long way from being able to carry hundreds of people hundreds of miles, but you do take some people on short commutes. But over time, the tendency is for this to increase.
I thought an interesting use case would be short trips: going to the coast or inland, for example.
But it’s 100 kilometers by air, which is about 150 kilometers by car. So you can reach the very beginning of the North Coast of São Paulo, you can reach Santos, Campinas, São José dos Campos. For these shorter journeys between cities, it would also be useful.
Why are we scaling around this? Because we see the greatest need right there in the urban area. Within São Paulo you can get everything with 100 kilometers. In fact, the average mission we see is around 30 kilometers, which is enough to cross almost the entire city. And 50 kilometers in São Paulo can take you five hours easily by land transport.
And how long would you take this route on the eVTOL?
In 10-15 minutes… You don’t solve the city’s traffic problem, but you create a very interesting option. It’s an integration of options. You will have public transport, car and eVTOL.
Is there a risk of Eve not getting the certification?
It’s a complex process. But I would say that we are well positioned. ANAC has already accepted our entry into the certification process, which is an important milestone. And with the Embraer group we have a lot of experience. There were 30 aircraft models that were certified by ANAC, FAA, ASA in the last 25 years, more than one per year. There is no one in the world who has this whole experience. If anyone can get it right, it’s Embraer.
Is it risky? Yes, because it is a complicated process. And what makes aviation so safe is this process. But we are in a very good position. Better than most new entrants.
To operate in the USA, you would need a certification there too, right? ANAC only applies to Brazil?
Yup. But what is the advantage of ANAC? It is one of the most respected certification bodies in the world and has a bilateral agreement with the FAA. So you don’t necessarily have to recertify, you just validate. The last commercial aircraft certified by Embraer, the E2, received ANAC, FAA and ASA certification on the same day. Because they are parallel processes. So if we get the ANAC certification, the chance of getting the others is very great.
Source: Brazil Journal