The full range of possibilities that fully electric flight yields are as yet unknown. In my last article from the Paris Air Show 2019, I looked at what electric flight means for aviation as we know it – how it will transform the transportation of people and cargo over long distances. This may not affect the average passenger quite so much, with each person taking between six and seven flights per year, but a far greater number of people will be reached by the revolution of inner-city transport.
Electric aviation gives us a chance to do that. Our cities are already densely populated with people and buildings, and the rising number of vehicles passing through the streets only add fuel to the fire. While ridesharing services like Uber and Lyft are doing their bit to limit the use of privately-owned vehicles in our cities, are they ultimately part of the larger problem – by still taking up space on the ground?
Look up. Look past the towering, shiny verticals of a city’s skyscrapers and you’ll see the answer proposed by many – hundreds of metres of unused, empty airspace. It’s airspace that market disruptors are eager to be the first to exploit, with German start-up Volocopter seemingly leading the way with their aircraft, the 2X. They aim to have people in the skies by the end of 2020, while Uber are following closely behind with perhaps a more realistic target of 2023 for their project, Elevate.
It all sounds very futuristic, but the reality is that this is all within reaching distance. Volocopter have already made successful test flights, proving that the technology is ready and available, but Uber have the upper hand when it comes to getting approval, having already met with the Federal Aviation Authority in America to discuss the future of the industry.
The issue now is implementing legislation and creating an infrastructure that let this concept truly take off – and this requires getting the right people in the right places to make the right decisions. As with any other industry that is being disrupted or breaking new ground, the hiring process has to be tweaked slightly to focus on an individual’s potential, rather than a proven track record in a field that doesn’t yet exist.
We’ve seen this taking shape in the energy sector, for example, and it is part of a wider shift in tact as employers find ways to overcome the growing talent shortage. Never has correct and accurate talent mapping been more important than in today’s recruitment landscape, particularly for projects such as these.
Volocopter have already announced plans to, pending legislative and societal approval, remove pilots from these vehicles and make them fully autonomous. This will go a long way to minimising any semblance of a skills shortage in the industry, but for now talent is needed to put measures in place that allows these vehicles to take flight. Uber has earned its position on the global stage of transport by being quick, disruptive and, at times, bending the rules a little – but aviation authorities simply aren’t going to let the same approach slip under the radar.
A collaborative approach is required between legislators, manufacturers and service providers if flying taxis are going to play a role in the future of transport. With Airbus, Rolls Royce and countless other aerospace legacy firms throwing their hat in the ring, we have the possibility to transform inner-city travel, making it cheaper, cleaner and more convenient in the meantime. And with the right talent in place, the only way is up.