Urban air operations Vehicle development Use cases & solutions

Drones are a catalyst for innovation in aviation

Thursday, 25 November 2021

Boeing is on the forefront of testing different eVTOLs. Mildred Troegeler, Director Global Regulatory Strategy at the aerospace company, talks about the latest developments and important insights. She also gives an insight into the various partnerships, the way in which the company deals with innovations and the main challenges on the road to autonomous aircraft systems and advanced air mobility.

Over the past decade, Boeing has gained a lot of experience in testing autonomous aircraft systems. Troegeler explains what that has resulted in. “Boeing and its affiliates are undertaking a significant amount of testing and prototyping towards advancing our understanding of the key technologies and enabling the capabilities, like electrification and automation. This work includes furthering our understanding of the operational use cases as with integration requirements, as well as unique aspects of certification of these aircrafts. And our understanding has now matured to a point where we believe these types of aircraft are on the verge of being ready for certification.

Boeing is a strategic partner and investor (alongside Kitty Hawk Corporation) in Wisk, the advanced air mobility company behind the first all-electric, self-flying air taxi in the U.S. Wisk “is our singular go-to-market-initiative in this domain. Boeing and our engineers are supporting our partners at Wisk. In our view, Wisk is the most experienced developer in the market, having successfully and safely developed five generations of aircraft in over a decade of operation. Wisk has more than 1500 test flights to date. The experience from these real-world operations is being directly fed into the design of the sixth-generation aircraft which will be commercially certified. That will also be the first zero emission aircraft we will help to certify, making it an exciting step in our goal for sustainable aviation.”

Collaboration is key

Advanced Air Mobility is only one of the developments Boeing is investing in. Troegeler explains what the main reason for Boeing is to do so. “As the world’s largest aerospace company, Boeing’s global footprint coupled with more than hundred years of experience provide us a strong platform from which to advance the future of commercial aviation, both from a market standpoint as well as from a technology standpoint. To ensure the best technologies are developed as safely as possible. And to ensure that society is able to benefit from the advancement of these technologies.”
Last year in December, Troegeler said at the Amsterdam Drone Week that “Boeing is willing to share their experience with unmanned air vehicles and the use of the airspace with the rest of the global community.” And that’s because she truly believes that collaboration is key. “Yes indeed. Boeing sees collaboration as absolutely critical. We need to collaborate with a much broader range of stakeholders than we are typically used to engage with as a manufacturer.
“Autonomous aircraft systems and advanced air mobility are bringing aviation to our communities. Which requires us to engage with the public, local governments and regulators on a much wider range of issues, spanning from visual intrusion, land use planning, privacy, noise and airspace access. Success is not ‘who has the best platform’, but a successful strategy is one that can achieve a balance between the diverse requirements of the different stakeholders. And to achieve that, you need to be able to bring those stakeholders on a journey with you. And that's why collaboration is so important.”

Troegeler realizes that Boeing does not know all the answers itself. “So, we need to be prepared to look beyond our own organisation to engage with the best expertise possible. Boeing has worked with regulators to share our experience and develop a joint understanding of regulatory elements that need to be in place for a safe, secure, sustainable and efficient industry to evolve. Collaboration is therefore not only important for Boeing, but for the entire aviation industry.”

Drones catalyst for innovation

“Rather than disruptive I like to view drones as a catalyst for innovation: a new cycle of innovation that has the potential to deliver a broad range of benefits to the entire aviation industry. Keeping pace with innovation is a universal challenge, not something uniquely faced by Boeing or even the aviation industry. With that said, the hundred years of experience Boeing has, is one of a number of advantages we have in meeting the challenges of rapid innovation. Boeing’s global footprint allows us to assemble a broad situational awareness. We have already trusted and proven relationships with customers, researchers and service providers around the world that help us to build a deeper understanding of stakeholder needs across elements of the aviation system. We have the depth and breadth of technical expertise within our commercial, defence and space business, needed to tackle the challenges and bring novel aviation technology like autonomous systems or advanced air mobility to reality.”
But that is not the only reason that Boeing is investing in new technology. “We also like to inspire and motivate new generations of talented engineers.”

Safety first

“We are always talking about trying to keep up with innovation. Moving fast is good and we should always challenge ourselves by trying to find ways to be more efficient, but I want to reiterate that it must be done safely. Many of the challenges that we’ve discussed should not be rushed. They require considered steps to ensure we are laying the right foundation for the future. And the most important foundation to get right is safety.”

Airspace integration

Troegeler recognizes that there are still many challenges before we can actually board an autonomous aircraft. “One of the main challenges is airspace integration: procedures and technologies for the safe, efficient and routine operation of autonomous aircraft systems alongside other airspace users as integrated traffic. And we really need an evolution of the regulatory framework to support the scale, the complexity and the diversity of operation we envisage. So our understanding of regulations and technology is evolving.
“Again, collaboration is a theme here and we need to work hand in hand with the end users to ensure we progress the technical, regulatory and business case elements consistently. As all three are needed to be successful. But I would like to add an equally important pillar and that is ‘social acceptance’.

Social acceptance

The communities are ultimately our biggest stakeholders. We need to deliver aviation technology that meets their expectations. Not only in terms of safety, security and sustainability, but more broadly: address important aspects like privacy, visual intrusion or even changing workforce requirements. Key elements to this are trust and engagement, and they go hand in hand. Engaging to not only understand the nature of societal concerns, but also to provide opportunity for the community to have their say about how they should be addressed. We are bringing aviation into communities and that makes them an important and essential stakeholder to the discussion. Being transparent, patient and open minded is key. We need to be genuine in our efforts to understand the spectrum of issues that come with these new aviation sectors. And we need to follow up to our commitment to address them. Wisk has been extremely successful in this area. In New Zealand they have proactively worked with the community to make them part of the journey. We see this as a critical strategy for success.

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