As the pioneer of urban air mobility, Volocopter has actively engaged in the global conversation surrounding sustainability and decarbonization by attending some of the world's most prominent summits. This year, we joined the 3rd National Aviation Conference (Nationale Luftfahrtkonferenz) in Hamburg, Germany, the Nice Climate Summit in France, and are set to contribute to the upcoming COP28, the United Nation's climate change summit in Dubai, United Arab Emirates.
While attending these conferences is crucial to exchange knowledge and gather insights from external experts, thought leaders, and change-makers, we also recognize the significance of learning from our in-house experts at Volocopter. As such, on the first week of November, we organized a panel discussion titled "Connecting the Dots: Decarbonization, Electric Aviation, and Volocopter" to foster knowledge sharing within our team in Bruchsal, Germany. Under the moderation of Vivien Orsag (Strategy Manager), the panel consisted of Alexander Klingspor (Head of Propulsion), Barbara Zygula (Regulatory Affairs Manager), and Michael Grözinger (Strategy and Sustainability Manager). The panelists addressed the issue of decarbonizing aviation from an engineering, regulatory, and strategic perspective.
Keep reading to get five of the most significant insights from the panel.
Insight 1: Acting now is critical for 1.5°C success
Global CO2 emissions hit a new all-time high of 36.8 Giga Tonnes (Gt) last year. Research shows that global CO2 emissions have increased by more than 60 percent since the 1990s. Like many other industries, aviation has its own impact on the climate – accounting for 3% of total emissions of CO2 released into the atmosphere globally. Nevertheless, the environmental effects could be considerably higher considering other harmful gases such as nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions and indirect warming effects by contrails. Aviation emissions are growing faster than emissions from rail, roads, or shipping. And this is no coincidence. Research by ICAO (International Civil Aviation Organization) suggests the demand for flying is also growing, and in return, increasing aviation’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. The panelists highlighted the need to act now, innovate, and collaborate to limit global warming to 1.5°C, reduce emissions by 43% by 2030 as recommended by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), and achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2050. And what is Volocopter doing on this end? As addressed throughout the panel, Volocopter has been pushing both the technological and regulatory boundaries to adopt electric propulsion technologies and ultimately pave the way for a safe and sustainable Advanced Air Mobility (AAM). Volocopter is starting small, but with our commitment to electrification, we are accelerating aviation’s path to decarbonization now and not in the next decade.
Insight 2: Decarbonizing aviation is a collective, twofold mission
Aviation is one of the most challenging sectors to decarbonize. Why? Unique requirements such as weight and size limitations, prolonged innovation cycles, the importance of ensuring safe operations, and the relatively high cost of adapting new technologies to scale all contribute to the slow CO2 emission reductions.
The road to decarbonizing aviation presents a collective, twofold mission, which includes navigating the transitional phase and shaping the industry's final state. During the transitional phase, the focus revolves around scaling Sustainable Aviation Fuels (SAFs) and optimizing existing operations, such as route optimization and contrail prevention. On the other hand, shaping the industry's final state encompasses a triad of solutions based on flight range: SAFs for long-haul flights, as there is no alternative due to these fuels' superior energy density; hydrogen for medium-haul flights, and electric propulsion for short-haul flights – which is where Volocopter comes into play, with its all-electric aircraft fleet.
Nonetheless, each solution, namely SAFs, hydrogen propulsion, and electric propulsion, contributes to steering the aviation industry toward a sustainable and decarbonized future; but alone, they cannot achieve the goals set forth by the aviation industry.
Insight 3: Sustainable aviation demands commercialization of electric aircraft
Electric aviation has rapidly developed over the last ten years, with various companies worldwide unveiling their electric aircraft solutions. This period is rightfully characterized as the era of technology demonstrators. But as we look ahead to the next decade, there's a noticeable shift on the horizon – we're moving from showing off technological capabilities to putting electric aircraft on the commercial map. This shift comes with its fair share of challenges, especially in Europe, where converting from a technological demonstrator to a commercial, viable product faces strict safety requirements, rigorous quality assurance, and extensive documentation efforts.
Despite these high-level requirements, in the upcoming decade, the focus needs to be on turning electric aircraft into everyday commercial products to truly harness the environmental benefits of this clean technology. Technological demonstrations stored in hangars will not lead to emissions reduction; tangible progress means having commercially viable electric aircraft integrated into urban landscapes globally, ultimately replacing existing modes of mobility.
As such, Volocopter is gearing up to make a groundbreaking move by launching Europe’s first air taxi services in Paris in 2024, a pivotal step towards a sustainable and transformative future in aviation. As our Strategy and Sustainability Manager, Michael Grözinger noted during the panel:
“Building on a proud history of electric aviation pioneers, Volocopter’s commercial start next year in Paris marks the next important milestone on the joint trajectory toward a decarbonized future.”
With this quote in mind, let us present the two final learnings, which include insights on Volocopter’s approach to sustainability and aviation decarbonization.
Insight 4: Volocopter is pushing the technological boundaries to decarbonization
Technological innovation is one of the most critical factors driving decarbonization. As such, many companies in the aviation industry are channeling their efforts to enhance existing technologies and create new ones. Our panelists underscored the pivotal role of Volocopter in this drive. What sets Volocopter apart is the ability to consistently innovate, develop, and patent cutting-edge technology independently and with partners – so far, it holds over 80 patent families in several technical fields of aviation up its sleeves. Volocopter is pioneering battery propulsion technologies and has been doing so since our founders completed the world's first electric vertical flight with a multicopter. Today, Volocopter proves that a battery-electric power source is certifiable and can be operated safely. Our family of aircraft (the VoloCity, VoloDrone, and VoloRegion) emit zero CO2, nitric oxide (NOx), and other pollutants during flight.
What's more? Our team utilizes high tensile strength, lightweight materials, and intuitive design principles to optimize energy use across our aircraft platforms, efficiently uses resources, and develops innovative ways to extend component lifetimes. As our Head of Propulsion, Alexander Klingspor said during the panel:
"At Volocopter, we believe in the power of electric propulsion technologies and constantly innovate to improve safety, perfect our maintenance approaches for component lifetime extension, and circularity for a second life of used components such as our batteries."
For example, our team is developing a data-driven solution to assess our battery's health accurately, eliminating the need to rely on conservative life cycle assumptions. This solution allows us to use the batteries longer. Once we determine that our batteries have reached their end of life, our goal is to reuse components that have residual lifetime and extract our battery cells for high-quality recycling – and for this, we are in conversation with an influential European recycling partner. In addition to increasing our battery lifetime, Volocopter aims to work with sustainable suppliers and use 100% renewable energy for our flights.
Insight 5: Regulatory and governmental collaboration is key for eVTOL deployment Moving from point A to B in cities is about to change with the introduction of eVTOLs. Nonetheless, introducing these aircraft not only requires overcoming technical challenges but also numerous regulatory obstacles. Close collaboration and consensus between governmental and regulatory bodies is imperative to facilitate and expedite the seamless integration of eVTOLs in urban areas. As necessary is the active participation from eVTOL industry stakeholders – something Volocopter has been proudly doing for over a decade. Barbara Zygula, Regulatory and Affairs Manager, stated in the panel:
“Volocopter advises governments and regulatory bodies in developing rules and policies to enable the ecosystem for battery-powered aviation and in shaping the needed regulatory framework.”
Notably, Volocopter played an active role in shaping the EASA's (European Union Aviation Safety Agency) 2019 certification standards for eVTOLs and the 2023 regulatory framework for VTOL operations. Additionally, we are collaborating with other AAM (Advanced Air Mobility) stakeholders, facilitated through organizations like GAMA (General Aviation Manufacturers Association), to streamline industry views and contributions to rulemaking globally.
Lastly, Volocopter advocates for a harmonized global approach towards regulating AAM, by engaging with regulators such as EASA, FAA (Federal Aviation Administration), CAAS (Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore), JCAB (Japan Civil Aviation Bureau), GACA (Saudi Arabia’s General Authority for Civil Aviation), CAA UK (United Kingdom's Civil Aviation Authority), and contributing to ICAO discussions on this critical matter.
A long way ahead, but a promising future indeed
Decarbonizing aviation is challenging but possible. For short-haul flights, implementing electric propulsion technologies is a promising way ahead – and even though the impact of eVTOL technology will not be as significant initially, it is an essential move toward reaching net zero emissions by 2050. As our panelists noted, decarbonizing aviation is a twofold mission, and the work of Volocopter to bring all-electric flight to cities is a small step but with a massive potential to create a significant reduction impact.
Remember: Volocopter's efforts encompass pushing the technological and regulatory boundaries to adopt electric propulsion technologies and ultimately pave the regulatory way for a safe and sustainable Advanced Air Mobility (AAM) industry. Most importantly, our dedication to perfecting electric aircraft and optimizing processes from A to Z demonstrates a clear and actionable commitment toward a decarbonized future.