The Skyport: Most Recent Issue

Below is the most recent issue of The Skyport, sent on August 8. If you like the newsletter and want to sign up, head back to the signup form!


Switzerland’s U-Space, Autopilot AI & More

Before we jump into it, some news: Unfortunately, former writer Nick Zazulia is no longer with Avionics. We thank him for his intrepid coverage of this space and wish him the best moving forward.

My name is Brian Garrett-Glaser, and I will be serving as your new Skyport Editor. I look forward to digging into UAM to pull out the best nuggets of interest every two weeks.

Please feel free to get in touch. I look forward to meeting and speaking with many of you in the coming weeks and months.

What would you like to see more coverage of? What perspective is missing? Shoot me an email or reply to this one.

Also, a thought bubble: Amtrak announced plans to launch nonstop Acela trains between Washington, D.C. and New York. The route will only save 15 minutes versus an Acela that stops along the way, yet Amtrak sees a business case and is already considering launching more nonstops. Illustrates the value to be captured by this industry …

Are your coworkers signed up for The Skyport? Why not? Send them this link to join the mobility revolution.

As always, safe vertical flying.

Brian Garrett-Glaser
Skyport Editor
Drone Delivery: Swiss Post Stumbles, UPS Moves Forward
Matternet UPS.jpg
Photo: UPS

Many of the challenges that must be overcome to enable urban air mobility are also present in efforts to scale drone operations, including for delivery purposes.

Swiss Post indefinitely suspended its small-scale medical delivery operation, which had conducted about 3,000 successful flights since launching in 2017, after a 22-pound drone crash-landed about 50 yards from a group of school children.

  • What happened: The drone deployed its emergency parachute during flight — standard safety protocol so far — but the single tether connecting the parachute got caught on a sharp part of the drone and broke.
  • Swiss Post laid out the safety improvements it expects, and drone-maker Matternet pledged to meet their expectations in order for operations to resume.
  • In the U.S.: Matternet’s drones are also being used by UPS, in partnership with WakeMed hospitals in Raleigh, North Carolina, where the delivery giant has been experimenting with medical drone delivery.
  • UPS recently announced the formation of subsidiary company Flight Forward and has applied for FAA Part 135 approval to conduct commercial drone delivery flights.

Meanwhile, the FAA is considering making it easier for operators to fly small drones — which would include delivery service drones — at night and over people, which currently requires a waiver that is difficult to procure.

As Google’s Wing, UPS, Amazon and others continue pursuit of drone delivery services with the goal of achieving scalable, autonomous, beyond-visual-line-of-sight service, preventing crashes such as the one that current has Swiss Post’s operations grounded will be crucial.

Switzerland Connects Drone Operators to ATM Nationwide
AirMap Swiss UTM.png
Photo: AirMap

Swiss Post’s difficulties haven’t stopped the country 
from leading the way on unmanned traffic management.

Switzerland has deployed a nationwide flight information management system (FIMS) for drones, in partnership with air navigation service provider Skyguide and airspace intelligence provider AirMap.

  • What is it: The FIMS is a cloud-based data exchange hub that connects unmanned service providers — such as apps that allow drone operators to plan flights — with Skyguide’s air traffic management system.
  • Air traffic controllers can view UAS flight plans and flight activity in their airspace and manage authorization requests via UTM dashboards that draw from the FIMS, integrating unmanned operations into low-altitude airspace.
  • Drone operators can receive airspace information, directives and real-time traffic via any unmanned service provider linking with the FIMS.

Currently, only two ATC locations — Lugano and Geneva — are plugged in and can provide flight authorizations to drone operators. “The goal is to be fully operational by early 2020 by integrating all other air traffic control locations nationwide,” AirMap told me.

How this builds toward UAM, from Ben Marcus, co-founder and chairman of AirMap: “Like what is happening right now in Switzerland, UAM will require a complete, real-time view of low-altitude airspace and digital coordination among operators, authorities, and other manned and unmanned aircraft…As each new UTM capability is deployed, we are incrementally unlocking capabilities necessary for UAM.”

Read the full story.

Daedalean’s Vision of an Autopilot AI

Photo: Daedalean

Heavily Swiss-centric newsletter today.

Zürich, Switzerland-based startup Daedalean (duh-DAY-lee-in) has raised $12 million to fund the development of the aviation industry’s first autopilot system to feature an advanced form of artificial intelligence.

  • Flight tests with German eVTOL manufacturer Volocopter (among others) demonstrated environmental perception capabilities for visual navigation and collision detection in landing and en-route scenarios, using three high-def cameras mounted on the nose of the aircraft.
  • Co-founder Luuk van Dijk, a software engineer alumnus of Google and SpaceX, says he believes future air taxis will need to be capable of not just autonomously maintaining a certain vector and speed level in airspace, but actually replicating a human pilot’s level of decision-making and situational awareness.
  • Daedalean has partnered with EASA to propose a new form of design assurance for the artificial intelligence components of its system, with the goal of eventually achieving Design Assurance Level (DAL) A.

The startup’s next goal is to release a DAL-C version — a lower level of safety critical certification for avionics than DAL A — of its autopilot system by 2021, while continuing work on an eventual DAL-A version.

Read more on Daedalean’s development of a neural network for air taxi avionics.

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Lilium Wins Red Dot Design Award
lil_manta_ray_inspiration - edit.jpg

Photo: Lilium

Munich-based Lilium Jet was awarded the ‘Red Dot: Best of the Best’ design concept award for its sleek, manta ray-inspired five-seat eVTOL airframe.

  • Designer Mathis Cosson: “A great deal of my inspiration came from the manta ray, one of nature’s most majestic creatures. The way it glides almost magically through the water was something we wanted to emulate with the Lilium Jet, delivering a sense of calm elegance and minimalist design.”

Lilium has said it aims to be “fully operational” in several regions of the world by 2025; I asked the company how it plans to get there:

  • Meeting safety certification requirements: “With a triple-redundant flight control computer, 36 engines and only one moving part in each engine, we believe our design is well set up to achieve these standards.”
  • Starting with manned flight: “We expect the regulatory position won’t be there to support autonomous flight by the time we plan to enter service. That said, we’d expect the aircraft to be capable of autonomous flight by that point. We could expect a phased move to autonomous flight over a period of time.

The company plans to have fully-licensed commercial pilots on board initially, both to aid with public acceptance and ease the certification process.

Read the full story.

Skyport Reads
Other UAM-related news from the past 2 weeks:
  • First FAA-approved BVLOS drone flight completed, a milestone for drone delivery. (DroneDJ)
  • French inventor and GoFly contestant Franky Zapata flew across the English Channel on a jet-powered flyboard, refueling once along the way. (BBC News, includes video)
  • Interesting stat: 71% of Americans are afraid to ride in fully self-driving vehicles, but women are far less comfortable (79%) with the idea than men (62%). Why? (AAA survey, h/t Axios’ Joann Muller)
  • NEC Corporation in Japan test-hovered an eVTOL aircraft in a controlled environment for about a minute. Looks like a fly-drive concept… (Specs from the Vertical Flight Society)
  • Bell CEO Mitch Snyder thinks the company’s work on air taxis (Nexus) and delivery drones (APT) will eventually have military applications. (Sydney Freedberg/Breaking Defense)
  • Join the eVTOL community Slack group: eVTOLc and VFS have partnered to create an invite-only Community Forum of sorts to foster UAM-related discussion, with 100+ members so far. Contact @EvtolC on Twitter with an email address, or Rory Feely on LinkedIn, for an invite!
That’s it for mid-August; see you again in two weeks. If you have feedback, tips, or just want to chat UAM, reply to this email or send it over to

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Thanks for reading!

– Brian

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