focus

Advanced Air Mobility: the new paradigm of safe and sustainable air transport services

Technological innovation, particularly digitisation and electrification, is radically changing the concept of air mobility by enabling new ways of moving goods and people in urban areas and beyond.

The paradigm of Advanced Air Mobility identifies innovative transport services capable of improving the accessibility and mobility of cities, metropolitan areas and beyond, the quality of the environment, and people’s lives and safety. Operators are very interested in the outlook for this sector. During the 2021-2030 period, the Advanced Air Mobility market is expected to grow at a rate of about 20-25%, reaching an estimated value of about 38-55 billion Euro by 2030 (PwC Strategy& 2021).
 

The role of the aerospace industry

The aerospace industry is at the forefront of this process. As a global player in the sector, Leonardo has long directed the evolution of its technologies towards developing innovative products and services capable of meeting the needs of future air mobility. This is within the context of the dual challenge of digital and ecological transition. And today, it is at the forefront of all the cutting-edge technologies that will help shape future air transport.
 

Helicopters

Technological innovation has – over the years – made helicopters increasingly versatile and flexible, making them key players in ever more demanding search and rescue missions. For example, Leonardo’s AW169 was transformed into a proper medical facility, equipped for first aid treatment, and integrated into the health system network and, at the same time, introducing numerous innovations also for the transport of people or for public safety tasks in urban contexts from the point of view of navigation technology, power supply for on-board equipment, chemical and acoustic emissions.

Tiltrotor

The AW609 is an aircraft that takes off and lands with the flexibility of a helicopter and flies with the performance of an aeroplane. It responds perfectly to the need for modern, sustainable vertical mobility, with improved accessibility to urban areas and capable of revolutionizing point-to-point connections. No runways, no long waits, and transfers to and from airports, no queues in traffic: soon you will be able to fly from the top of a skyscraper or a heliport in the heart of the city and arrive directly at your destination, quickly, safely, and economically. Leonardo is also participating in the NGCTR (Next Generation Civil Tiltrotor) research project of the European Clean Sky 2 initiative for a tiltrotor equipped with new technologies and a new aircraft architecture that can cut CO2 emissions by 50%.

Drones

Drones are a strategic area for Leonardo, already the only European company able to supply complete remote-controlled solutions, designing and developing all the elements of a drone-based system, including platforms, sensors, and remote-control systems. Leonardo’s presence in this sector is marked by fixed and rotary wing systems such as the Falco Xplorer, the Falco EVO and the AWHERO, which can operate by monitoring any land and sea scenario from above. In addition to the self-developed remotely piloted systems, Leonardo is an active part of large collaborations such as the Eurodrone project, the first European unmanned MALE (Medium Altitude Long Endurance) system. At international level, the latest frontier is the Skydweller project, resulting from participation in the US/Spanish start-up Skydweller Aero. It is the world’s first drone to harness the sun’s energy, with virtually unlimited flight range and with an exceptional load capacity. Finally, with the Drone Contest project, Leonardo is partnering with six Italian universities to explore the potential of artificial intelligence to make unmanned systems increasingly autonomous.

New Materials

The Grottaglie site, a centre of excellence for producing composite materials for aeronautics, focuses on research into advanced materials to create lighter, less polluting aircraft. Here, Leonardo will work with Vertical Aerospace to produce the composite fuselages of the VX4 electric aircraft.  The VX4 is a real revolution in the aviation of the future: silent, all-electric, and with zero CO2 emissions, it will have a range of over 100 miles and reach speeds of up to 200 mph. With a capacity of four passengers, it will also have a very low cost per mile per passenger, similar to that of a taxi.

VX4 (Credit: Vertical Aerospace)

New propulsion systems

In its laboratories, Leonardo is exploring - with different levels of maturity - technologies for electric propulsion, in hybrid, full electric, hydrogen, fuel cell or direct hydrogen combustion versions. They can be applied to fixed-wing and rotary-wing aircraft that meet the growing decarbonisation requirements of the New European Green Deal. Leonardo has already started research activities for the development of hybrid power capacity for helicopters to be initially integrated on single-engine aircraft and is already capable of using a 50% SAF blend on its latest generation helicopters. Sustainable aviation fuels (SAF) are a key pillar of the aviation industry’s decarbonisation strategy. ATR aircraft, which Leonardo produce in a joint venture with Airbus, are at the cutting edge in this field. The company has recently tested the first flight in history powered solely by sustainable aviation fuel, that is, used for both engines.

ATR 600

ATM and U-space platforms

LeadInSky is Leonardo’s new complete solution for safe and sustainable air traffic management. The result of digitising sensors and functions to meet the most stringent international requirements for ground and airborne operations, LeadInSky is already operational in major international hubs. Leonardo is also a partner in SESAR, a European research programme aimed at creating the ‘Digital European Sky’ with state-of-the-art technological solutions to manage conventional aircraft and drones. Leonardo is at the forefront of establishing U-space in Italy, the airspace below 150 metres for the safe use of drones. The D-Flight platform for UAV in-flight management, under development with ENAC and Telespazio, has already reached important goals. An initial experiment involved transporting medical supplies with an electrically powered drone that flew between two sites of the Bambino Gesù Hospital in Rome, covering a distance of about 30 kilometres. A second project Modern Sumerians – involved Poste Italiane experimenting with the transportation of heavy goods with a cargo drone that aims to intermediate distances between 15 and 50 kilometres. Finally, Leonardo, along with Telespazio, is a key player in the URANO research project, which aims to integrate remotely piloted aircraft into the air traffic management system by using satellite navigation systems (GPS, Egnos, Galileo).

Vertiports

Casa Agusta is the name of the new helicopter terminal designed by Leonardo with Falcon Aviation Industries, which opened in Dubai during EXPO 2020. The landing pad stands alongside exhibition areas and lounges, all in one heliport that brings the comfort and services of an airport into the city. This terminal is the basis for developing a network of point-to-point connections for both urban and inter-city transfers. It has the advantage of being eco-friendly and modular, thanks to recyclable materials and the possibility of being transported to other locations.

AW609 and terminal

Smart hubs. During the World ATM Congress 2022 in Madrid, Leonardo announced an agreement with the company Aeroporti di Roma to build vertiports, in Italy and abroad, intended for the take-off and landing of air taxis and drones. This agreement is part of a broader partnership that the two companies signed to facilitate the transition to a smart hub of airport assets managed by Aeroporti di Roma.