The Future of Advanced Air Mobility

Avionics Supplier Claims It Can Solve eVTOL Challenges Like Power Management

“The future of aviation is electric, autonomy, and connected,” according to Avidyne president and CEO Dan Schwinn. In a recent interview, he said the avionics company intends to be in all three of these spaces and is working with U.S.-based eVTOL aircraft developer Beta Technologies and France's VoltAero with its hybrid-electric Cassio commuter aircraft.

Florida-based Avidyne was founded 25 years ago and offers a wide variety of flight deck systems for general aviation aircraft, business jets, and helicopters. Its products include flight displays, flight management systems, navigation and communications equipment, autopilots, and ADS-B, weather, and traffic monitoring systems.

Schwinn pointed out that while hundreds of companies are developing electric aircraft, there is “only one Avidyne” and so he has had to be choosy about which of the prospective new manufacturers to partner with. “We’re looking to work with companies that have a cultural fit with Avidyne, and our focus is on manned systems since they will be easier to certify in the near future,” he told FutureFlight. “We’ve gone all-in on Beta, but we can’t provide this kind of support to all eVTOL companies.”

Vermont-based start-up Beta appears to fit Avidyne’s criteria perfectly. Company founder and CEO Kyle Clark has described the company as a “small team of high-performance engineers tackling hard problems and solving them,” adding that all employees are either licensed pilots or student pilots. Beta’s Alia 250 eVTOL is also a manned aircraft.

According to Schwinn, Avidyne is working on solving issues that are unique to electric aircraft, namely motor and battery instruments and management. “How do you show energy management to the pilot? Especially given that batteries put out less power as they reach lower state-of-charge percentages,” he said.

Combined with the fact that weight is constant in electric aircraft—unlike traditional aircraft, which become lighter as they burn fuel—that means displaying available power is critical for pilots who need to perform a go-around at the destination airport when their battery is not at its peak performance, Schwinn noted.

“Motor and battery temperature data also matter,” he added. “What’s the right info to display to the pilot? That’s what we’re working on right now.”

Meanwhile, Avidyne has partnered with Daedalean, a Switzerland-based company focused on artificial intelligence (AI) applications for the aerospace industry, to develop AI-based avionics that could eventually lead to autonomous operations.

“Right now, our focus is on autonomy building blocks and developing systems that assist—not replace—pilots. We want to make flying safer and are interested in manned aircraft and making it simpler to fly,” Schwinn said. “Over the next decade, we see AI as augmentation, not pilot replacement.” Because of this technology, he predicts that pilots will need only five to 10 hours of training to be able to fly Beta’s Alia eVTOL aircraft.

That said, Schwinn noted that automation will eventually develop to the point where aircraft could be flown without any human pilots. “Freight will lead on no-pilot operations,” he said, adding that passenger operations without pilots will face psychological hurdles that will be more difficult to overcome.

Regarding connectivity, Schwinn noted that the 5G cellular data network will be able to serve as a platform for eVTOLs, providing coverage up to 5,000 feet without any modification to towers. This kind of broadband connectivity will also allow eVTOL aircraft to have a “virtual copilot” on the ground should the in-aircraft pilot become incapacitated in flight, he said.

“There is also a lot of crossover between these technologies we’re developing that will benefit the general aviation segment,” he concluded. “We’ll have some exciting announcements on this front this year.”