Korean automotive group Hyundai has expanded its ambitions in the field of advanced air mobility (AAM) with the addition of plans for a hydrogen-powered eSTOL aircraft to its previously announced plans for U.S. subsidiary Supernal to develop a battery-powered eVTOL vehicle. Hyundai’s new Korean Advanced Air Mobility unit will take responsibility for the development of the eSTOL aircraft, which would fly to a range of 1,000 km (621 miles) and whose application would at first center on a regional air mobility network centered on the capital Seoul by about 2030.
As part of a wider AAM strategy, Supernal has targeted 2028 as its entry-into-service date for its SA-1 eVTOL aircraft. The company says the four-seat will typically fly on routes of around 75 km. It is targetting cities such as Los Angeles and Miami as early-adopter locations for air taxi services.
Addressing this week's Vertical Flight Society’s Hydrogen Aero Symposium in Long Beach, California, Supernal senior manager Yesh Premkumar emphasized Hyundai’s strength in automotive manufacturing while conceding the company’s need to understand how to apply it to aviation. “Where we can, we will gladly help and support others in terms of understanding how this can be done as well as learn the processes of certification, which is a small thing in aviation that we don’t quite understand yet,” he said, while providing no further details about the new eSTOL design.
In short, Premkumar stressed that Hyundai aims to take a holistic approach to building a so-called AAM ecosystem. “We looked at multiple ways of solving the problem,” he explained, namely a short-range and a long-range aircraft. For the short-range model, batteries emerged as the best solution because of their existing use in the automotive field. For the long-range aircraft, Hyundai chose hydrogen fuel cells in the context of its existing experience with the technology. The company makes about 10,000 fuel cells a year for automotive applications, said Premkumar.
“We've talked about all the different needs for improvement that exist in the fuel cell system, but the fuel cell solutions are at TRL level nine in the commercial market when it comes to ground transportation,” he noted. “So it is not a technology problem. It's an application maturity problem.”
Premkumar added that infrastructure remains one of the most important considerations in the development of an AAM ecosystem, along with workforce development, training, public policy, and supply chain concerns, calling the latter potentially “quite problematic” in terms of large-scale application. Partnerships stand as an imperative to meet those challenges, he explained.
“Our approach is very simple—[to form] strategic partnerships literally across everything possible—aircraft subsystems, aircraft, airframe, design, design, integration certification, wherever we can find someone who's good and can help us, or whom we can help,” Permkumar concluded.