As a first for my blog, see below for my interview with Simon Scott; owner of Esprit Aeronautics espritaero.com a business focused on developing a manned vertical take-off aircraft. Simon has been active within this sector since the 1990’s, long before eVTOL and drones became media trendy.
This interview follows on from yesterday’s eVTOL blog entry: So are we finally going to live like the Jetson’s??
Nick: Hello Simon, firstly thank you for agreeing to the interview.
Nick: First off, please could you give a little detail upon your background, and how you became interested in the eVTOL sector?
Simon: Both my grandparents had served in or supporting the Royal Air Force and my youth was spent either making model aircraft or visiting air shows and museums in Europe. After leaving school at 15 I studied engineering before becoming an assistant metallurgist for a specialist castings company that supplied the aerospace industry. At 19 years of age I joined the military as a guided weapon’s controller before working closely with the Army Air Corp on several operations. On leaving the military in the late 90’s my fascination had not diminished and I started to look at the research being done by Mark D. Moore (currently UBER Engineering Director of Vehicle Systems) when he was at NASA Langley Research Centre and following several email exchanges I started my own research into Personal Air Vehicles which led me towards hybrid propulsion and electric aircraft in the early 2000’s.
Nick: So this is not a recent venture for you, this is an area that you have been working upon for many years. You also have significant experience in the creation of drones. Does your ePAV carry a lot of design heritage from Esprit Aero’s drones? What are the key differences?
Simon: I’ve always been a believer in building something, not just a nice 3D CAD rendering. It is also better to build and test a real platform in nature as CFD (Computational fluid dynamics – used for aerodynamic analysis) may be a very useful tool but nature is unpredictable in many cases. I’ve also carried out testing at higher elevations, usually starting at 500m ASL unlike many which tend to test at scale and at sea level.
You learn a great deal from failure and I have experienced plenty in the early years with drone flight controllers and sensors far less capable than current versions, but I have also seen my designs carry out flights lifting payloads far greater than even some of the well-known drones of today cannot handle.
As far as heritage goes, if you can fly a conventional quad copter drone competently today you could fly one of our eVTOL platforms, it is that simple to fly.
Finally there are many differences between drones and manned vehicles, most notably, safety is of utmost importance, when carrying a “Live” cargo.
Nick: I think most will agree that public awareness of the future eVTOL market has rapidly increased in recent times. This awareness has been amplified due to the concept designs shown at this year’s Paris Airshow, and claims that cities such as London will be serviced by air taxis as early as 2025. Do you think that these 2025 claims are realistic?
Simon: I will say I am very sceptical of timelines as I have first-hand experience of just how long it takes to turn ideas and concepts into reality. There are far more barriers to market for eVTOL air taxis in the Urban Air Mobility sector than many openly admit to.
Obviously there are some exceptions when it comes to platforms we are already seeing in test videos online but we have yet to see any fly in an urban environment never mind carry a fare paying passenger between two vertiports in a city.
Nick: What do you think are the main barriers to achieving this 2025 target?
Simon: Obviously legislation requirements, not only for vehicle certification but also flight restrictions, noise levels and flight corridors over populated areas.
Social acceptance is key so safety requirements need to be much higher and the costs associated with using such means of transportation needs to be cost effective for passengers. Most people would enjoy saving an hour a day travelling but not if it costs them twice as much as using conventional means, which reduces the potential passenger numbers willing to pay for that time saving.
Nick: So legislation and regulation will be key, unsurprisingly, but you also consider that there is high risk of the short to mid-term business case being unviable. With such significant barriers remaining before city air taxis are accepted for use, and with the recent rapid increase in eVTOL businesses across the world, it looks like at least some of these ventures will not end with success. Considering this, what is Esprit Aero’s planned product and service offering?
Simon: We are targeting Rural Air Mobility (RAM) and at first, we are looking at the use of single and dual seat platforms for first responders. Many rural areas are receiving very little support from emergency services due to budget cuts and low staffing numbers. Smaller ePAV solutions are force multipliers and allow a greatly increased response time.
Nick: So, you are looking to provide highly mobile transport solutions for emergency services in remote locations where there is a high need. In affect you are proposing to offer a smaller, quieter, more cost-effective and easier (safer) to fly, alternative to a helicopter? If the eVTOL consumer taxi market is delayed, do you see this space being targeted by the eVTOLs taxi companies, while we wait for the certification and regulation hurdles to be overcome?
Simon: Most of the air taxi designs could be modified but the focus by the main player’s remains air taxis. Would a local authority pay £4,000,000 GBP for an eVTOL air taxi platform when they could purchase a dual seat ePAV for less than £200,000 GBP? There is also the platform footprint to consider as some of the eVTOL designs being developed are nearly as large as conventional helicopters.
Nick: Regarding the seemingly booming eVTOL industry, have you found that this has helped or hindered your business development strategy? Are you finding it easier to find both customers and suppliers now than say two years ago?
Simon: We tend to get far more suppliers interested in us now as many read the analysis & market predictions believing it to be a good opportunity for them at an early stage. Customer interest is growing but many are “tyre kickers” and are wisely waiting until they see the real platforms working before committing.
Nick: With so many different types of eVTOL being developed, do you think that there will be key areas where parts will become homogeneous? Are there any of these products that you plan to specialise in, or in fact outsource to a specialist supplier, rather than create yourselves?
Simon: We have a plan and that has to be flexible as nobody can predict the future so we will keep a keen eye on the industry & market and react accordingly.
Nick: What do you see as your key objectives in the mid-term, once you have achieved certification and the ePAV is in use in the UK? Do you plan to develop business overseas? Also, are you planning to develop any additional vehicles to the ePAV in the future? If you were to develop an additional product offering to the ePAV, what differences would it have (eg. What do you see as a strong second market)?
Simon: At this stage we are focused on finding the right investment for us and our plans to get our designs into the air safely and legally.
Obviously there is international interest and due to our experience with international suppliers and the wider aerospace industry we can visualise dealerships across the globe in the future as well as the international support infrastructure that will be needed.
We are aware that certain clients require bespoke solutions that will need to be built “in-house” for security reasons.
Nick: So it sounds like you will need at least a small manufacturing facility, with the option of outsourcing high volume orders on build to print licences as and when customer demand deems it necessary.
Many thanks for your time Simon, it has been very interesting to speak with you. I think considering the current market, your business development strategy is smart; offering a product with low unit cost that offers clear advantages over existing products (e.g. helicopters), and will also open the market to users who may not have previously considered flying vehicles as a viable option. I look forward to hear about further developments!
For those who are reading this blog, if you would like to learn more about what Simon and Esprit Aeronautics are developing, please check the links below:
The business case for Rural vs Urban air mobility: https://www.espritaero.com/ram-rural-air-mobility
The ‘barriers’ to Urban air mobility: https://www.espritaero.com/are-evtol-air-taxi-s-the-only-solution