Australian advanced air mobility (AAM) facilitator Greenbird is expecting to announce additional members of its collaborative platform in the next month, after which it will focus on engaging with governments as it aims for commercial operations of electric air vehicles in time for Brisbane’s Olympic Games in 2032.
The industry collaboration platform was established in February by Australian aviation consultants Avistra, headed up by Sara Hales and Keith Tonkin who both have extensive experience in aviation commercialization and operational projects, to facilitate the establishment of an air mobility ecosystem in the country. Greenbird is initially focused on establishing AAM operations in Queensland in time for the Olympics, with a view to expand throughout the country.
Garnering industry support
The platform has already amassed an impressive group of partners. Founding Greenbird partners comprise eVTOL ground infrastructure specialist Skyports; Australian eVTOL developer AMSL Aero which has designed and developed the Vertiia electric battery and hydrogen-powered aircraft; Queensland-based helicopter operator Nautilus Aviation, which has an order for 10 of Eve’s eVTOL aircraft; specialist helicopter operator Aviator Group; and Queensland’s Archerfield Airport and Griffith University.
Earlier this month, Greenbird announced clean energy company H2 Energy Company (h2ec); engineering consultancy AvLogix Solutions; and uncrewed systems management platform FlyFreely as its latest partners.
“We are pretty well covered [in terms of types of partners and their specialities], but there are still some really key partners to come on board,” said Hales, who is the director of Greenbird. “We have a number of conversations that are underway that we’re not ready to make announcements about … These conversations are really exciting for us and will carry a lot of weight.”
With aviation and AAM specialist partners in place, Greenbird will then look to add local partners, specializing in electricity distribution and property, for example.
“We need to speak to the whole ecosystem,” she said. “One of the challenges is that this is a whole new industry starting from scratch and each participant is happy to push along their business and interests, but they don’t necessarily want to take on the weight of resolving frictions for the whole industry. We are trying to function in the middle, bringing the whole supply chain together to resolve all the points of friction.”
Hales herself has extensive experience in airport operations and management, including being part of the team that established Toowoomba Wellcamp Airport in Queensland which, when it launched in 2014, was the first major greenfield public airport to open in the country since Melbourne Airport in 1970.
Once the ecosystem is in place, Greenbird will proceed to engage with government, which is “imminent,” according to Hales.
“We have completed that initial demonstration of industry support for our concept and we have a really great collection of members [on board],” she said. “We’ve demonstrated that we can successfully connect the local supply chain and local industry participants with international knowledge in this space, so we are really playing the role of supply chain enablement. Now, the next stage is to go and engage with government. It would be premature to go to government without having that industry backing first.”
Establishing a regulatory framework
Hales is encouraged by the Australian federal government to start establishing the regulatory framework through the Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) and air navigation service provider Airservices Australia.
“CASA’s approach at the moment is very collaborative, and the message that CASA has quite clearly communicated to industry has been that they are here to work with industry to develop frameworks in response to industry needs on a case-by-case basis,” said Hales, adding that this type of approach allows for flexibility in terms of evolving the framework as the industry develops.
Greenbird has also submitted an application for an Emerging Aviation Technology Partnership Program (EATP) grant. EATP is a federal government initiative supporting strategic partnerships with industry, using emerging aviation technology to address community needs, particularly in regional Australia. Greenbird’s proposed project will explore overwater navigation, the application of regional air mobility solutions in remote areas, and potentially instrument flight rules operations.
At a state government level, Greenbird believes while some work has been done, there is more to do. In Queensland, for example, “there is a lot more work to be done around the development of the support, planning framework, and industry initiatives,” Hales said, adding Greenbird is aiming to work with governments to resolve these issues.
“Our focus is on the commercialization of these technologies because we feel a lot of the operational problems are already being tackled by the government and industry, but this last step toward commercialization is really where we are,” she said. “The frontrunners in the industry really need a clear path toward commercialization.”
Greenbird is aiming for 2035 for operational AAM in Queensland, with some sort of “technological leadership” to be demonstrated at the 2032 Brisbane Olympic and Paralympic Games — a good opportunity to attract investment, she said.
Working back from that, some sort of commercialization of the technology will be required by 2026 which would necessitate demonstration flights in 2024.
“That sort of process allows a step-by-step approach for working through the various regulatory barriers and the development of the supporting regulatory framework, as well as identifying and mitigating the commercial and social challenges around each stage of the operation,” Hales said.
AAM opportunities in Australia
Hales warns that Australia is in danger of missing out on potential investment in this area if it doesn’t act now.
“There are early investment inquiries from foreign investment companies, however, I don’t feel Australia or the [Australian] states have provided a clear path toward commercialization or those investment approaches,” she said. “That potentially jeopardizes Australia’s opportunity to successfully secure first phase investment for the industry, and that’s the type of problem we [Greenbird] want to help solve — to create this clear pathway toward commercialization.”
Hales believes Australia is in a good position to provide opportunities for commercialization in what is a relatively low complex aviation environment compared with other parts of the world.
“I am feeling encouraged about the potential in Australia and the opportunities here … If it’s properly leveraged, Australia has a very real chance of attracting investment from this industry,” Hales said. “We’ve got a great climate, we’re politically stable, we have a very good aviation regulator and a safe aviation environment, and we’re pretty well off as a population. We have our own unique mobility challenges where these technologies can add some real value for our community.”
The real potential of AAM for Australia is in regional air mobility, connecting regional locations rather than overcoming traffic congestion, which isn’t as serious as in other parts of the world, Hales said.
“You can imagine a network across South East Queensland [on the eastern seaboard of Australia] connecting the Sunshine Coast and Gold Coast with Brisbane and Toowoomba,” Hales highlighted as an example, with this regional connectivity model able to be replicated in other parts of the country.
Hales said regional connectivity is “Australia’s mobility challenge. These aircraft can offer a cost-effective, environmental-friendly and responsible, safe way to better connect these communities. That’s pretty exciting.”