Gerrard Cowan
By Gerrard Cowan

Gerrard Cowan is a freelance journalist who specializes in finance and defense. Follow him on Twitter @gerrardcowan


Q-and-A with CIVATAglobal’s Andrew Charlton

The Civic Air Transport Association (CIVATAglobal) was launched in August to serve as a global trade association for the advanced air mobility (AAM), urban air mobility (UAM) and UAS traffic management (UTM) domains, with eVTOL and drones a major focus. Andrew Charlton, the new association’s director general, is also managing director of the Aviation Advocacy consultancy, while he previously held senior roles at Qantas Airways, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) and Société Internationale de Télécommunications Aéronautiques (SITA).

Charlton spoke to about CIVATAglobal’s goal of connecting industry and government organizations and the potential of eVTOLs against the backdrop of the coronavirus pandemic. What is the background to CIVATAglobal?

Andrew Charlton: Historically, aviation has been governed centrally by the national government — for example, the FAA [Federal Aviation Administration] in the U.S. or the CAA [Civil Aviation Authority] in the U.K. However, drones and eVTOL are bringing up some interesting issues.

CIVATAglobal Andrew Charlton
Andrew Charlton, director general of CIVATAglobal

The contrast with mass aviation is a bit like the difference between wholesale and retail. Aviation use will increasingly take place at the individual level: the scale is different, and the way this is going to be governed is different. There’s this interface with local government that has never been there before — local governments have the local knowledge, they have the understanding, they know when building work is going on or a football match is being played.

So local government organizations are involved and they need to be involved with this local and very individual air transport. There needs to be a way to bring together local government authorities and people like airports and vertiports and so forth that are going to be used for these sorts of platforms. And then industry must be involved, by which I mean not just the manufacturers of the eVTOLs or the drones, but the providers of things like UTM, the providers of the communications networks they’re going to use, the providers of infrastructure like vertiports, and of course the operators. Why is local government such an important focus?

Andrew Charlton: Whether you’re talking the delivery of a pizza by a drone or a person in an eVTOL flying across town, this will all take place in a local bubble. What happens in London is irrelevant to what happens in Manchester. The risk we always run is that we bring our previous knowledge to address the new issues — like fighting the last war. The issue we’ve got to avoid is to have non-specific and therefore non-sensible regulation brought down from on high.

We must have much more local regulation. For that to work, we need industry to be able to explain what they’re doing. We need local governments to understand what’s going on, and we need to work together. It’s always hard to talk numbers, but our hope is we can end up with an even split in the association between government and industry members. Is there currently a lack of communication between the two sides?

Andrew Charlton: Yes, and a mutual lack of understanding. I don’t know that industry knows enough about what local government pressures are and what they’re worrying about, and I think local governments don’t know enough about the aviation parts of this and the technological challenges and opportunities.

CIVATAglobal cityscape
Andrew Charlton sees aviation use increasingly taking place at the individual level, which will require involvement from local government organizations. CIVATAglobal Photo How important are eVTOLs to CIVATAglobal, and are there any areas where you see particular potential?

Andrew Charlton: UAM and eVTOLs are really fundamental to this. I think cities will get started with drones in everything from takeout delivery to medical supplies. There will be a progression where cities authorize those sorts of services and citizens become much more comfortable with them. And as the technology and the safety assurances come through, there’ll be more pervasiveness of UAM. If we started with eVTOL [without drones], this would currently be a largely theoretical conversation. But because we are starting with drones, it’s actually a real conversation, it’s a practical conversation. CIVATAglobal aims to promote UAM in both urban and rural environments. What kind of potential do you see for these systems in rural communities?

Andrew Charlton: One of the issues that rural communities always have is the capacity to provide infrastructure for the density of the population. Roads are expensive to build and often the population density doesn’t justify making them serviceable and useful, while public transport can also be very hard to justify. So I can see applications in areas like medicine supply, for instance, where we need to leapfrog the infrastructure realities on the ground.

I think we’ve got to be careful not to be too general. The really interesting thing about the whole UAM area, as I said before, is the difference between wholesale and retail. As opposed to mass transit, it’s individualized. UAM allows for really specific matching of needs to requirements. It allows you to break things down to a really individual level. That will be important for the rural environment. What has been the impact of COVID-19?

Andrew Charlton: What COVID has taught us is that, at least for the moment, we need to be very circumspect about how we do things. Again to my previous point, it effectively requires people to be quite individual and to individualize what they’re doing. And that gives the UAM and eVTOL space an incredible opportunity. Local areas will think of themselves as a bubble. Individuals and individual groups and communities will think of themselves as a bubble. And this is a way to deliver services to that bubble, and for the bubble to continue to do what it needs to do. So I think that we don’t know yet what COVID means, but I think eVTOLs are another tool in the armory that will be incredibly helpful.

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