By Joshua Ng, a director at Alton Aviation Consultancy
The market for Advanced Air Mobility (AAM) continues to grow in both relevance and value, with manufacturers of future electric vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) aircraft raising a total of US$10.3 billion in 2021. Despite this, the potential impact on the maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) and aftermarket sector has received little attention to date.
In a new whitepaper entitled The Rise of Advanced Air Mobility: Implications for MRO, global aviation advisory firm Alton Aviation Consultancy recommends that original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) pay closer attention to maintenance and the accompanying aftermarket as a key cornerstone of a successful eVTOL vehicle programme.
Technology to simplify eVTOL maintenance
While eVTOL OEMs have not yet published guidance for their respective vehicles’ maintenance programmes, eVTOLs are projected to be more convenient, affordable, and simpler to maintain than conventional aircraft. In fact, based on estimates by some OEMs and operators, eVTOL maintenance costs, as a percentage of operating costs, could be reduced by up to 50 per cent when compared to helicopters. This is due to technology advancements and investments in vehicle design-enabled solutions being introduced by OEMs, such as new propulsion systems, more durable airframes, and alternative energy sources.
Advanced analytics will also play a role in simplifying maintenance and repair operations for this sector. Predictive maintenance combines significant data with machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI) tools to provide insights useful in understanding vehicle health, planning for future maintenance needs, and limiting unscheduled maintenance or aircraft-on-ground (AOG) events.
Another differentiator and cost reducer between MRO for eVTOLs and traditional commercial aircraft concerns the depth of maintenance required. MRO for eVTOLs is anticipated to consist of primarily light to intermediate maintenance, with no labour intensive, costly overhauls of vehicle subsystems.
However, while these advancements will significantly reduce costs, at Alton we advise that the core maintenance principles proven to be effective for conventional aircraft will remain the foundation for this market, and that cost savings might be lower than OEMs are estimating. Given the relatively small MRO market size for AAM aircraft, until the eVTOL market achieves significant scale, Alton believes that many of the MRO players will likely not have opportunities to gain traction in this space in the near term, as OEMs will likely dominate and control the aftermarket too. In addition to limited scale and volume required for new MRO market entrants, another reason is the likelihood that OEMs will be hesitant to share the intellectual property (IP) of the new AAM technologies required to maintain their equipment. As such, collaborating with AAM OEMs will be essential to develop business opportunities in this sector.
Value in the aftermarket
While Alton anticipates operators and other players like Part 145 MRO service providers will play a limited role in MRO for AAM aircraft, there might just be a business case for the parts market. We predict there will be an increasing need for inventory management and supply chain solutions to support the aftermarket.
Aftermarket services should not be an afterthought for OEMs. Not only are parts crucial in ensuring airworthiness and operational reliability, but they will also be a critical success factor in growing vehicle sales. Given more direct part replacements, and the vehicles’ need for frequent battery servicing and changes, there will likely be demand for highly efficient parts distribution and logistics companies to facilitate global, regional, and hyperlocal supply chain services to ensure the technical reliability of eVTOLs.
The AAM sector is likely to adopt a light-touch maintenance philosophy as compared to traditional commercial aircraft due to AAM vehicles’ advanced technologies. However, maintenance and the MRO supply chain remains a key cornerstone to ensure a successful vehicle programme, and with customers’ high expectations for vehicle availability and reliability, OEMs must proactively design, develop and avail efficient aftermarket support for their vehicles.
Joshua Ng is a director at Alton Aviation Consultancy, a global advisory firm serving the aviation and aerospace industries. To download this whitepaper and view other aviation industry insights, please visit: https://altonaviation.com/insights/
The Rise of Advanced Air Mobility: Implications for MRO report authors are Alton managing directors Jonathan M. Berger, Joshua Ng, Adam Guthorn and engagement manager, Alan Lim.