The Vertical Space

Jim Barry, Peter Shannon & Luka Tomljenovic

A podcast at the intersection of technology and flight. Here we discuss the most important forces shaping the market of advanced air mobility, with a particular focus on why and how they matter to those building a business in this very exciting and growing industry.
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Episodes

#61 Eric Leopold, Threedot (ex-IATA): Air transport in the digital age
1w ago
#61 Eric Leopold, Threedot (ex-IATA): Air transport in the digital age
Welcome back to The Vertical Space for a conversation with Eric Leopold, a long time veteran of IATA, the International Air Transport Association. We start the conversation talking about the state of the airline industry and its current priorities such as the post COVID recovery, digital transformation and sustainability. As most of you know, there are large regional differences in the maturity of the industry and therefore priorities, so we generalize the discussion on bottlenecks that airlines and airports face as the demand for air travel grows and potentially doubles over the next 15 to 20 years. Here we touched on capacity, ground infrastructure, workforce, the IT infrastructure and how advanced air mobility can solve some of these bottlenecks. We also discuss whether the hub and spoke network model continues to be prevalent in the future.  Another key theme in the conversation is digital transformation. What are the opportunities on the business side and on the operational side? And how airline and airport CIOs are thinking about prioritizing their budgets across projects? Part of the discussion is the role of generative AI in the travel experience. For instance, instead of going to an online travel agent to buy your ticket, Eric suggests we might be able to buy , our flight in a supermarket or a bank or any other retail location for that matter. Or we might use generative AI and a voice interface to guide us through the travel booking process, one that is more personalized and more in tune with our individual preferences. If you're looking for an expert and pragmatic opinion of the challenges and opportunities that aviation is facing you're in the right place!
#60 Eric Watson, Zipline: Drone delivery and the Zipline experience
Feb 12 2024
#60 Eric Watson, Zipline: Drone delivery and the Zipline experience
Welcome to our conversation with Eric Watson from Zipline. You can’t help but be impressed with the inspiring and important work that Zipline has done with their partners in Africa – with medical and healthcare outcomes that are remarkable. So, you will really enjoy hearing about Zipline and their first platform in Africa – Eric gives an excellent overview.  We then transition to their work in the United States with their Platform 2. We discuss how their experiences in Africa helped and contributed to their US performance. We discuss what’s similar and what’s completely different between the two markets. Eric is a pro at discussing the US certification process – and he takes it from ground up as if he were starting from scratch. What’s required, what has changed throughout the years, what’s working well, and what can be improved – and how the certification process is different than what they first anticipated upon launching in the US. He also discusses where there’s been tremendous progress in the last year.  In advanced air mobility, there’s always this struggle with product-market fit. Many of the players in the market have been accused of having a technical capability and are in-search for a market or a problem to solve. It is entirely refreshing to hear that Zipline started with a massive problem to solve in Africa – and from that impressive work, have demonstrated success and medical outcomes in Africa that are amazing. What it really comes down to is how that success translates into the bigger, yet more complex and more competitive market in the US – where their unique platform two can deliver with precision “on a dinner plate” with almost no noise whatsoever. Listen from Eric on how they believe they can compete in this much different market.  Eric, thanks for joining us!
#58 Kara Kramer, AeroVironment: A deep dive into the Replicator initiative and future of military UAS
Jan 16 2024
#58 Kara Kramer, AeroVironment: A deep dive into the Replicator initiative and future of military UAS
Welcome back to The Vertical Space and our conversation with Kara Kramer, Director of Business Development at AeroVironment.  This is a discussion around the evolving role of UAS in warfare, including in Ukraine, the critical role of the supply chain to ensure we can properly engage in those wars, and the recent announcement of the U.S. DoD Replicator Initiative. Kara immediately jumps into the fragility of our UAS supply chain - something we've talked a lot about over the last couple of years, but she says that with all of the talk and awareness, not much has really been done about it relating to our preparation for UAS in warfare. Then we enter a very cool discussion that the outcome of future wars, as Peter says, may revolve around the capability to produce high volume electronics.We discuss the state of the UAS market, particularly defense UAS and especially around mass. How many drones can you produce and field? How quickly can you scale what's needed to maintain scale? And lastly, how would you rise to meet that demand? Kara discusses how mass is achieved, how DoD forecasting orders is the greatest limiting factor and how even large businesses can't invest without effective DoD forecasting requirements. We discuss the impact of Ukraine on UAS and the impact it's having on our vision of future wars.We then discuss DoD's Replicator Initiative and what drove its birth, how it surprised industry, how it will leverage unmanned systems to prepare for mass and how it's meant to address the growing threat from China. Finally listen to what Kara sees as the future of warfare and her advice to you, our entrepreneurs.
#57 Valerie Manning, Overair: Reality Check On Commercializing eVTOLs
Jan 3 2024
#57 Valerie Manning, Overair: Reality Check On Commercializing eVTOLs
Welcome to our conversation with Dr. Valerie Manning, Chief Commercial Officer of Overair. This is a discussion around the value of advanced air mobility, of eVTOLs and Overair's unique value to meet these requirements. We've had this discussion many times, on the value of the advanced air mobility and eVTOLs, but it changes over time and of course, based on the experience, education and the workplace of the person responding. And so as such, this is a conversation with Valerie that's really worth listening to. We discussed the state of advanced air mobility market today compared to several years ago, the most notable milestones, what's not getting enough attention and the road to commercialization. We then discuss what has changed about the viability and the use case of eVTOLs  in the last several years, both positive and otherwise. We spend a bit of time discussing whether or not there's a real first mover advantage  in advanced air mobility, comparing Boeing's potential advantage in the early days of aviation and perhaps where Overair may have a slow mover advantage as their vehicle will learn from the experiences and the learning curve of the initial launch vehicles and early stage eVTOL markets. We then discussed Valerie's work as Chief Commercial Officer, what the role entails a bit about their go to market strategy, and a more detailed discussion around the trade-off between selling aircraft and operating transportation networks.
#56 Robert Rose, Reliable Robotics: Exploring the future of autonomy in aviation
Dec 18 2023
#56 Robert Rose, Reliable Robotics: Exploring the future of autonomy in aviation
Welcome back to The Vertical Space and our conversation with Robert Rose, co-founder and CEO of Reliable Robotics.  This is a conversation about autonomy. We discussed the arc of automation and, what evolved in the conversation, the arc of safety in aviation from its early days to today. You'll notice how Robert will closely and consistently link autonomy to safety in the beginning, throughout and at the end of the conversation; an irrefutable argument.  He essentially says autonomy is going to happen so get used to it. But he makes the hard medicine taste just a bit better by tying the key arguments to safety. We spend a bit of time on the motivation for pursuing autonomous flight by segment; GA, Part 135/121 with a safety imperative for automation being more required in the former than in the latter. After a few attempts, we eventually get to other reasons why autonomy is needed in addition to, and beyond the safety case. As we've discussed many times the podcasts, we discussed the need for autonomy for many of the advanced air mobility business models to scale, and to meet their financial projections.Robert discusses the autonomous capabilities of Reliable Robotics, and as Robert says, what makes them unique is their ground up designs for automation and certification, where it's more difficult for others to go back and design for automation if that wasn't the original intention. We spent a lot of time discussing the processes required to certify automation systems, and get into a really interesting discussion around the design of their air to air radar, it's value, market size, and why build it on their own versus purchasing off the shelf radar and whether or not it's core to their autonomy focus or perhaps a distraction to that focus.  He wraps up his talk with great advice to entrepreneurs.
#55 Yemaya Bordain, Daedalean: certifying autonomy, next-gen avionics, and multi-core processors
Dec 6 2023
#55 Yemaya Bordain, Daedalean: certifying autonomy, next-gen avionics, and multi-core processors
Check out an in-depth and fast-moving discussion of certifying autonomy, next-gen avionics, and multi-core processors with Dr. Yemaya Bordain, President of the Americas for Daedalean.Right out of the gate Yemaya challenges much of today’s established thinking on UAM: Listen to what she says is an area where very few in the industry agree with her on – and where she questions the near-term economic viability of the UAM model. And that she believes level 4 autonomy is needed for UAM economic viability – and listen to later in the podcast on when she believes level 4 autonomy may come about. Those investing in UAM should pay close attention here! We discuss the history of automation, the Why of automation, on a segment by segment basis, what has and will drive the need, and how does it scale, followed closely by a detailed discussion of the levels of automation, and the value of each– and why. And how safety improvements are the biggest near-term opportunities in this market. Listen to Yemaya’s first discussion with operators on autonomy – particularly commercial operators. The next part of the discussion is a detailed discussion on the future of avionics, starting with a discussion of Yemaya’s white paper.Listen how to compute massive amounts of data to meet the size, weight, and power constraints of gravity. We enter into a detailed discussion on why AI needs multi-core processors and the difficulty of certifying MCPs and listen to Yemaya’s response to Luka’s question on whether or not there can be a generalized approach to certifying MCPs and how Yemaya thinks that autonomy and certification of AI and MCPs will change the existing value chain in avionics.She also discusses at what levels of automation where Daedalean will be generating revenue, and in what markets, including AAM, over the next 10+ years.
#54 Stuart Ginn, WakeMed: A physician's perspective on medical drone delivery
Nov 21 2023
#54 Stuart Ginn, WakeMed: A physician's perspective on medical drone delivery
Welcome back to The Vertical Space for a deep dive into the medical delivery use case, or I should say another deep dive into this interesting topic. We’ve had guests in the past – notably Justin Steinke from Spright – where we talked about the medical delivery use case from an operator and drone expert perspective. This time, we get to hear from Stuart Ginn who besides having a professional aviation background is also a physician and therefore looks at the drone opportunity through the lens of a healthcare professional – somebody engaged in delivering healthcare and intimately familiar with the complexities associated with it.  We’ve covered a lot of ground in this conversation, starting with a description of the existing internal logistics systems within a large healthcare system, and more importantly its current problems that drones might successfully address. And we do this in the context of macro factors that healthcare faces in providing access to clinical services to rural areas. We compare the B2B medical drone delivery business model to that of the B2C consumer delivery and have a lively discussion around which is more likely to become a killer app first.  The opinion that the B2B medical drone delivery use case is a promising market opportunity is commonly shared in the industry. However, what is not adequately discussed is exactly how this value will be realized, what matters to hospitals, and what the ultimate product needs to look like to ensure wide adoption. Here’s where Stuart’s insights really stand out. For instance, instead of thinking about drones as part of a transportation system, Stuart believes they should be considered as an extension of the infrastructure, not unlike pneumatic tubes in hospitals today. As usual, we go deep, ask tough questions, and uncover interesting insights not widely shared.
#53 Declan Ryan, Irelandia: The founding of Ryanair, low-cost airlines, lessons for AAM
Nov 2 2023
#53 Declan Ryan, Irelandia: The founding of Ryanair, low-cost airlines, lessons for AAM
Welcome back to The Vertical Space for a discussion with Declan Ryan, one of the co-founders of Ryanair and a serial builder of low-cost airlines. With commercial drone operations starting to gain momentum and the contours of future eVTOL operations becoming better understood, it is important to highlight the evolution of the low-cost airline business model and learn the lessons from this market. And we have just the right guest to take a deep dive into this fascinating topic.Dec takes us to the early days of Ryanair: how they viewed the market opportunity, how they chose to compete with legacy airlines, the strategic choices and early pivots, the mistakes along the way…and some very funny moments including negotiating an acquisition with British Airways. More broadly though, we discuss how low-cost airlines make money in a highly commoditized environment, the revenue opportunities, ways to remove cost from operations, and the role of technology in the relentless pursuit of operational excellence.Dec has been in the industry for a long time and what you’ll hear from him is a sober, unfiltered view of the challenges and opportunities that the airline industry is facing, both today and in the near future. Throughout the conversation, we make references to AAM and ways in which the lessons learned in the low-cost airline business might inform eVTOL operations and drone operations at scale. There are many lessons that the AAM industry should embrace, mistakes it should not repeat, and Dec highlights those backing them up with personal experience starting, running, or being involved in a number of airlines around the world.We discuss many other topics such as decarbonizing aviation, supersonic air travel, how startups should pitch airline customers, advice to entrepreneurs, and much more.
#50 Christiaan Hen, Assaia: AI and aviation's "pit stops"
Sep 26 2023
#50 Christiaan Hen, Assaia: AI and aviation's "pit stops"
In this episode we talk about something that has great relevance to traditional aviation, and that will become increasingly important to drone and other AAM concepts as their operations increase in scale and complexity – which is utilization of the most important physical assets in aviation -> aircraft and ground infrastructure. We have the pleasure of doing a deep dive into this interesting topic with Christiaan Hen, Chief Customer Officer at Assaia, a company with the vision to improve safety, efficiency, and capacity of the air transportation system by bringing transparency and order to ground operations.We start the conversation with an analysis of the process of turning aircraft around at airport gates: the different parts of the process, the relevant metrics, the various stakeholders involved, and the limitations of existing methods used to manage the turnaround process and broadly gate management. As the scale of commercial air operations increased over the past several decades, with the corresponding commoditization of air travel, the pressure on the air transportation system to increase efficiency while maintaining safety has never been higher. Add capacity constraints at airports that are responsible for the majority of traffic, labor shortages, and ambitions to decarbonize aviation, and you quickly realize the importance of doing more with less, and to do it more predictably and consistently. Most of our conversation with Chris is about how to achieve that. As we discuss the benefits of Assaia’s solutions to existing aviation stakeholders, we draw parallels to AAM and how this is a market that will require greater transparency and optimization of ground operations – think high density drone operations, but with the benefit of freedom in infrastructure models and technology stacks that are not burdened with outdated legacy IT systems.We also talk about the differences between Europe and North America as it relates to airport operations, state of the market, and willingness to invest in new technologies.
#47 David Stepanek, Bristow: AAM customer perspective
Aug 14 2023
#47 David Stepanek, Bristow: AAM customer perspective
Today's talk is with David Stepanek – the Executive Vice President and Chief Transformation Officer of Bristow.So where we talk often talk to those building vehicles in AAM – here we have an industry leader who is committed to the opportunities of AAM – is confident that AAM will improve Bristow’s performance, reduce costs, and improve their position with sustainability. David describes how Bristow has the vision and are a leader in innovative and sustainable vertical flight solutions. Listen to what they project will be a meaningful cost reduction of AAM vs. the helicopters they’re operating today – both in reducing up front capital requirements as well as reducing long term operating costs – they believe they can reduce their direct operating costs by 60-70%. He believes Bristow will receive a meaningful return from AAM around 2030 – with a heavier contribution after 2035. He describes how urban air mobility will eventually be successful…it will probably be on a longer timeframe than most are thinking today…that there are a number of risks and challenges most are not considering today…and to scale will be more difficult than it first appears.Listen to the section on where David believes is the most value in AAM – from OEM, to Operator, to MRO, to Infrastructure and Systems – great section…and his impression of where the greater value is may be a surprise to some.As much as David and Bristow are leading their industry with AAM ….he’s also careful, realistic, and pragmatic in his approach – this is not just a cheerleader or a one-sided promoter of AAM – he has and you’ll be listening to a balanced perspective. Many thanks to David for joining us!
#46 Dan Elwell: FAA Reauthorization; "1,500 Hour Rule"; the balance between safety and innovation
Jul 31 2023
#46 Dan Elwell: FAA Reauthorization; "1,500 Hour Rule"; the balance between safety and innovation
This episode marks a first for our podcast – it’s the first time that we recorded an episode in person, and we did it during the Honeywell Aerospace Second Annual Advanced Air Mobility Summit in Washington DC, where the three of us also shared insights on the industry in front of an impressive audience of government and industry leaders. One of the major themes of the Summit was the upcoming FAA Reauthorization, and so in light of that, we sat down with Dan Elwell – who previously served as the Acting FAA Administrator and also its Deputy Administrator – to do a deep dive into the FAA Reauthorization and other important industry topics. We start the conversation with the pilot shortage problem, the structural and cultural forces at play, and how technology can help solve it. The discussion surfaces the currently somewhat controversial topic of the role that simulators play in the “1,500 hour” rule. Listen to why Dan believes pilots should be allowed to accumulate even the entirety of the 1500hrs requirement in modern high tech simulators.Most of our conversation, however, takes us back to the roots and foundational principles of regulating aviation, including an overview of the evolution of the FAA mandate since its founding in 1958. Although not novel, the balance between ensuring safety and promoting the growth of the industry is more important today than it ever was before. We hover on this topic quite a bit and, among other things, draw analogies to how commercial space flights are regulated. Listen to what Dan thinks is one of the most important issues that the FAA needs to figure out, and how what he calls the 737 Max PTSD phenomenon and other factors create a chilling effect on the FAA workforce and their ability to be an effective regulator.
#45 Damon Vander Lind, extending electric range with zero emissions
Jul 19 2023
#45 Damon Vander Lind, extending electric range with zero emissions
Welcome to our conversation with Damon Vander Lind, co-founder and CEO of Magpie Aviation, a company enabling long-range flights with zero emissions. Damon and Magpie are offering a solution that is fresh and new – a lot of you will be both fascinated by his vision and at the same time find reasons to challenge his assumptions – and you have to admire his bold approach to the market.  Listen to Damon's views on the evolution of advanced air mobility, of electric aviation, and the use-cases being addressed. Damon believes the industry needs solutions that address sustainability and carbon reduction – and that sustainability will become more essential in the years to come. He challenges and gives his perspectives on some of the current hopeful solutions for sustainability, including sustainable aviation fuel (SAF), which many of the airlines are betting on today.  There are those who will criticize some of today’s eVTOL companies for overstating the impact of their solution on the environment. With Magpie – and their promise of extended range – they have the opportunity to provide zero-carbon flights to longer range trips. So he’s all-in on sustainability – because customers will be paying a premium for the extended range, as well as some additional tradeoffs – and Magpie is betting the greater value of sustainability will offset the slightly higher price of his proposed solution.  So listen to this podcast for a number of reasons, listen: to one of the leading engineers talk about the evolution of the industry; to the different approaches to sustainable aviation and the electrification of the industry; to an informed person’s fresh perspective on AAM and the near-term value eVTOLs; and to Damon’s perspective on his proposed solution with Magpie Aviation.  Damon, thanks for joining us!
#43 Venkat Viswanathan: batteries and electric aviation
Jun 20 2023
#43 Venkat Viswanathan: batteries and electric aviation
Today we revisit the topic of batteries with Venkat Viswanathan,  Associate Professor of Mechanical Engineering at Carnegie Mellon University.  As someone who relatively recently started his journey in electric aviation, Venkat is massively inspired by the challenge and opportunity of electrifying aviation. We sat down to discuss why he is optimistic about 1,000 Wh/kg energy density at the battery pack level becoming commercially available in the next 10-15 years, a goal that many of his fellow battery experts find tough to believe. However, this is not a “boring” lesson in battery chemistry. We talked about what it takes to commercialize new battery chemistries and who will carry the burden of funding new R&D to improve battery energy and power densities now that there is no incentive to pursue such efforts by the automotive industry. Listen also how Venkat describes the AND problem, which stands for the challenge for batteries to achieve both high energy density and also high power density, and how hybrid batteries with different chemistries might help solve this challenge. We also talked about the differences between batteries for VTOL vs CTOL aircraft, about the different and sometimes conflicting requirements for different types of aircraft and missions, about innovation in non-destructive diagnostics to figure out power and energy remaining, and also about how generative AI can accelerate the development of new battery chemistries.
#42 Billy Thalheimer, Regent and coastal transportation
Jun 6 2023
#42 Billy Thalheimer, Regent and coastal transportation
Today we introduce the maritime world to AAM -  with a conversation with Billy Thalheimer, CEO and Co-Founder of Regent. We’ve been hearing such positive news about Regent – as I’m sure you’ve heard as well. But what makes Regent so darn attractive? They’re not just getting orders for their aircraft – as many are – but they’re getting firm orders.  First – Billy makes it clear that Regent is addressing a multi-modal coastal transportation opportunity – with a novel vehicle – the sea glider.  Listen to the use-case. The technology. The range with existing battery technologies – and why. But listen to the challenges that others don’t have as well. A terrific conversation around the maritime certification with the Coast Guard and other organizations around the world vs. the FAA and other aviation regulators. They’ve seemingly minimized some of the more obvious risks that others have in AAM – FAA certification, landing infrastructure, air traffic control and congestion, range for electric aviation, size of vehicle and its passenger comfort, and so on. Bill expresses skepticism on whether or not some of the current AAM vehicles will actually hit their projected timelines – given what they said they would accomplish 5 years ago – and what has accomplished since – and the herculean feats, as Billy says, that some of them have to pull off to meet their objectives. Love the gut punches. And, like many of our guests, Billy is thoughtful, smart, visionary and leader. Listen to his advice to other business leaders and innovators, what he learned from working as an intern with Jeff Bezos at Blue Origin, and how he leads his team today. And what technologies he thinks you should be focusing on.