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Honeywell is supporting eVTOL aircraft developer Vertical Aerospace with flight control technology. (Photo: Vertical Aerospace)

Honeywell Turns Sharp Focus To Urban Air Mobility

Unmanned and electric aircraft are not as farfetched as some think.

Honeywell is forming an Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) business unit to advance the aerospace group’s ambitions in the fast-emerging UAS and urban air mobility (UAM) sectors. The division will have its own engineering and sales resources and will offer aircraft systems, including avionics, hybrid and electric propulsion, thermal management, air traffic management, and ground services such as predictive maintenance.

The Honeywell unit will have a strong focus on developing software to advance key technological needs for UAS and UAM aircraft. These include fly-by-wire autopilot to ensure aircraft stability, detect-and-avoid algorithms to automatically fly an aircraft around oncoming traffic, and artificial intelligence to track landing zones.

“We can provide unified systems that will make [the operation of the aircraft] more simple and intuitive, which is especially important for operators who will need to depend on less well trained and experienced pilots,” said Stephane Fymat, Honeywell's vice president and general manager of the new business. “We’re taking a unified holistic approach to developing core technology for this sector, and we believe we can help to make it happen and not just chase opportunity.”

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Fymat told BJT that Honeywell’s investment in the UAS and UAM sectors will increase over the next decade. He said the company expects the UAM sector to begin operations incrementally, first with pilots on board aircraft and eventually with fully autonomous flight. Similarly, he anticipates that cargo-carrying missions will get going before passenger services begin.

Honeywell is already working with eVTOL aircraft developers Vertical Aerospace in the U.K. and Pipistrel in Slovenia to integrate flight control systems for their programs. Fymat indicated that the company is likely to announce further risk-sharing partnerships. He said the new business unit will offer a more straightforward and responsive single point of contact for new aircraft developers and operators looking to tap Honeywell’s technology, as well as systems integration and certification experience.

“Urban air mobility and unmanned aerial systems will play an increasing role in aerospace, with potential applications in all-electric urban air taxi vehicles, hybrid-electric unmanned cargo drones, optionally piloted airplanes, delivery drones and everything in between,” said Mike Madsen, president and CEO of Honeywell Aerospace.