Honeywell’s first air mobility summit aims to fill big shoes

Company capitalizes on role in providing components for electric aircraft makers to provide forum, leaders say

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Honeywell, the North Carolina electronics and avionics giant, wants its inaugural “Air Mobility Summit” held Wednesday to become a major industry forum to fill some of the void left by the absence of the Uber Elevate summits, the conferences put on by the rideshare pioneer that sold its vertical flight business to Joby Aviation, which plans to hold an Elevate summit next year.

Honeywell set out to create a forum like Uber Elevate, although not as large, Taylor Alberstadt, the company’s senior director of global sales and marketing for commercial unmanned aerial systems and urban air mobility, told me. 

“I think it was a big blow to the industry when Uber sold the Uber Elevate piece to Joby in terms of the forum the company provided,” Alberstadt said. “We do see ourselves in that role because we never had the vision of building our own aircraft; we want to build the parts that can go into multiple different types of aircraft. Hence, we have those relationships with many different customers. And that puts us in a position to be able to bring them all together as well with the government and regulators.”

Several attendees told me they welcomed the summit as one of the first events to focus specifically on AAM since the 2019 Uber Elevate Summit held in Washington, D.C.

Honeywell’s AAM business includes the sale of electric motors to Germany-based Lilium and several other aircraft developers, along with avionics including its Simplified Vehicle Operations, or SVO, suite of mostly automated instruments for the flight deck. 

About 200 professionals and leaders in the emerging AAM industry attended the summit. Honeywell also planned to host more visitors, including members of Congress, by appointment only in the two days after the event. By way of comparison, Uber said after its 2019 summit that about 1,200 attended it.

At the Honeywell event, four members of Congress who lead committees overseeing aviation and transportation made remarks, along with several FAA officials.

Members of the AAM industry are grappling with how to wrap in more automation to reduce costs after initial versions of their air taxis are rolled out with pilots aboard. 

“The technology to remotely pilot an aircraft, known as fly-by-wire, has actually been in place for a very long time, but it’s the high standard of safety required for passenger flight that we’re still defining,” Andrew Barker, Honeywell’s vice president of integrated avionics, told me. “There’s no regulation around that yet, and that’s one of the reasons for this event: to get the regulators involved and show them the technologies that we’re developing, such as our detect and avoid capability.” 

Honeywell can bring the industry together because it provides parts and components to many firms developing novel electric aircraft, Michael Cervenka, president of U.K.-based aircraft company Vertical Aerospace, said during a brief speech. He said Uber Elevate had previously provided such a forum. 

“Uber really created this industry, but since they’ve been acquired by Joby, the whole industry has missed having a platform-agnostic forum to create these kinds of opportunities,” Cervenka said. “Honeywell clearly has the ability to do that. I would encourage more broadly for industry and regulation and policymakers to come together.”

Joby in April announced plans to host a 2022 Elevate Summit in New York City in October, but that event has been postponed until 2023, Joby spokeswoman Katie Pribyl told me in response to questions about the event.

Along with Vertical, representatives of many other AAM companies spoke or exhibited at the Honeywell event, including Joby, Archer Aviation, Beta Technologies, Lilium, Supernal and Wisk Aero.

“I think the top industry players are really starting to talk in a much more aligned manner,” Cervenka said. “And the more that we can collaborate — as a former U.S. president once said — a rising tide lifts all boats, and actually there’s plenty of room for lots of successful players to win.”

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Honeywell’s first air mobility summit aims to fill big shoes