Advanced Air Mobility Race and Composite Materials

By Imad Atallah

The race to enable the next generation of urban transportation, through the Advanced Air Mobility (AAM) initiative, rages on. As both public and private funding increases to various key constituents of this emerging market, several vehicle manufacturers are marching forward with design, construction and certification plans of different vehicle prototypes to serve this exciting new space. In 2020, AAM companies raised $1.3 billion in private investment despite the impact of COVID-19 -- an 80% increase over 2019. In 2021, we expect another significant increase in private and public investments.

For vehicle manufacturers, the pressure is on to be the first, or in the first group of vehicles, to be certified by the FAA or EASA.  Some are trying to achieve military certification as early as this year, which will facilitate commercial certification soon after. This milestone is critical as companies prove their credibility in the marketplace and to investors. The challenge that most manufacturers face is how to balance the need to push technology and be financially successful with how to leverage existing certified materials and systems to minimize certification risk.

Advanced composite materials such as those developed by Hexcel have enabled a step change in aviation operational cost improvements over the past 20 years. Composites are becoming critical elements of AAM vehicle structures and especially so with the importance for lighter weight and increased battery power efficiency.

At Hexcel, we are leaders in developing and manufacturing composite material systems, and we have a long history serving the aerospace and industrial markets. To reduce certification risk, the race to certification is forcing the use of existing material systems that have both a history of use in the aerospace industry and qualified materials data. Conversely, the challenge of producing these vehicles at the required high volumes and low cost to make the market a reality is pushing more innovation in composite material systems to support these key requirements. Some vehicle manufacturers realize that they may have to redesign their vehicles for their high-rate production phase after certification.

Hexcel’s experience in both composite material systems for high-rate automotive platforms, as well as material systems with the performance required for aerospace platforms, provides the best partner for vehicle manufacturers and structures manufacturers supporting the AAM market. The ability to bridge the need to certify a vehicle as quickly as possible with enabling composite materials innovation to support higher rate manufacturing will be critical. And Hexcel can be the trusted material partner to help companies make that transition.

Hexcel offers several material solutions to solve this challenge, such as fast-curing epoxy systems, resin infusion systems, thermoplastics matrix systems, honeycomb structures, and additive manufacturing.  In addition to material systems, Hexcel’s aerostructures manufacturing capability provides the ability to build prototypes and parts using a variety of composite manufacturing processing methodologies to optimize the design and manufacturing process.

In January 2021, Hexcel presented a composite materials outlook for the Advanced Air Mobility market during the Vertical Flight Society Transformative Vertical Flight conference. We highlighted that the materials strategy for this space will be at the intersection of automotive resin technology and aerospace pedigree performance, and we presented several solutions to enable this market in the short term and to provide a bridge for the high-rate production challenges. The AAM market brings several challenges to the traditional aerospace industry, which should lead to creative solutions and innovation in composite structures manufacturing. Hexcel is the best partner to solve these challenges.


About the author

Imad Atallah leads strategic marketing for Hexcel’s Americas business and has been with Hexcel since 2011. He has technical experience in various aspects of aircraft design such as avionics and aircraft systems, materials science, and aircraft structures, and he has held leadership roles at Hexcel and Honeywell in business management, marketing, product management, and engineering. He earned a degree in mechanical engineering from McGill University.