By Atul Chandra

Bengaluru. 04 December 2023. The first edition of the International Conference on Advanced Air Mobility Systems (ICAAMS), a joint initiative of Vertical Flight Society (VFS) International and Rotary Wing Society of India (RWSI) was formally inaugurated today at Airforce Station Yelahanka in Bengaluru, Karnataka.

The conference organisers also announced that the ICAAMS will grow into an annual series of conferences to further influence decision making on Advanced Air Mobility (AAM) developments in India and abroad. ICAAMS-1 has drawn delegates from USA, Canada, Europe, Japan, Australia, Thailand and other parts of the world.

The inaugural session of ICAAMS-1 was attended by Air Chief Marshal Fali Homi Major (Retd) who also made the welcome address, Air Marshal R. Radhish, Air Officer Commanding-in-Chief, IAF Training Command and Station Commander Air Force Station Yelahanka, Air Commodore Rohith Vijayadev, amongst other dignitaries. Air Marshall Butola (Retd) President RWSI said 2023 marked the 25th anniversary of RWSI and added that in 2019, the society’s charter had been amended to includes drones as part of its mandate.

In his opening address, Air Chief Marshal Fali Homi Major (Retd) said the conference would add value and contribute to the growth of expertise in Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) mobility in the Indo-Pacific region. He sounded a word of caution, on the nascent stage of AAM development world over and that the technologies related to UAM systems had yet to be proven. “Safety is paramount as UAM platforms will be travelling at relatively low heights over densely populated areas,” he said.

He added however, that India being the fastest growing economy in the world and her future growth rate in the coming years is an indicator to begin work on UAM in earnest. “This is the most opportune time for such a conference.”

Speaking later at the event to this correspondent, he said that AAM and UAM practitioners must keep industry collaboration in mind as also give credence to green technologies that are emerging. I see ICAMS-1 as a platform to address the issues and challenges of AAM in the Asia-Australia region, he added.

Dr Arvind Sinha, Vice President VFS Asia Australia and Chair of ICAAMS-1 said the drive behind the conference series was to establish as a platform for researchers, designers, manufacturers, regulators , operators and maintainers for exchange of innovative ideas and for joint development of AAM aircrafts. He stated that the idea for such a conference series had emerged in 2020, followed by the formal announcement in November 2021.

The catalyst to the birth of ICAAMS was the invitation given to Dr. Arvind Sinha for a Guest Lecture on Urban Air Mobility and it’s future in Indian Context by Air Vice Marshal (Retd) K Sridharan President Emeritus, RWSI and Wg Cdr (Retd) BS Singh Deo Vice President RWSI.

Dr. Sinha also informed that ICAAMS will be held as an annual event in a rotational format in various cities in the Asia and Australasia region. The schedule for the next ten years has been finalised, with ICAAMS-2 at Singapore from 5-6 Dec 2024, followed by Thailand and UAE. The following editions of the conference are planned to be held in Australia, Malaysia, South Korea and Japan.

ICAAMS-1 will also feature a new initiative which is the establishment of VFS Asia Australia Awards; for recognition of individuals in the region for their contribution in Aerospace and Aviation related to Vertical Lift. The awards will be announced this evening.

A Joint Study on AAM was also announced on the inaugural day by Jason Monty of Melbourne University (Mel Uni) and Professor SN Omkar, Chief Research Scientist, Indian Institute of Science (IISc), to explore collaboration between Australia and India, as a start. The joint study will be supported by both universities. Professor Omkar also shared insights into drones developed by IISc, such as a cargo drone for humanitarian aid and another Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) that it is developing for organ transplant transport.

Taking to the stage, Mike Hirschberg VFS Director Strategy said that UAM was a field quite different from current fixed-wing and helicopters and said much work needed to be done to understand electric and hybrid-electric propulsion. Incidentally, VFS had organised the world’s first electric Vertical Take-Off and Landing (eVTOL) workshop in 2014.

He outlined the key challenges in developing eVTOLS for AAM applications such as; development of more efficient batteries and motors, creation of physical infrastructure, ATM, preparing the workforce and creating a pilot training pipeline, development of standards and regulations and finally ensuring public acceptance for AAM/UAM.

Over the next three days, ICAAMS-1 will have sessions addressing all sub-disciplines of aerospace and aviation, designed to support AAM design and development, operations, product support, regulations and airspace management. In total over 20 presentations, panel discussions and group discussions will be conducted.