Rich Ropp, President of Priester Aviation discusses Professional Aircraft Management – the services it includes and their potential value to the aircraft’s owner. The discussion includes:
Rich Ropp serves as President and comes to Priester with 30+ years of industry experience in aircraft management and aviation sales. Ropp opened the base location in his native St. Louis for Jet Linx Aviation. In addition to serving as the company’s Base President of St. Louis, he was responsible for leading its growth as Vice President of Business Development and Aircraft Management Sales. Ropp also served as National Sales Director at Jet Aviation, where he was the single point of contact for major clients and flight departments to the global platform of services. His experience includes driving aircraft management and jet card membership, as well as developing and executing strategic plans, and building up teams.
Over the past several years, he was instated as President for the Greater St. Louis Business Aviation Association (GSLBAA) and as a Board of Directors Member for Wings of Hope in Chesterfield, Missouri. He was a member of NBAA’s Schedulers and Dispatchers Committee for six years and involved with organizations such as Special Olympics and the Children’s Miracle Network. He is an active member of Calvary Church and served as a small group leader, greeter, and Sunday school teacher in the children’s ministry. Additionally, he was a coach for a fourth-grade girls’ basketball team through CYC. He always finds time for family, is a daily runner, loves to cook, prefers to be outdoors whenever possible, and absolutely loves to travel.
Celebrating its 77th anniversary, Priester Aviation is among the world’s elite private aircraft operators, specializing in aircraft management and private travel solutions. Founded by George Priester in 1945, Priester started as a flight training school that eventually evolved into the private aviation services company that it is today. It was a simple proposition at first, to provide a platform to educate and demonstrate the practices of a progressing industry that would eventually integrate itself into the lives of on-the-go business and leisure travelers alike.
Today, Priester is positioned as one of the most experienced private aviation companies with a fleet of advanced business jets that are strategically located throughout the world, allowing clients maximum flexibility and value. Priester Aviation holds the highest safety accreditations including the ARGUS Platinum rating, Wyvern approval, IS-BAO Stage III and Air Charter Safety Foundation certifications.
Tony Kioussis (01:35):
Joining me today is Luiz Felipe Revero Valenti, Eve’s chief technology officer to help us understand Embraer’s approach to air mobility and what it might mean to all of us in the near future. Thank you so much for joining us, Luiz. I have been looking forward to this conversation.
Luiz Valentini (01:54):
Thank you for the invitation, Tony. It’s great to talk about this project and its perspectives for future mobility that we think will be much better than we have today in terms of options to move in these large urban centers. So great to be here.
Tony Kioussis (02:10):
Perhaps we can start off with you helping our listeners understand what will be the purpose and coverage of eVTOL networks.
Luiz Valentini (02:19):
The idea is to provide an additional means of transportation through these aerial vehicles that will be electric and will be able to take off and land vertically. So they will be very suitable for integrating inside these urban centers and serve as an option to not be stuck in traffic, for example, which is a reality in many of these centers today. The idea is that there will be networks, as you said, of these vehicles that can be used perhaps with significant integration with the ground transportation in a way that you can take ground transportation to one of the points where these vehicles will take off and land from. So then you take part of your trip in one of these vehicles and when you reach the destination, you’re either at where you want to go or close to it.
Luiz Valentini (03:10):
These vehicles will serve not as a substitution, Tony, for the means of transport that exist in the cities today, for example, mass transportation or even people’s vehicles, but they will be there when, for example, you want to get home early because you have an event or maybe you’re taking a trip to the airport, you don’t want to spend three hours in traffic before taking that longer airplane ride. Again, you’ll have the possibility to go in one of the eVTOLs. So that’s how we believe that the networks will be inserted in people’s lives in these urban centers in a way that, again, not only will bring benefit to the users, but also to the local communities, with technology that we see becoming available in the near future.
Tony Kioussis (03:57):
What are some of the technological challenges Eve have to overcome in order to bring these vehicles and networks into operation?
Luiz Valentini (04:06):
There are many challenges, really. I think it’s helpful for us to think of them in certain categories. Starting with the vehicles, of course the batteries are still a challenge in terms of the technology that is to be developed. The batteries we see are reaching a level of energy and power that will make these vehicles viable for the missions that we are discussing, but still have to be developed in terms of maturity for being applied in the aeronautical products, and in terms of the cost so that we can bring the cost of the trip down.
Luiz Valentini (04:40):
Additionally, we’re talking about the networks of these vehicles. The urban air traffic management will have to be established and managed in a way that is different from what it is in place today. So this is another of Eve’s product. In addition to developing the eVTOL vehicle itself, Eve is also developing a system for managing the air traffic in these urban centers in a way that will allow for the number of operations that we’ll see that the networks will demand in the future. So that’s one in terms of the ecosystem, how the vehicles will be integrated into the urban centers.
Luiz Valentini (05:14):
Finally, we see that it’s very important to introduce the vehicles and the networks in a way that doesn’t bring, let’s say, any type of penalty to the places where they will be operated. We believe in making the vehicle sustainable. I mentioned they’re electric. That’s one of the ways in which they would be inserted without bringing a penalty, for example, of local emissions to the communities where they will be operated, but also in terms of noise, in terms of safety, this integration with the communities in a way that, again, brings value, not only to the passengers, but to the local communities where they will be operated is also an area of focus of Eve. So I would mention these three types, let’s say, of challenges that we are very focused on right now.
Tony Kioussis (06:03):
You mentioned value. I imagine there will be a positive financial impact to communities once these vehicles come into operation. What value do you anticipate they will create at a local or community level?
Luiz Valentini (06:19):
The value, we believe, is in bringing this capability that people will have to move in ways that they don’t have, let’s say, in rush hour traffic at a large city today. This happens in the U.S., it happens in Brazil where I’m at, but also other places in the world. We see today that in many cases, even if it’s at certain times during the day, people are stuck in the means of transportations that they have today. So bringing the option of not being stuck, even if they don’t use it every day, but having the possibility of using that, we believe it’s a significant value that will be brought to people’s lives. It will free up their time, maybe you can gain few hours in one day, you can use it for a certain event, or you can, again, shorten the trip, maybe just get home earlier. We think that this gain and the quality of life and in the mobility that people will have is a significant gain for the local communities, in addition to the passengers.
Tony Kioussis (07:21):
Let’s talk about the regulatory challenges that will need to be addressed. What regulatory advancements are needed and how will those be coordinated with the various regulatory authorities?
Luiz Valentini (07:35):
Many aspects that are being brought to these vehicles in terms of the configurations, but in terms of the systems that will be there, they have distributed proportion, they’re battery powered. Many of these aspects are new and are not covered by the current regulation. We talked about challenges earlier, and I mentioned challenges on the vehicle and ecosystem, as I said, bringing the vehicle, integrating them into communities. But the regulatory aspect is also something to be developed since the vehicles were not contemplated when the regulation was built. They have novelty that wasn’t really captured by the regulators when riding the current regulations.
Luiz Valentini (08:19):
So what we are doing for that then is to engage early on with the regulation, with the certification authorities, to make sure that we level an understanding of what the vehicles are and how they will be operated in a way then that we can develop what are the applicable requirements and regulations, not only for certification of the vehicles, but also for the operation of these vehicles. So engaging early on with authorities allows us to together, industry and authorities, build regulations that will be suitable and will provide then a stable, robust operating environment for these vehicles in the future. We are doing that at Eve together with ANAC, which is the Brazilian authority and will be the primary authority for the certification of the vehicle.
Luiz Valentini (09:15):
But we are also doing this with the FA together with ANAC and also with other regulatory authorities in the world. So for example, in Europe, it’s EASA, in England, CAA, other places in the world, they have their specific authorities. What we’re doing is making sure that we have good conversation and good understanding with all of them so that, again, we can develop the vehicle and the regulation, and then meet in the end with not only robust and mature vehicles, but also robust and mature regulation for these vehicles to certificate and operate.
Tony Kioussis (09:53):
That’s quite an undertaking, I have to say. How have the regulatory authorities been responding to discussions that you’ve been having with them?
Luiz Valentini (10:03):
We see that they’re very engaged. In Brazil, ANAC is very interested in developing the set of regulations that will allow the vehicles to come into reality. We see that the same is happening with the FA and with EASA. I think these are the three that are most active in their participation nowadays and it’s where most of the projects are, at least, let’s say, in the Western hemisphere. These authorities have really made very clear that they don’t want to be the bottleneck, or they don’t want to limit in any way the vehicles to come into operation. But still, while having said that, they also have the responsibility together with the industry, of course, to make sure that the vehicles will be brought in a way that is safe, that is robust, like I mentioned, for the operation. As much as they don’t want to, let’s say, limit or even slow down the industry, they still have a very important role in the harmonization of the rules that all the vehicles will have to follow, guaranteeing that these vehicles will be suitable for their missions for being used by the public.
Luiz Valentini (11:16):
They are very active, but we see that for them, this is quite a new experience. Not new in the terms of making new regulations, but new in terms of the characteristics of the vehicles and the networks. So for the first time, for example, we are bringing these vehicles that are powered by batteries only. Some of the fixed wing, very light airplanes have been recently certified, but so far, no, eVTOLs have been certified. So the authorities are also learning about the vehicles, about the systems, and it’s quite a challenge to do that, but it’s one that we see that there’s a lot of effort being put on, both again by the authorities, but also by the industry and with entities that represent the industry. These, I believe, are bringing enough momentum, bringing enough support and a lot of technical knowledge for this task.
Luiz Valentini (12:10):
It has been very interesting to discuss with them and to learn and to develop this with the authorities and also with other players that are coming in from the industry. It’s really an interesting effort to bring and to carry on in parallel to the development of the vehicles themselves.
Tony Kioussis (12:28):
Yeah. I can see that the parallel effort is required. Tell me how you see air mobility evolving following entry into service.
Luiz Valentini (12:39):
We believe that the initial operations of Eve’s vehicles, but really we see that the motto we believe for the whole ecosystem will be that the vehicles will start the operation with a pilot onboard and then will evolve to, let’s say, simplify the pilot’s tasks in a way also that simplifies and reduces the amount of training, the numbers of hours of experience that the pilot must have to be an eVTOL pilot. As time goes by and the vehicles develop, they, we believe, will make the piloting tasks gradually easier with less items to be worked on by the pilot, until such a moment when the vehicles can become autonomous. They might even, for example, operate for a while with a pilot onboard, as let’s say, a monitoring pilot, without activities to be performed, but one that can follow what’s happening and, if it’s the case, intervene in some way.
Luiz Valentini (13:40):
But then at this time, the vehicle will be capable of performing all of the flight handling, for example, unexpected situation, so let’s say a bird flies in its path, or if, let’s say, a drone or another vehicle crosses its path. It will be able to autonomously react to that and change its course accordingly, or make the decisions that is necessary. At this time then, the networks and the management will have to have at least a level of autonomy that will have to be coherent with the vehicle’s autonomy in a way that then the networks can become autonomous also. We believe that in the future, the vehicles and the networks themselves will not need so much intervention, not only from the pilots on board, but from managers on the ground, and then most of the network at least can work autonomously.
Luiz Valentini (14:36):
That is an advantage we believe in terms of the cost, so that brings the cost of the operation down. But this also, we believe, has the potential to increase the safety of the network as a whole. So we see that this is the future that we are working towards, even though we believe that the way to start given the technology that we have and given the way that the airspace is structured, we believe that the vehicles should start with a pilot on board, but again, evolve towards this autonomous future that I described.
Tony Kioussis (15:13):
I might be thinking too linearly here, but are you envisaging highways in the sky that these vehicles will operate on and then branch off when they need to go to a specific destination?
Luiz Valentini (15:26):
We think of this in terms of an evolution. In the beginning, we will start with a pilot on board, as I mentioned, but also with operations that we call structured. For example, let’s call them highways in the sky with roots that are predefined and that you can take to go from one place or another, but in a way that organizes all traffic that is going between those two points. Think about not having any straight path between two points that you’re going to. You would take off from one point, get onto one route and then follow this route until a place where you leave the route and land where you want to go. You will have in the beginning a structured operation with respect to the routes that the vehicle will follow. I mentioned that the vehicles will require less intervention from the pilots as they evolve and the effect that will be happening on the networks or on the operation as this goes along will be that they will become less structured also.
Luiz Valentini (16:28):
So the vehicles might have more freedom as the networks evolve over the years. They will have more freedom to not follow one specific route or maybe in places where the airspace is less busy than others than in these places, maybe they will have more flexibility. Then the networks will become gradually less structured until a point that you don’t have any structure at all, that the vehicles can just simply draw a straight line from one point or the other. This is a mature future stage of an evolutionary path that the networks and the vehicle will follow. I think it’s interesting and I think it’s useful to think of it as a path of evolution that the vehicles and the networks will follow. We believe that then they will have the chance to start operation without having to demand a completely different mindset from what exists today, and also prove their safety, their effectiveness in doing the operation and show that as the years go by in a way that everybody is confident of evolving in these directions that I mentioned, evolving with less intervention from the pilots, evolving with less structure of operations.
Luiz Valentini (17:43):
This evolution is the way that we believe not only will allow us to make the vehicles operate and the networks operate well as they go along and also to build confidence as we progress through this evolution. I think that some people may think of eVTOLs as something that is not up to the level of quality or safety of current aircraft, and I just want people to think of these AEVTA.s as being developed to be at the level of other aircraft that are developed today, not something that is informal or amateur when they come, and it’s not tomorrow or next year, but when they do come, they will come at the level that they can be trusted as airplanes are trusted today.
Tony Kioussis (18:30):
I think that’s fair and I think very appropriate for people to understand that these are not going to be, when they finally come out. They’re not going to be experimental units. That makes perfect sense to me. I wouldn’t assume that the regulatory authorities would go along with that in any event, but I think the manufacturers are even more … Eve, for example, I think you’re more interested in making sure that this is a safe, reliable vehicle that doesn’t carry any doubt about its capabilities.
Luiz Valentini (18:59):
I think sometimes people see the number of startups that are developing these vehicles, and they may not think of them as companies that develop aircraft. All of them that are successful, and hopefully many will be, they will have to make the step of becoming aeronautical development companies, becoming Boeings and Embraers and Airbuses, and these companies … and Bells and helicopter companies, they will have to transform themselves from a startup, two or three or five guys, they’re coming out of school, they will have to become these companies that can reach this level of maturity for developing these products.
Tony Kioussis (19:40):
Yeah, I think as in all new technology, you’re going to find a number of companies getting into it, not necessarily entities, however, that have the capability to progress this into operation. I think that’s what we’re seeing here. We’re seeing a lot of entries into this sector of the market, if you will. But the number of players that will actually be producing these vehicles in the future will be a limited number and it will be based on capabilities that they’ve developed over … well, like Embraer, over 50 years of aerospace engineering. Someone may build something specific in their garage, but there’s no chance of that ever really coming to market.
Luiz Valentini (20:24):
Maybe there will be some mergers and some parts of some products that don’t make it to the end, some technology that was developed can be used in Eve’s vehicles. So I think it’s good to have a lot of these efforts on the field, even if not all the vehicles in the end turn into commercial vehicles. Having all of these developments I think not only creates a momentum and awareness, because if it was one or two companies, maybe we would have less of an interest of the regulators to participate. But since there’s a lot of effort going in the industry, then the regulators see that they have also to be a part of it. So it’s good, I think, that there are many players and many projects, even though, like you said, it’s likely that many of them don’t actually turn into commercial vehicles.
Tony Kioussis (21:11):
To your point, some of these small groups that are working on something in the eVTOL line could come up with a creative solution that can then be used by a number of different companies. I think it’s very positive that the regulatory authorities are specifically trying to not get in the way of this development. I think that would be a mistake on their part and I think they realize that. I really see a great future for this technology and this developing sector of the industry and I commend Eve, you and Eve, for all the work that you’re doing. I think this is really fascinating. I really do.
Luiz Valentini (21:48):
Some people wish that the technology was more mature for the projects to be right. I mean, if lithium batteries were already there for 10 years, then it would be more convenient to be doing what we’re doing now. On the other hand, why wait for everything to be very mature and right for us to start the projects? So there are some things that were still challenged, the batteries, for example, to develop as we develop the vehicles. We do believe that there is sufficient technology and maturity for us to start the operation. In the case of Eve, we think that shorter missions, maybe lighter payloads, right? We’re not talking about like 19 passengers or 2000 miles of range, right? So we are thinking smaller vehicles, shorter range, these being possible in the near future with the technology that we have today. So we see that there is viability there in the interesting value that will be created by these vehicles on the community.
Tony Kioussis (22:43):
I think battery technology will catch up. I don’t know that much about it, but from what I read, battery efficiency is improving something like 3% to 5% a year. Well, if you do the math and there is a future point where the efficiency of batteries will get to a level where the range, for example, or even the amount of lift capability for these vehicles will increase. But it’s a progressive thing. It’s not something that happens overnight.
Luiz Valentini (23:11):
You’re right. It’s interesting that you mentioned. There is this slope of, people say, about 4% of energy density increase of these lithium batteries over the recent years. But some of the technologies that are being developed like lithium metal and lithium air, if they do become viable, they will bring a jump like a step on this. So we’re talking maybe doubling the energy density that lithium ion batteries have today, right? So that’s one of the things that we see that have the very interesting potential. Well, and also we can use … for example, if you think of hybrid vehicles, hydrogen and all, then those would bring maybe a lot more capability in terms of energy to the vehicles.
Luiz Valentini (23:51):
The other thing is the cost, Tony. So there are some recent articles saying that the cost of the lithium ion batteries has decreased by 90% over the last decade. Even if there is somewhat of a shallow slope on the same technology in terms of energy capacity, there’s a very significant reduction in cost of these batteries, which is what we see in the other electronics too. So these, I think, contribute a lot for the vehicles to become viable in the future, the fact that the cost is going down.
Tony Kioussis (24:23):
There’s no question that cost is a major issue, not just for these vehicles, but for any vehicle. My view on cost is that it all starts high and works its way down as things progress. I think the first vehicle will cost an arm and a leg to produce, but the 100,000th vehicle will be peanuts compared to the first one. I don’t view cost as being a long term problem. I think cost is something that will have to be addressed as we move forward. Clearly, costs have to come into line with what people are willing to pay if these things are going to be successful. There’s no other way around it. In the conversations I’ve had with yourself and others, I don’t think there’s anything there that people consider insurmountable, but I do think that there are hurdles that we still have to get over. Some lower than others, some higher than others, but I think this is definitely coming to market.
Tony Kioussis (25:18):
Thanks so much for sharing your time and Eve’s plans. Since our audience includes young people considering a business aviation career, I should think opportunities in air mobility would be something for them to consider. Is there anything we have not discussed that you would want people to know about Eve?
Luiz Valentini (25:38):
Thanks again for inviting me to the conversation. I think this is very interesting in many aspects. You mentioned people going into the aviation career. I, myself and I think many people like me couldn’t imagine that we would be working with these types of vehicles. For people that are coming into the field today, come with an open mind to, of course, build on everything that has been developed up to today. We have to be able to build on all of this that has already been constructed, but also keep an open mind with what is to come to the future. Bringing these new technologies that we mentioned and others that we haven’t even talked about, or we don’t even know about right now is also something that brings a lot of potential to the field of aviation. So that’s one thing that we at Eve try to keep an open mind for, but it’s something that I think is important that everybody does too.
Luiz Valentini (26:31):
With respect to Eve, something that I didn’t mention earlier that I think is important to think about also is that Eve was created from a team of engineers that were previously at Embraer and is a company that is sort of a spinoff of Embraer. This allows us to leverage on the Embraer history of having developed aircraft for the past 50 years, and then build on this to develop the eVTOL. So we have a very close relationship to Embraer, and we think that this allows Eve to bring the background of airplane development to the eVTOL development and make it such that the eVTOL reaches the level of maturity that is needed for coming into this type of operation. We truly believe that this is to be developed by the whole industry at a high level of safety and integrity that the current aviation is built upon and we believe that then leveraging on the previous experience of product development is very important for that.
Luiz Valentini (27:39):
So I just wanted to mention that we see these vehicles coming into the cities where they will be operated with a very high level of safety, with a lot of robustness built on the regulations, and we think that this is shared not only at Eve, but shared with almost all of the other players that are coming in and with the regulation authority. So we believe, Tony, that this will truly make the networks viable and an option for people to move about in the cities in the near future.
Tony Kioussis (28:13):
This has been another Asset Insight podcast covering the aircraft ownership lifecycle. Please visit our ever-growing podcast library at assetinsightpodcast.com and select from any number of topics discussed with business aviation industry experts. This is Tony Kioussis, and as always, thank you for listening.
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