The Air France group this week offered a first sign that it is preparing to follow other airlines in adopting the new Advanced Air Mobility (AAM) aircraft and services, with the announcement that its AFI KLM E&M maintenance unit join forces with the Toulouse-based developer of vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) aircraft Ascendance Flight Technologies.
The memorandum of understanding between Ascendance and the maintenance, repair and operation specialist AFI KLM E&M is the first signal that the Air France-KLM tandem is preparing to welcome and potentially integrate AAM machines and operations into its traditional airline business. The agreement covers Ascendance’s five-passenger Atea aircraft, and will begin by exploring future work between the two companies in the areas of line maintenance, component repair, specialized mechanic training and airworthiness management.
The move follows the steps of other legacy airlines that hold positions in the development and operation of next-generation aircraft and rely on them as new urban and short-range complements to their existing businesses at higher long distance. This includes last week’s joint venture between Joby and Delta to offer home-to-airport air taxi services for high-end passengers, and Virgin Atlantic’s purchase of the Vertical Aerospace craft. Other airlines like United became direct shareholders of companies like Archer before also ordering their aircraft.
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The decision by the Air France-KLM group to initiate links with Ascendance is quite limited in comparison, but could well deepen and bring in other European AAM companies if it proves promising. Even at first glance, however, it sends a clear sign that the Franco-Dutch group does not plan to stay outside when air taxis and other services take off.
“At AFI KLM E&M, we have always been on the lookout for the best aeronautical innovations,” said Géry Mortreux, Executive Vice President of Air France Industries. “In particular, we are very interested in electric and hybrid-electric propulsion technologies, which are set to be future business drivers over the next decade. I believe that this type of cooperation is in the general interest and is a further illustration of the general mobilization of our industry to decarbonize aviation, a collective effort in which AFI KLM E&M is of course fully involved.
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Attracting a major European airline and potential backer like the Air France-KLM Group is also a big boost for Ascendance as it works its Atea VTOL hybrid towards future AAM operation. The craft is designed to be powered by the company’s Sterna propulsion system, which uses a distributed hybrid electric drive compatible with traditional and/or sustainable fuels, and even hydrogen fuel cells.
Atea is designed to fly a maximum of 400 kilometres, boasts a fast turnaround time of 10 minutes and is expected to make its first test flights next year before being showcased in AAM demonstrations at the Olympic Games. summer of Paris in 2024.
Ascendance CEO Jean-Christophe Lambert described Air France-KLM’s interest in VTOL, via AFI KLM E&M, as a vote of confidence in the company and the future of the AAM business.
“We are honored to receive this signal of interest from a major player in the field of aeronautical maintenance,” said Lambert. “Along with our efforts to develop a new type of aircraft, it is very important for us to prepare the future of its operation today, in collaboration with the best experts in our industry. Maintenance is obviously at the center of our customers’ concerns, and this collaboration with AFI KLM E&M is a major step in providing them with reliable solutions.