Aviation's wind of change: the year that changed us

Mariya Tarabanovska

Mariya Tarabanovska, Founder of Flight Crowd, an educational, not-for-profit organisation informing communities worldwide about the possibilities of electric aviation technology while empowering and upskilling the future flight workforce.

Starting my business during the pandemic was the right time to do it. When the world of aviation was suddenly coming to a halt, with millions of aerospace professionals, airport and airline staff being laid off globally, something had to provide hope. To me, it was the knowledge of what was going on in the world of electric aviation and the urge to share that story with communities worldwide, in an attempt to save the industry I so deeply believe in. What would a 23-year-old aerospace engineer know about starting a company? Not much. But passion, determination and hard work are always a good start.

Flight Crowd is an educational, not-for-profit organisation informing communities worldwide about the possibilities of electric aviation technology while empowering and upskilling the future flight workforce. While the outreach part of the organisation was relatively easy as we were able to make the most of virtual conferences, events and meetups, our key concept was more difficult to sell. “Is this really happening? I never heard of air mobility” was one of the phrases I heard most in the early days of Flight Crowd.

At a time when the importance of sustainability was gaining momentum with the public and governments, one after another, were announcing investments into various green projects, the electric aviation industry was innovating largely behind closed doors, with some of the key programmes and organisations of today (such as the US Airforce’s Agility Prime) just starting to emerge.

As the world began to return to the “new norm”, the shift in the public’s mindset, interests and priorities was quite apparent. Success stories such as the UK’s National Health Service’s use of UAVs for transporting life-saving chemotherapy drugs to remote locations were shared and celebrated by many. But even more widespread was the lack of awareness of the successes and opportunities within the electric aviation sector.

Flight Crowd

In Spring 2022, Flight Crowd’s Future of Flight Zone Commission, as part of the Fully Charged electric vehicle show, was the first time the UK public (over 26,000 attendees) was presented with an immersive and interactive experience of air mobility at scale. Including an air racing full-scale eVTOL model of the Airspeeder Mk4 to automated robotic parcel loading of the UAV by Motion Robotics, VR eVTOL flights by TEKTowr, Pipistrel Aircraft’s Velis Electro, and more, this was our first time introducing future workforce and consumers to the Future of Flight.

The Farnborough airshow that year gathered eVTOL representatives from across the world, giving a static display teaser of what the future might look like before the end of the decade. Meanwhile, the Opener BlackFly eVTOL was doing flight demonstrations at EAA AirVenture Oshkosh with thousands witnessing the skies of tomorrow.

In Summer 2022, during the in-person attendance of the Royal International Air Tattoo (RIAT) airshow, Flight Crowd’s team conducted a survey to understand public awareness of the Future Flight sector. Out of over 1,400 participants, 93% of aviation professionals and aerospace enthusiasts had never heard of air mobility before learning about it from our team.

The lack of large-scale flight demos with media support, community engagement and ongoing public dialogue resulted in a much larger divide in overall awareness and support of the industry. Showing pictures and video simulations of the art of the possible, or what is done in other countries, is simply not enough if we are serious about global air mobility operations in the next few years.

The recently published UK Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) consumer report highlights a decrease in satisfaction with the overall travel experience, with older consumers and people with disabilities being more reluctant to fly than young and able-bodied people. Delays, a difficult airport and airline experience, the challenges associated with the digital infrastructure required for flight booking and tracking, unsatisfactory complaints handling and other factors were some of the most prominent reasons for travellers opting out of travelling by air.

While innovative approaches to vertiport operations have the potential to speed up and smooth the airport experience, designing the whole air mobility ecosystem with a wide range of end users in mind is an absolute must. The aviation industry has long excluded the needs of any but their healthy and wealthy customers.

With a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to redefine how we travel by air, air mobility companies must reflect on the worst aspects of commercial and business aviation and present a solution accessible in both design and price-point.

"While innovative approaches to vertiport operations have the potential to speed up and smooth the airport experience, designing the whole air mobility ecosystem with a wide range of end users in mind is an absolute must."

The third most popular question that communities globally ask our team at Flight Crowd, once they learn about when and where the aircraft operations begin, is “How much will it cost me?” Questioning the value for money of operations, especially in the context of the rising cost of living, means the industry needs to make sure electric aviation is delivering a public good – and not just serving an air taxi use case for the wealthy for decades to come.

The wider economic situation, and hence the appropriate pricing structure, must be considered before the public rules out air mobility flights as completely inaccessible to the average individual.

From bitcoin to autonomy and now AI and ChatGPT, the flying cars sector might seem to the wider public as the next big thing that will come and go. Will air mobility provide the future workforce with an exciting, diverse, and inclusive platform to contribute ideas and shape the industry?

The latest UK statistics show that only 31% of core STEM students in higher education in the UK are women or non-binary people. This number decreases to 26% once they reach the world of work. The aviation field is even less popular, with only 13% of the sector identifying as female.

Flight Crowd

It is estimated that people will have, on average, 12 jobs in their life and allowing employees to work on “cool Future Flight tech” will not ensure 100% retention. Post-pandemic, under-35s connect virtually, prioritise the environment, want to explore the world, and have exciting, high-paying jobs they are unafraid to change. Having their voices heard, having flexibility in terms of work hours and location, development opportunities and a chance to make a positive, lasting impact are all driving factors when it comes to career choices.

Why do we do school and university outreach – hard work that doesn’t pay enough? Because the future is in the hands of those just starting their career journey today. It is their future that they should be allowed and empowered to shape. Informing, engaging and inspiring the bright minds of tomorrow is vital to ensure that batteries are designed, eVTOLs are manufactured, vertiports serviced, and that the sector has a bright future ahead.

A study from Label Insights shows that 94% of respondents will stay loyal to a transparent brand. Being authentic, honest and approachable is necessary to secure public support and attract talent into the industry. In 2024, it is not about extensive marketing campaigns but putting skin in the game and having the faces of those leading the new transportation revolution familiar and recognised by the public, starting at the company’s senior leadership level.

Flight Crowd
Flight Crowd
Flight Crowd

Since our founding in 2020, Flight Crowd has undertaken 45 engagements with the aviation sector, organising or participating in 50 community outreach events. We are supported by our corporate partners across the world and the UK Government in our educational programmes. When talking to the public, we serve as a friendly face to the industry, often engaging in difficult conversations and shaping the perception of how the future of flight will change the world of tomorrow. When attending industry conferences, we lobby for communities and build bridges between air mobility organisations and the public, making our aerospace colleagues aware of consumer and workforce needs.

A typical week might see me doing an industry panel on Tuesday, leading a secondary school workshop on Wednesday, and mentoring university students on Thursday. It is the people who innovate the latest technology, it is the value of a personal brand that influences the success of our ventures, and it is the need to connect with future customers and workforce that should be prioritised just as much as investment into aircraft and infrastructure.

Because the skies of tomorrow belong to those who haven’t yet been excited about the prospects of future flight.

Mariya Tarabanovska

Mariya Tarabanovska

is a multi-award-winning aerospace engineer, entrepreneur, and future flight advisor dedicated to shaping the future of sustainable aviation. As the founder of Flight Crowd, a non-profit educational organisation focused on electric aviation, she leads initiatives to educate and empower the future flight workforce.

Her experience spans aerospace & defence, electric aviation operations, and career coaching. Her commitment to community engagement, outreach, and industry advocacy has earned her recognition from the Royal Aeronautical Society, the Vertical Flight Society, eVTOL Insights, the Masood Entrepreneurship Centre of the University of Manchester, and others.

Ukrainian-born, UK Department for Transport’s Aviation Ambassador and female aerospace role model, Mariya Tarabanovska is passionate about creating diversity, inclusion and equitable opportunities within the sector. She is dedicated to redefining industry perceptions and inspiring young individuals to explore the limitless possibilities in the world of aviation.

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