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April 7, 2021

Vertical Aerospace CIO Madhu Bhabuta on radical post-pandemic transformation

The impetus to 'build back greener' opens the door for an 'agile' transformation of the aerospace sector, says the UK electric aircraft maker's IT leader.

By Edward Qualtrough

As CIO of Vertical Aerospace, a UK company that aims to have its flying vehicles in operation by 2024, Madhu Bhabuta is part of a team that is working to make the aerospace industry more agile and more innovative.

Bhabuta spoke at Tech Monitor Live where she discussed innovations in eVTOLs (electric vertical takeoff and landing), why IT is integral to enabling its flight test programme, and why “building back greener” will be an important thread of the post-pandemic recovery.

[View Tech Monitor Live sessions on-demand]

Founded in 2016 by Stephen Fitzpatrick, the founder and CEO of OVO Energy, Vertical Aerospace will begin testing its all-electric VA-X4 pre-certification aircraft this year, Bhabuta explained. It aims to achieve certification by 2024, with commercial flights starting soon after.

Putting eVTOLs into the air will require a fundamental transformation of the aerospace industry. “Today, a plane will go from an airport to another airport,” she said. “When we are thinking of Vertical Aerospace aircraft which are vertically taking off and vertically landing, doing short-haul flights and there are many more of these flights – that requires a complete rethink and remodelling of the entire way we manage our airspace.”

That scale of transformation will require a new agile approach to working that the industry is not currently used to, the former Ministry of Defence CTO added. “Building an agile aerospace industry involves a holistic ecosystem, bringing in new entrants and breaking up those old supply chains – and creating a new way of working in the way aerospace itself works,” she said.

Build back better, build back greener

Radical transformation such as this will have an extra impetus in the wake of the pandemic, Bhabuta believes, as nations and industries aim to “build back better, and build back greener”. “There will be a real focus on traditional ‘dirty’ industries, like aerospace – which has not been a particularly clean industry – and there is a lot of investment and geopolitical power invested in the green revolution,” she said.

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Vertical Aerospace CIO on IT leadership

Bhabuta, previously an engineer in the telecommunications industry, said that tech leaders are also receiving more recognition following Covid-19, even if what they were doing – implementing technologies to automate tasks and improving business efficiency – had not fundamentally changed.

“As IT has become more and more pervasive, and people want to use more and more of it and see the value added, the CIOs who can harness that and have teams that can talk business language, and who can create tech that’s easy to use and delivers genuine value will have a bigger platform and a more interesting field to play in.”

Bhabuta was speaking alongside SGN Director of IT & Innovation Andrew Quail, Covéa Insurance Chief Technology and Information Officer Graeme Howard, and John Quinn, the executive director of technology, digital, data and delivery at the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency at Tech Monitor Live: Technology and leadership in the post-pandemic recovery.

[View Tech Monitor Live sessions on-demand]

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