I’m always surprised talking about electric vertical take-off & landing (eVTOL) aircraft technology at a party. Most people think electric urban air mobility (eUAM) won’t happen for a decade. Apart from the sad fact I talk about such things at parties, their reaction is puzzling. While most people think eVTOL aircraft won’t happen for a long time, that is a serious underestimation. Many aviation heavy-hitters and startups are already testing them. Heck, you can even buy one now.
Electric Urban Air Mobility Is Closer To Taking Off Than You Can Imagine
From Boeing to Airbus, Bell to Honeywell, eVTOL aircraft are testing in various configurations as we write this article. It’s a crazy feeling knowing we’ll soon be hovering over cities, but Boeing, Airbus, and others are working to make that happen.
Bell is developing its electric Nexus. And not too long ago, electric airplane maker Pipistrel announced a partnership with Honeywell. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
Airbus is testing two aircraft configurations — the Vahana, as part of its A3 project, its Silicon Valley arm in the US, and the bigger CityAirbus. Boeing reported the first test flight of its passenger air vehicle (PAV) last week. Rolls-Royce Aeronautics is building the fastest electric plane, which we hope ushers an era of Red Bull Air Races. And finally, Airbus just became the official founding partner of the electric airplane race, the Air Race E.
From 4 rotors to 12, and even 16, there is no end in sight to new eVTOL designs. The Kitty Hawk electric craft Cora, an electric bike with propellers, has 12 rotors. You just sit atop on a motorcycle seat and zoom close to the ground to your destination.
How Do You Define Electric Urban Air Mobility?
As with any new industry, new names are popping up everywhere. We don’t talk about flying cars these days. As we’re moving towards a convergence of flying cars and driving airplanes, I’m sure new terms will come up. But what’s interesting is the actual vehicles, and their wide diversity.
eVTOL.News lists Vectored Thrust, Lift + Cruise, Wingless Multicopter, Hover Bikes/Personal Flying Devices, and Electric Helicopters. The site lists 141 electric aircraft and counting.
In a soon to be published article, I explain in detail what the Airbus Altiscope project is. In a nutshell, it rationalizes our future air traffic with a flexible platform using NASA’s Unmanned Traffic Management (UTM), the European SESAR U-Space, and Japan UTM. It allows for safe integration of various types of traffic with various types of new VTOL aircraft, manned and piloted by humans, as well as future unknown aircraft platforms. Stay tuned for a more in-depth look at this gargantuan work.
So Many Electric Urban Air Mobility Designs, But Now What?
In the world of business, after the thrill of innovations comes the time for consolidation. It will happen in the automotive industry sooner than later, followed by the air mobility industry. Boeing and Airbus have already swallowed smaller companies. The industry will eventually settle on a few aircraft designs. There will be fewer categories. Ultimately, there will only be 2 to 3 aviation companies (with their own sub-brands for “diversity”).
Boeing and Airbus are the obvious winners here. A third company could offer a counterbalance. Bell could step up to that role, or Honeywell. And, by then, we’ll have to consider the convergence of mobility assuming these aircraft platforms will be able to drive on roads and go over and below water. After that, it’ll be Star Trek time.
We are witnessing one of the most incredible moments in the history of transportation as we move away from fossil fuels to electricity, which gives us more freedom to innovate for more encompassing mobility. Air taxis are testing now. eHang is selling its eVTOL. Boeing and Airbus are pouring a lot of money and R&D into electric urban air mobility. Finally, we’ll have to wait to see if Uber Elevate can help make all of this available to the masses.If so, voila, mobility becomes a 3D experience.
Next, stay tuned as Airbus explains how it sees the future traffic management of our airspace with its Altiscope project.