The eVTOL first to market race is well and truly on. Who are the frontrunners and when can we expect commercial operations to get off the ground? We reveal the latest news.
No, the old-school American animated sitcom, The Jetsons, isn’t being rebooted.
Rather, a revolutionary mode of passenger transport is looking increasingly likely to become a reality – sooner rather than later.
There has been plenty of buzz in aviation circles in recent months at the prospect of electric-powered flying taxis being ready in time to ferry passengers around Paris during next year’s Olympic Summer Games – slated to begin on 26 July.
German aircraft manufacturer, Volocopter, is leading the charge, targeting the global event as part of its aim to become the first service in Europe to launch electric vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) aircraft for commercial purposes.
Volocopter has been joined by several leading-edge companies around the globe that are creating eVTOL aircraft, with promises of quiet, affordable, and emission-free travel – and vehicles capable of safely and conveniently landing in city centres.
China Leads eVTOL First to Market Race
A development in the past week proves that the introduction of eVTOL aircraft really is no flight of fancy.
In fact, the eVTOL first to market race is fast gathering speed.
On Friday, it was announced that China had given autonomous aerial vehicle technology platform, EHang Holdings, the green light to conduct trials of air-taxi operations.
The Chinese-based company is aiming to pilot the world’s first commercial service of eVTOL aircraft – autonomous, two-passenger, battery-powered creations. The Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC) approval is significant, allowing EHang to gain the upper hand over its US and European-based rivals in the latest ‘space race’.
According to EHang Holdings, its EH216-S aircraft can travel at about 100 km/h for 25 minutes, powered by an electric motor and 16 propellers.
Are eVTOLs Commercially Viable?
While it’s clear that the introduction of eVTOL aircraft has quickly moved past pie in the sky status, what remains less certain is whether such services could be commercially viable.
That’s a ‘yes’ according to another German-based aerospace company, Lilium GmbH.
Its chief executive, Klaus Roewe, said the key to making such ventures profitable is targeting cities where congestion is significant or where public transport services are inadequate.
“Where you have a good train connection at low cost… we wouldn’t want to compete with it. We come into play when there is no infrastructure and infrastructure is difficult to build,” Roewe told the BBC.
Enhanced battery technology is seen as a crucial component in ensuring the passenger aircraft services are competitive.
The Lilium chief admitted “uncertainty” over the costs of batteries remains, but he predicted that prices will fall.
“There is no reason why our batteries should be more expensive than any automotive battery, because the production process is exactly the same,” Roewe stated.
While the timeframe for the introduction of commercial services remains up in the air, we’ll be tracking developments in the eVTOL first to market race with keen interest.
In the meantime, enjoy a throwback to the days of The Jetsons – a time when the eVTOL first to market race was mere fantasy!
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