How soon will we be traveling in air taxis? How can they be safely integrated into existing airspace? What are the challenges around infrastructure?
These are set to be some of the issues debated at the Farnborough Airshow this year, while some manufacturers will show off their new aircraft over what is expected to be a swelteringly hot few days in the United Kingdom. AeroTime takes a look at what we can expect from the airshow in this area and the recent European proposals on operating air taxis in cities.
There are many companies working on advanced air mobility (AAM), popularly dubbed flying taxis. More formally, AAM refers to an air transport system with new aircraft designs that aims to move people and cargo between places, particularly in city environments.
Much of the focus is on electrical vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) aircraft, which promises not only a new form of transport but a more sustainable way of flying. Companies involved in developing eVTOLs include Joby Aviation, Archer, Velocopter, Lilium, Vertical Aerospace, Eve, Wisk and Supernal.
Among the recent big developments in the industry was the publication on June 30, 2022 by the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) of the world’s first rules for the operation of air taxis in cities.
The proposed regulatory framework, which is open for consultation until September 30, 2022, covers airworthiness, air operations, flight crew licensing and rules of the air.
EASA said manufacturers had indicated they would be ready for certification of VTOL aircraft in the next few years.
“The publication reinforces the leadership EASA is showing in this area of innovation,” EASA Executive Director Patrick Ky commented. “At the same time, we have done our best to address general societal concerns and the expectations of EU citizens with respect to safety, security, privacy, environment and noise.”
One of the interesting points in the EASA proposals is around pilot licensing. EASA said it is proposing that holders of commercial pilot licenses for aeroplanes or helicopters (CPL) will be issued with a VTOL aircraft type rating, once they have completed training on the relevant aircraft.
“CPL(A) or CPL(H) holders who wish to continue their career as VTOL-capable aircraft pilots will not need to obtain a separate pilot licence for manned VTOL-capable aircraft; they will be able to add a VTOL-capable aircraft type rating to their existing licence,” EASA states in the proposal.
It means that only pilots who already hold licenses for conventional aircraft will be allowed to operate VTOL-capable aircraft, with no option for someone to train would-be pilots with no flying experience at all from scratch only for VTOL operations. “However, in any case, only experienced pilots shall fly VTOL-capable aircraft during the initial phase of their operation,” EASA said.
The agency said its current proposals only cover piloted VTOL systems, and that autonomous flying concepts would be covered by separate proposals when relevant.
When it comes to integrating such aircraft into airspace above urban areas, EASA said transporting people and/or cargo by VTOL-capable aircraft requires a “level of safety that is at least as high as that applicable to operations with conventional aeroplanes or helicopters.”
EASA expects that the first type of operations for VTOLs would be following predefined routes or corridors, to maintain sufficient height above congested areas or cities, help avoid other traffic and avoid flying over sensitive areas. If safety, environmental, security, and privacy concerns can be successfully demonstrated and validated during the development of these aircraft, then EASA said it would consider removing the predefined corridors
“The possibility to avoid flying over ‘sensible’ places and the assurance of deconflicting paths thanks to predefined routes would help gain greater public acceptance. However, the system of predefined routes might impose limitations to some types of operations,” EASA notes.
The EASA proposals are sure to be discussed in various panels and conferences at the show. For example, AeroTime Editor-in-Chief Richard Stephenson will be joining a panel on the future of AAM with representatives from Supernal, part of Hyundai Motor Group, and the National Business Aviation Association (NBAA). Stay tuned to AeroTime for further coverage.
AeroTime Chairman and Editor in Chief, Richard Stephenson said: “AAM has huge potential to change the way we travel in cities. There are clearly numerous challenges to overcome, with public acceptance being a key issue going forward. I’m confident that all of the challenges will be managed, and I hope to see an electric flying taxi saving me from the London Underground on a hot summer day within the next decade! I’m looking forward to debating the challenges at Europe’s largest airshow next week.”
Which eVTOL concepts will be on display in Farnborough?
Wisk, which is backed by Boeing, will be bringing one of its all-electric, self-flying air taxis to its chalet at the airshow.
Wisk said that the display was part of its efforts to engage with the community around acceptance of the technology. “We strongly believe that community engagement and public feedback are a critical piece to the development and future success of our industry,” Becky Tanner, CMO at Wisk commented in a press release.
Vertical Aerospace will display a full-scale model of its VX4, a four passenger, one pilot aircraft that is projected to have speeds up to 200mph and a range of over 100 miles.
Supernal, which was set up in November 2021, promises to “unveil a look into the future eVTOL passenger experience”. It also expects to announce new partnerships and details on how it plans to utilize Hyundai’s automotive expertise in developing its eVTOL.
Brazilian planemaker Embraer will be displaying a cabin mock-up of the Eve eVTOL for the first time.
Lilium will also be exhibiting at the show, bringing scale models of the jet’s interior and exterior. The company achieved a major milestone in May, when its Phoenix 2 technology demonstrator achieved main wing transition, making it the first ever full-size electric jet aircraft to transition from hover to wing-borne flight.
The Farnborough Airshow runs from July 18-22, 2022. Over 1,000 exhibitors and more than 80,000 people are expected to attend the event, which alternates with the Paris Airshow.