As manufacturers continue to make progress in producing electric vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) aircraft, these vehicles are expected to start delivering passenger taxi services over the next decade.
Although most eVTOL aircraft are still pre-certification, several manufacturers, including Archer Aviation, BETA Technologies, Eviation, Joby Aviation, Lilium, Volocopter, Wisk Aero and ZeroAvia successfully flew prototype models in 2022.
Propelling this success, McKinsey’s Center for Future Mobility reported that 3 billion USD was invested in future air mobility technologies last year and over 6,700 orders were placed, representing 45 billion USD in value.
The majority of these orders came from airlines (25%), aircraft charter companies (16%) and leasing companies (14%), and although many agreements are currently conditional and non-binding, this early interest indicates significant future demand.
To integrate these new aircraft into our transport networks, flight paths will have to be safely established to segregate them from existing air traffic and other upcoming developments such as autonomous delivery drones.
In the US, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is preempting this need and recently released an updated airspace blueprint for future air taxis. This blueprint will allow early eVTOL operations to use existing routes and infrastructure to fly much as helicopters do today.
However, as the number of operations increases, new corridors with multiple flows of aircraft will need to be introduced, and the FAA recognises that evolving technologies such as aircraft automation and real-time data sharing between aircraft will be needed to effectively and safely manage these corridors.
In addition, dedicated infrastructure with high-voltage electricity networks and reliable charging points, as well as appropriate passenger amenities, will be needed to get a significant number of electric aircraft off the ground in a commercial setting.
In response to this need, companies such as Ferrovial, Urban-Air Port and Skyports are working to design facilities to enable efficient operations. This includes amending existing vertiports to accommodate eVTOL aircraft as well as building a network of new facilities to provide more extensive connectivity.
For example, Archer Aviation and United Airlines have announced that their first commercial eVTOL route is to operate between Newark Liberty International Airport (EWR) and New York City’s Downtown Manhattan Heliport from 2025. This will involve investing in charging and parking infrastructure at the existing facilities and installing advanced software to manage eVTOL operations.
On the other hand, in April 2022, Urban-Air Port exhibited a prototype vertiport in Coventry, UK to demonstrate the potential of dedicated eVTOL sites. The facility included all elements of an airport such as check-in, security and retail areas, as well as infrastructure for air traffic control, charging and maintenance combined within a physical footprint that was 60% smaller than a typical heliport. The site can now be replicated elsewhere at ground level, on water and on rooftops within future eVTOL networks.
With significant developments thus underway both on the ground and on the aircraft, the future of urban air mobility appears forthcoming. In light of this progress, select routes are expected to commence passenger services in the next few years, allowing travellers to avoid road traffic congestion without producing tailpipe emissions.
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