Not entirely a new concept, eVTOL or electrical vertical takeoff and landing is already used for drones. eVTOL has become the most important aviation technology that everyone is watching right now.
The global market is expected to grow at a CAGR of 15.3%, reaching 30.8 billion in 2030, and the U.S. currently has the largest share. Currently, it is the world’s largest manufacturer, exporter, and operator of the technology.
The next milestone for the industry, as companies prepare to launch their aircraft, is compliance regulations and certifications, allowing the aircraft to be used as a new means of transport.
Growing Demand for Green Energy, Reduced Noise, and Autonomous Flying
Just like helicopters before them, eVTOL vehicles can take off and land vertically. The difference is that eVTOLs are not powered by traditional internal combustion engines but rely on green energy like electric, hybrid, and hydrogen. By replacing fossil fuels, flying these vehicles immediately makes them more sustainable.
Besides the reduction in carbon emissions, eVTOL manufacturers are also looking to integrate the latest technology to reduce noise, making the craft 100 times quieter than helicopters. One example is the next generation of passenger aircraft by Airbus named the CityBus, this eVTOL is quieter and emits zero emissions.
Types of eVTOL
Electric aircraft technology has become more viable than ever because of the availability of newer materials, battery technology, and electric motors. The combination of these technologies allows the creation of aircraft to safely transport passengers and cargo. Depending on the craft and its payload, they can travel up to 250 miles on one charge.
These aircraft come in all shapes and sizes, but the greatest disadvantage for some is their lack of range and carrying capacity (whether it is passengers or payloads). However, these eVTOLs are highly suitable for life in congested cities where shorter distances are covered.
To date, there are three different types of eVTOL methods: the tilt-thrust, where the propellers generate propulsion and the wings lift, the lift and cruise that uses several props to lift and a second motor propels, and the multirotor system where fixed multiple rotors give the upward lift and forward thrust.
The tilt-thrust method, used by Joby Aviation and V-22 craft is the most popular method for vehicles designed for heavier loads and long distances.
Developments in eVTOL
Since the concept of eVTOL first emerged in 2011 with the Italian AgustaWestland, there have been some exciting developments in the field. In the same year, the Volocopter GmbH showed their Voloctpter 1, followed by various other models, and culminated in the world’s first air taxi, the Volocity eVTOL in 2019.
In 2018, Opener Inc. introduced the Opener Blackfly, a personal air vehicle. Airbus and Boeing have also entered the race to produce eVTOL craft. Boeing in partnership with Aurora Flight Sciences introduced their first flight in 2019. Whereas Airbus introduced their Vahava project and their first small flying model in 2017, followed by the flight of their Alpha One a few months later. This project culminated in the CItyAirbus which flew for 903km in 13 hours in Dec 2019. This was the longest single eVTOL flight ever.
What is extremely exciting about the eVTOL market is that some of the pioneers in the field include smaller startup companies like Tetra Aviation, Joby Aviation, Beta Technologies, Lift Aircraft, and Urban eVTOL.
Importance of Certification
With over 240 eVTOL companies currently developing aircraft, even Tesla’s Elon Musk has said he has a design ready and waiting for improved technology in the energy density of batteries, eVTOL certification per DO-178C is the important next step for the aviation technique.
Ensuring that these aircraft comply with aviation standards based on Urban Air Mobility (UAM), is complicated. The characteristics required for certification, whether these aircraft are manned or unmanned, are several.
According to AFuzion CEO Vance Hilderman, certification must comply with several guidelines, including ARP4761/A for safety, ARP4754A for aircraft systems, DO-178C for avionics-based software, and the standards for avionics hardware known as DO-254.
Mr. Hilderman also pointed out: “Commercial aviation is based on several layers that require different certification rules and degrees of rigor. These are based on aircraft type, size, weight, engine type, engine number, operational characteristics, and whether the eVTOL is experimental or true-civil.”
With several companies set to start operating within the next three to four years, it remains to be seen how these will eliminate the disadvantages of technical challenges and the limited ranges they currently face. One thing is certain, once certification is achieved, the advantages of lower emissions, noise, and running costs make this a lucrative market.