How many se the rise of electric vertical take-off & landing (eVTOL) aircraft leading the urban air mobility (UAM) of tomorrow? How many see the potential of this new technology?
From boats to airplane to cars, everything needs to be electrified if we want better efficiency and less pollution. The path to electrification is different for each. Putting an electric motor in a car is easier than replacing a jetliner’s turbofans with electricity, so far.
Interestingly, the new electric vehicle (EV) era also started the autonomous vehicle (AV) period of today. That means tackling road congestion, and one key way to utilize the two is by going up.
Electric air mobility will make UAM affordable and convenient. Although helicopters exist, their price keeps them out of the reach for most. After revolutionizing ridesharing/taxi service, Uber is taking to the skies with its Uber Elevate program. The field is now split between conventional electric airplanes (e-planes) and eVTOL aircraft. Both will answer different needs, and there will be hybrid approaches — like VTOL aircraft with wings that are sometimes extendable.
Will UAM Stop Road Congestion?
If Bell, Uber, and many others working on UAM feel they will match the price of the equivalent road fair. If so, it’s reasonable to expect some road traffic moving to the sky.
Aircraft using eVTOL technology open up a world of opportunity for secondary airports. These airports struggle to raise traffic today, but they have plenty of electricity and space for eVTOL aircraft and e-planes.
Using heliports, eVTOL aircraft could reach even further.
Speaking of commuters, a few players are already aiming high with 9 to 100 seat electric and hybrid designs. From Eviation’s electric 9-seater, Alice, to the Zunum’s 100-seat hybrid electric plane, electric airplanes are taking off.
Pushing the entry-level class is Pipistrel, with its Alpha Electro. There are also Dufour Aero, Airbus, and Boeing buying up projects.
Electric motors are easier for maintenance, operation, and updates. They offer a clear long-term advantage over their more expensive gasoline alternative. Airports are also expressing interests. Norway said it is committing to all electric domestic flights by 2040.
More recently, Harbour Air announced it will run an all-electric aircraft fleet.
Electric UAM & The Environment
Cutting traffic congestion cuts pollution, but will it just be moved higher into the sky from flying cars and eVTOL aircraft? Researchers have argued otherwise. They’ve “found that the energy use, greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, and time savings of VTOL aircraft didn’t just beat ground-based transport in gasoline cars, but also in electric cars, for trips of 100 kilometers (62 miles), assuming a fully loaded VTOL aircraft carrying a pilot and three passengers, and assuming average vehicle occupancy of 1.54 on the ground.”
UAM & The Current Aviation Industry
An average of 2% of the world’s carbon dioxide emission comes from commercial aviation. Nitrogen oxides and particulates coat the atmosphere with a negative environment impact. Air Transport Action Group (ATAG) says aviation is responsible for $2.7 trillion of the global economy and 63 million jobs. With emissions skyrocketing 700% since 2005, according to the International Civil Aviation Organization, electric UAM makes much sense.
Kerosene turbofans are close to hitting a development ceiling. Electric motors will have to replace them. Electric aircraft will need a battery that can store at least 250 Wh/k and can handle 600 nautical miles.
UAM Saves The World With Air Taxis
Commuting in an unmanned electric flying taxi will be possible in a few years. More than 130 companies are working on eVTOL aircraft, according to the Vertical Flight Society (VFS) World eVTOL Aircraft Directory. So far, the market has gathered $1 billion in investment and is valued between $500 billion to $2 trillion.
Going further, when will we see coast-to-coast electric airliners? That question is difficult to answer, but keeping an eye on what turbofan makers are doing will give you an idea.