NASHUA, N.H. - Companies large and small are betting big on electronic vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) aircraft. eVTOL efforts are being led by traditional avionics and aerospace companies like Honeywell and Airbus with significant interest expressed by companies that are not traditionally in the air travel sector.
eVTOL aircraft utilize electric motors to achieve lift with rotors to move one or more passengers across relatively short distance, like to and from airports or across cities in what the industry refers to as Urban Air Mobility (UAM). eVTOL aircraft are generally designed to fly autonomously or remotely piloted.
China's EHang is credited by the Vertical Flight Society (VFS) with fielding the first functional UAM air taxi service at the end of 2019. In the span of approximately five years, the VFS has cataloged more than 200 eVTOL designs.
To get significant buy-in from would-be passengers, UAM design partners need to assure people that flying in an autonomous electric aircraft in urban skies is safe.
Thankfully, simulation software has gotten sophisticated enough that designers can run their aircraft through an incredible number of scenarios and flight conditions and have a very strong degree of surety before a real motor is even attached to an aircraft.
Of course, even if the UAM aircraft has demonstrated safety in tests and simulations, regulators like the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) or the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) will still need to keep a close eye on this young sector as it comes into fruition.
Speaking to Intelligent Aerospace in the fall of 2019, Paolo Colombo, who is the Aerospace and Defense Global Industry Director at ANSYS, explained that software helps tackle flight in a unique arena.
"This is bringing us the capability to analyze functional safety in a unique environment," ANSYS' Colombo said. "We acquired a number of companies recently in order to create the UAM-specific platform that will be very important for urban air development. We are creating more robustness with full automation. On average, our customers saw a 55% decrease in effort and time to perform functional safety analysis."
Colombo continued, "The industry doesn't have 50 years or more of experience using this technology - automated systems and sensors. We now have more than 30 antennas on a fuselage. You have to find a way to test them, to verify it and certify it. That’s a huge, huge challenge. Nobody has a clear idea of how to do that. There are new ways everyone is exploring. Given that there isn't a single workflow for certification, the FAA and EASA are asking companies for more functional safety analysis and to prove that they have done failure analysis and mitigated that risk as much as possible. They decide if this company can move on or not. This is where we are with this new technology."
Colombo explained that aerospace companies are in discussion with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) as UAM technology comes to the fore, and that it should be changing the way companies think.
"We have a huge number of new technologies that are coming so fast,” Colombo told Intelligent Aerospace in 2019. “This is really changing the way the industry should think. If you aren't using these technologies, even if you are one of the leading companies in the industry, you risk falling behind."
In the past two years, companies outside the normal aerospace industry have heeded Colombo’s advice to get onboard with UAM, and have gotten significant buy-in from automotive giants like Toyota and Hyundai and even sports car specialists like Porsche and luxury automaker Mercedes-Benz.
Porsche Consulting forecasted that the urban air mobility market will pick up speed after 2025. The study also indicates that urban air mobility (UAM) solutions will transport passengers more quickly and efficiently than current conventional means of terrestrial transport, at a lower cost and with greater flexibility. In 2019, Porsche announced that it was partnering with Boeing to get its foot in the door with UAM.
It appears we are nearing the moment where UAM and eVTOL passenger craft becomes ready for takeoff. Will the massive effort by numerous companies pay off with a disruptive new way to traverse cities? We’ll soon find out.