Several urban aircraft, which are still in the pilot phase, are being tested with a view to operating as an air taxi service provider in the future. Vehicles take off and down vertically and use several smaller propellers. The two- and three-seater versions are capable of covering distances of 30 to 60 kilometers at speeds of 100 to 200 km / h.
At the first global urban aviation exhibition in Farnborough, nearly 200 exhibitors from around the world appeared with machines at different stages of development. Some prototypes are already beyond test flights, and the makers hope to launch a comprehensive service in a few years.
The Uber passenger transport company wants to start flying passengers in Dallas, Los Angeles and Melbourne, Australia by 2023, the Economist reported.
Barriers to the introduction of urban air mobility (UAM) are not primarily technological in nature, but stem from laws and regulations. Legislators are constantly working on how to classify the safety of these new aircraft, especially as some of them fly unmanned and carry passengers at high altitudes.
Although the look of UAM machines is quite varied, some of their features are very similar. The aircraft are either fully electric or hybrids with a spare conventional engine.
They usually take off and land vertically like helicopters, however, they use several smaller ones instead of a large propeller. The two- and three-seater versions are capable of covering distances between 30 and 60 kilometers at speeds between 100 and 200 km / h. The propellers are driven directly by the individual electric motor, so each can be controlled. These vehicles are easier to automate than helicopters and also have greater stability.
Some aircraft are already beyond the pilot phase. The 18-propeller VoloCity, developed by the German company Volocopter, has already conducted a number of test flights. One was an automated flight in Dubai. The Chinese owner of Volvo Cars has acquired a smaller stake in Volocopter and provided € 50 million in support to bring VoloCity to market. The aircraft can carry two people and their luggage over a distance of 35 kilometers.
Some models are equipped with tilting wings. These wings are fitted with several smaller propellers that are fixed vertically during take-off and landing, but fixed horizontally in flight, operating like a conventional winged aircraft. This solution saves energy and increases the flight distance.
The German company Lilium uses more than 36 electrically driven fans mounted on the wings. These look like miniature versions of the turbo fan. They blow down when taking off and landing and backwards when flying. The company’s five-person plane can cover 300 km in an hour.
A company called Kitty Hawk, backed by Google founder Larry Page, teamed up with Boeing to create the Cora aircraft. This two-person machine uses 12 lift rotors on the fixed wings and a rear propeller.
The vehicle can cover a distance of about 100 km on a single charge and will be used by Air New Zealand for taxi services.
Most UAM operators can only perform test flights with a license that specifies the mode of flight and is bound to have a pilot on board at all times. Some have already begun the full qualification process that all commercial aircraft must have before they can pay paying passengers.
Aviation safety authorities decide which standards must be met. In July this year, the European Aviation Safety Agency laid down special conditions for the certification of hybrid and electric powered vertical take-off and landing aircraft. The plan is also to further develop the regulation while the test flights take place. Like traditional aircraft, certification can take years and cost millions of dollars.
Lawmakers make the use of even smaller drones subject to strict conditions, such as not being allowed to fly near people, buildings, airports and other aircraft.
However, the purpose of the new vehicles would be to carry passengers between such places. These aircraft will need to be integrated into air traffic control systems, said Jay Merkle, director of the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).
Competent authorities are constantly working to automate air traffic control systems. If this happens, unmanned aircraft and air taxis can easily fit into the system of airlines ’large aircraft.
Transponders would be installed in every aircraft, the same as those in large aircraft. These beacons automatically receive and transmit the flight plans of other aircraft so that pilots or autopilots can avoid each other in the air using computers. Next year, NASA will begin testing systems that can perform these operations in an urban environment.
However, some countries are making faster progress on the issue than others. In Rwanda, for example, blood is already being transported using drones, while this is not yet possible in America. Tim Johnson, regulatory director of the British Civil Aviation Authority, said working with and sharing information with UAM companies was the best way to set global standards.
More than 20 groups of the authority carry out test flights of flying taxis across England. And in Japan, it is planned to test the machines for the first time in rural areas where the airspace is less crowded before being released into the urban environment.
Meanwhile, Uber is trying to improve air passenger transportation, and that’s why they started the service with a traditional helicopter between Manhattan and JFK Airport in New York. One of the lessons learned is that UAM operators inevitably need to be involved in real estate and infrastructure projects.
This means building so-called vertiports for vehicles, with a landing pad, passenger service services, car parks for flying taxis and an electric charging station to recharge the batteries.
However, there is another obstacle to the implementation of the plans. In some cities, obtaining planning permission for helicopter landings is quite difficult due to noise pollution.
Flying taxis are much quieter than traditional helicopters, thanks to the electric motor, but they make the same buzzing sound as drones. Leaders in some cities like Dubai, Guangzhou and Singapore see this as a voice for development. However, others may not think so. In the past, the noise factor has blocked several aviation development ambitions. This is why supersonic travel, among other things, failed.