Airbus is finally ready to enter the crowded market for Urban Air Mobility (UAM)-vehicles. After the development of two prototypes since 2017, it announced the product launch of the CityAirbus NextGen during the Airbus Summit in Toulouse on September 21. Airbus finally ready for UAM market.
Construction of the first CityAirbus NextGen will commence next year, followed by the first flight in 2023. Certification should happen in 2025 and entry into service shortly afterward when the entire UAM system is mature, Joerg Mueller, head of Airbus UAM said. The latest iteration is a fixed-wing four-seater with eight rotors, a range of 80 kilometers, and a cruise speed of 120 kilometers per hour. “It has a simple structure, without moving wing parts”, says Mueller.
Airbus spent some 31 million hours on supercomputers to model the latest eVTOL vehicle. The NextGen on the picture is still a scale model and wind tunnel tests will be done first before the final configuration will be determined.
Airbus has studied the UAM market since launching the Vahana-project in 2017. The vehicle with eight 45 kW engines made its maiden flight in November 2019 in Oregon. It has done some 138 flight tests. The first CityAirbus also had eight engines, but more powerful at 100 kW. It has a lifting capability of 2.310 kilograms. CityAirbus first flew in May 2019 and did over 100 flights since then, the last one in July this year.
The first version of CityAirbus has done some 100 test flights, the last in July. (Richard Schuurman)
“We have learned a lot from our two demonstrators with totally different technologies. They come to an end as we are open for a new chapter for CityAirbus: a new prototype, the NextGen”, said Bruno Even, head of Airbus Helicopters. “We have a high commitment to this market in the sense that we really believe in this market.” He doesn’t rule out operators with a fleet of some 1.000 CityAirbus’ each. The CityAirbus has no launch customer yet.
With CityAirbus, the focus is on safety, responsibility, and sustainability, says Balkiz Sarihan, head of UAM strategy execution & partnerships. This includes noise and social acceptance of the UAM concept. Airbus says the NextGen will produce 65 dBA in cruise and between 70-75 dBA on landing. Within an urban environment, this will be hardly distinguishable from other sources.
Social acceptance of eVTOLs takes listening
To get social acceptance for eVTOLS, Airbus wants to have the public directly involved: “The voice of the citizens, the voice of the community will be heard, not just on eVTOLs but also on the infrastructure. What services do they consider are of value, in what places do they want these vehicles to operate. What safety standards want them to incorporate this into their daily lives?”, says Sarihan. She says that Airbus has devoted a lot of time to social acceptance. The EU has also done a recent quick survey, which concluded that people want eVTOLs to be safe, not noisy, but also value-added services. “It’s not speed, but it comes down to medical emergency services, to reach places where they wouldn’t be able to go to before. We need to seamlessly integrate this as part of the mobility solution.”
This will be different by region, with each region having its own value proposition, she adds: “When it comes to how we take it to cities, it becomes a very local and personal conversation. It is not trying to convince people. It doesn’t work if we say ‘this is great, because we as an aviation company say it is great.’ That’s the wrong conversation. It is really about talking to the citizens and saying ‘here are your mobility needs, your emergency services needs, what’s missing, tell us what is working?’ For some cities il will be us, for some, it will be ‘no’ and for some, it will be ‘yes, but not now.’’
Long-term, Airbus is studying an autonomous flying CityAirbus, but Joerg Mueller expects this will take well into the next decade. Airbus hasn’t decided yet where the CityAirbus will be built.