Airbus expects its planned urban air mobility vehicle—known as the CityAirbus NextGen eVTOL aircraft—to gain EASA certification in 2025, Balkiz Sarihan, Airbus head of urban air mobility strategy execution and partnerships told media during a Dubai Airshow briefing on Monday. Meanwhile, the company continues to gauge public acceptance of the safety, viability, and convenience of urban air mobility (UAM), which will prove key to Airbus’s efforts to stake a claim to a major portion of the development in the space in the coming years, she added.
The European aerospace group unveiled the CityAirbus NextGen design in September and a prototype is expected to make its first flight in 2023. The concept builds on lessons learned from the evaluation of the earlier Vahana and CityAirbus technology demonstrators.
“I think we've flown over 244 flights, 1,000 kilometers of distance combined,” Sarihan said. “Sound levels and public and social acceptance are absolutely essential. These aircraft and this service need to integrate seamlessly into the existing mobility system of any city. This means that it's not only appealing to us as aviation experts and enthusiasts but to the average citizen who wants to live in their city and not have extra pollution.”
The aircraft has the full backing of Airbus from an engineering and technical perspective, and the company has established a separate commercial entity to manage the development process.
With eight electrically-driven propellers, the NextGen can cruise at up to 120 km/h and generates 65 to 70 decibels of sound, enabling it to blend in with existing urban noise. With one pilot, the aircraft will carry three passengers.
“The range is 80 kilometers,” she said. “At 80 kilometers, we address 95 percent of all urban operations. This is our target market, the sweet spot we have chosen.”
The CityAirbus NextGen is a significant element in Airbus’s strategy of decarbonizing and modernizing its entire fleet. “All of you are hearing a lot of talk about a lot of activity and investment going into this space,” she said. “For us, urban air mobility, electrification, hybridization, and zero-emission flight is about our future.”
Sarihan said the electrification capabilities under development for urban air mobility will be deployed across the Airbus portfolio. “For Airbus, it's an investment [related to] the future, not only for UAM as a new market and a new industry but about how we decarbonize aviation and how we modernize our entire fleet,” she explained.
A key plank of this strategy centers on understanding more about the physical infrastructure needed to support operations, such as vertiport facilities and charging equipment. Cities carry the onus to demonstrate their readiness to support urban air transportation and architects to rethink urban environment design.
“Air taxi will be at some point a service integrated into our society," Sarihan said. "We see first-market openings in emergency services, tourism, and shuttle services, reaching places where existing infrastructure doesn't exist. These will be our first feeder markets.”