The Future of Advanced Air Mobility

UK Launches Two Projects to Prepare for Commercial eVTOL Aircraft Services

Two trial programs are getting underway in the UK to evaluate the feasibility of introducing eVTOL aircraft operations. Both projects are receiving government funding and involve partnerships between the private sector and local authorities.

In Bristol, a consortium led by civil engineering group Atkins and including locally based eVTOL aircraft developer Vertical Aerospace, has secured £2.5 million funding from the Future Flight Challenge to assess the feasibility of air taxi services across southwest England. The 18-month program is also backed by the West of England Combined Authority.

The main areas of focus include an assessment of demand for air taxi services using eVTOL aircraft, the development of use cases for the technology, and an evaluation of how the service can be integrated with the rest of the region’s transportation network. The study will assess the feasibility of commercial operations beginning as early as 2023

Vertical Aerospace will use the prototype for its VA-1X aircraft to assess vehicle integration. The model is being designed to carry four passengers and a pilot up to around 100 miles, which would mean it could cover much of the southwest region of England. Bristol has a population of almost 500,000 people.

Initial testing will start with small drones and some other "surrogate technology." The Atkins team has indicated that other eVTOL aircraft could potentially join the trials at a later date.

Other program partners include air traffic management groups Altitude Angel and NATS, Skyports (ground infrastructure), Cranfield University (focusing on communications systems), Bristol Airport, IT group Neuron, and Connected Places Catapult (a government-backed agency researching public acceptance of new modes of transportation). The West of England Combined Authority is responsible for assessing how eVTOL air taxis could be integrated with the region’s future transportation planning.

Meanwhile, 100 miles to the northeast in Coventry, Urban Air Port is partnering with Hyundai Motor Group and Coventry City Council to develop the Air-One hub to evaluate eVTOL aircraft operations. A £1.2 million ($1.6 million) grant from the UK government’s Future Flight Challenge backs the project, and the planned facility due to be in place next to the city’s soccer stadium by the end of 2021.

According to UK-based Urban Air Port, the Air-One concept is around 60 percent smaller than a traditional heliport and can be installed in a few days. Design drawings show an elevated pod with a landing pad on top of a terminal building for passengers and support services.

The company is now seeking financial backers to support its plans to develop more than 200 of the hubs worldwide over the next five years. Since the facilities can be installed without a direct connection to power grids, it is hoped that they could improve transportation connections to parts of the developing world.

The Air-One complex in Coventry is intended for demonstration purposes, with facilities to evaluate eVTOL operations for both passenger and cargo services. Plans show an area set aside for testing the eVTOL aircraft that Hyundai started developing in January 2020. The site also has a direct connection to rail services and space for ground-based electric vehicles.

Drone developer and logistics group Malloy Aeronautics intends to demonstrate its unmanned cargo delivery aircraft at the Air-One site. Coventry University also is a partner in the project.