Airbus today unveiled long-awaited plans for an eVTOL aircraft, making clear its intentions for the advanced air mobility market after extensive flight trials with the CityAirbus and Vahana technology demonstrators. At the European aerospace group’s September 21 sustainability summit in Toulouse, France, it unveiled a design for a fixed-wing aircraft, with a V-shaped tail and eight sets of electric motors and propellers.
An engineering team led by Airbus Helicopters is working on the detailed design for the CityAirbus NextGen model, with the aim of achieving a first flight with a prototype in 2023, en route to type certification in 2025. It will carry up to four passengers on flights of up to 80 km (50 miles) and at speeds of 120 km/h (75 mph).
“We are on a quest to co-create an entirely new market that sustainably integrates urban air mobility into the cities while addressing environmental and social concerns,” Bruno Even, Airbus Helicopters CEO, told the summit. He acknowledged that the real challenges are wide, spanning urban integration, public acceptance, and automated air traffic management, as well as vehicle technology and business models. “We build on all of the capabilities to deliver a safe, sustainable, and fully integrated service to society,” Even noted.
Because of the urban mission, low noise levels are essential. CityAirbus's design calls for sound levels below 65 dB(A) during flyover and below 70 dB(A) during landing. Airbus says the design is optimized for efficiency in hover and cruise flight, without having any moving surfaces or tilting parts to handle this transition.
Airbus intends to certify the CityAirbus NextGen under EASA’s Special Conditions-VTOL rules. Germany-based start-ups Lilium and Volocopter are seeking type certification on the same basis and hope to achieve this by 2024.
Even said that Airbus has learned a lot from flight trials and development work with the single-seat Vahana and two-seat CityAirbus technology demonstrators. The latter was exhibited at the summit in Toulouse. “The CityAirbus NextGen combines the best from both worlds with the new architecture, striking the right balance between hover and forward flight,” he said.
The Vahana and CityAirbus demonstrators have jointly undergone 242 flight and ground tests and have flown around 1,000 km in total. Furthermore, Airbus has used extensive subscale flight testing and wind tunnel campaigns and has leveraged its computing and modeling power.
First test flights for the CityAirbus NextGen prototype will take place in Paris and Munich, though Airbus executives insisted the test program will move beyond its two home markets of France and Germany. “This is a global exercise,” stressed Balkiz Sarihan, head of urban air mobility strategy, execution, and partnerships at Airbus.
The September 21 announcement cleared the perception among some observers that Airbus's enthusiasm for the eVTOL market had waned. In the past year or so, much of the emphasis for its work on sustainable aviation has focused on plans for hydrogen-powered airliners.