Airbus is methodically continuing the development of the CityAirbus NextGen eVTOL aircraft it announced last September, reporting this week that it aims to fly a prototype toward the end of 2023. The four-seat design, which features a fixed-wing and fixed vertical and horizontal propellers, is expected to deliver a range of up to 80 miles at speeds of 75 mph, with a noise profile during landings of less than 70 dBA.
Despite providing an update on the program while announcing 2021 financial results for Airbus Helicopters, however, company CEO Bruno Even made clear that the European aerospace group has no intention of getting dragged into a bragging match with more vocal and aggressive eVTOL start-ups racing to get to market in 2024. “We want to be the voice of reason [in the advanced air mobility sector],” he commented. “There will be a time when we are in a position to commit [to the eVTOL market], but we are not there yet. We like to do what we say and say what we do.”
Even said battery technology, ground infrastructure, and air traffic management need further maturation for a realistic market for air taxi and cargo services to take hold. He sees batteries advancing sufficiently by 2025, which is the earliest date the CityAirbus is expected to be ready to enter commercial service.
Moreover, when eVTOL aircraft do enter commercial service, Even said, they will be “complementary” to helicopter operations, not competitive with them. Meanwhile, he noted, Airbus will continue research into hybrid propulsion technology for its conventional rotorcraft.
“Our objective is to have the right answer in terms of certification and autonomy, but there are also some technical challenges and 2022 will be a year of focus when it comes to maturing this [eVTOL] architecture,” Even said. He noted recent large provisional orders from airlines reported by other eVTOL manufacturers, implying that Airbus is not ready to take even prospective bookings while it works on its plans from both the operating platform and ecosystem perspectives. “All this needs to be worked with the key stakeholders, the authorities, production customers, and the airlines. That is something we are also doing from our side,” he stated.
Airbus expects flights connecting city centers with major airports to be among the earliest use cases for eVTOL passenger services. “While helicopters are addressing this market it is not so much, especially worldwide," Even said. "The commitment we are seeing from the airlines is really a positive sign and confirmation that we are right to focus on this new market.
"We are convinced that Airbus can play a leading role in this market," Even continued. "We don’t want to underestimate this challenge. When it comes to committing to orders, I am not sure this is the right timing. We still have a lot as an industry to demonstrate. There will come a right time when we are in a position to commit on performance and mission and so on.”