Volant Aerotech has unveiled a full-scale technology demonstrator of the four-passenger eVTOL aircraft VE25, for which it aims to achieve type certification in 2026. The Chinese company rolled out the first full-scale example of the lift-and-cruise design on September 2 at an airfield in Yixin, a city near Shanghai.
To accelerate the system development process, the Volant engineering team has also built a full-scale aircraft integration platform, which the team refers to as a frame aircraft consisting of the main components and early-stage systems. Last week, this frame aircraft made its first lift off.
Early design drawings show eight sets of rotors installed along a fixed wing, and a pair of pusher propellers on the tail. The flight deck features an unspecified avionics suite.
Prospects for commercial backing for the aircraft were boosted in recent weeks by the signing of memorandums of understanding with China Southern Airlines General Aviation (CSAGA) and Shanghai New Sky Helicopter. The manufacturer, which was founded in June 2021, expects the aircraft to be flown by a pilot under existing air transport regulations on routes of up to 200 km (125 miles).
The August 8 agreement with the helicopter charter division of Asia’s largest airline China Southern calls for the companies to collaborate in the development of the VE25 aircraft, as well as in preparing a business model for eVTOL services and raising capital. CSAGA is a major rotorcraft service provider active in sectors such as the energy industry and holds key Chinese air safety approvals including Part 91, Part 135, Part 147, and Part 61 certificates.
Shanghai New Sky describes itself as a VVIP charter operator and is expected to operate on-demand services. It currently operates rotorcraft such as the twin-engine Bell 429.
Volant founder and CEO Ming Dong told FutureFlight multiple services models are under discussion, including passenger shuttle flights on routes around the greater Beijing area and the Yangtze Delta around Shanghai, with potentially 20 to 30 aircraft deployed on each route.
The rollout of the full-scale demonstrator marks the start of the ground test phase, which will prepare the aircraft for the first flight and following flight tests, that is expected to start from the end of 2022.
The majority of Volant’s 50-strong team, including Ming, have an extensive background in the aerospace industry, Ming having held several technical positions within Aviation Industries of China (AVIC), General Electric (GE), and Rockwell Collins, and having been involved in programs such as the ARJ21 regional jetliner, C919 programs and CR929. Ming has a sound understanding not only of the regulatory process in China, but also that of agencies including the FAA. His colleagues have extensive background experience with companies including COMAC (Commercial Aircraft Corporation of China), Airbus, and Honeywell.
“We are aiming to produce a global product, and the only question is when and how we will achieve this,” Ming explained. “We have several models under investigation, and they could take different paths [to market]. We will not be isolated in just one market.”
Unlike several high-profile eVTOL start-ups, including fellow Chinese company EHang, Volant appears to be taking a relatively patient and conservative approach to bring its aircraft into commercial service. Ming is convinced that it could take another 10 to 15 years before autonomous operations will be accepted by air safety regulators for commercial passenger transport operations.
“Type certification is not an easy job,” he reflected. “We have a lot of people with good knowledge and experience of two new air transport aircraft [COMAC’s ARJ21 and C919], but eVTOLs are a new type of aircraft.”
Volant intends to work with an international supply chain and says it is already working with several unannounced European and U.S. companies.
Having already closed two funding rounds, and in the face of challenging conditions in capital markets, Ming said the start-up is planning to go public through an initial public offering “at the right time.”
In June 2022, Volant said it raised “hundreds of millions of Yuan” in a pre-Series A funding round. This was led by investor groups include Future Capital, Qingsong Fund, Welight Capital, and Shunwei Capital.