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Thursday, April 25, 2024

Aerial Revolution: Electrifying Air Travel is on the Horizon

With the finish line now seen in the race for a commercial electric flight, Selvin Parker presents a bird’s-eye view of the battery-powered flyers landing (very!) Soon in a place close to you.

Cockpit driver: Virgin Atlantic’s VA-X4 takes off over London | Image: Aviation and vertical space

The leading candidates in the race for an electrically powered commercial flight can hardly be more diverse. The Vertical Aerospace VA-X4 is a five-seater propelled by a bulbous bow accessory, including the pilot. Germany-shaped lily of the valley is a sleek design with rotating wings that divides its six passengers from front to back. China’s two-seater e-Hang looks like a helicopter cabin with wings mounted on two booms. The Eviation’s Alice, the fastest of the current designs, is a more normal-looking nine-passenger aircraft.

Despite the radical difference in design, all of these aircraft share something in common. They will be much quieter than all the planes of today. They are surprisingly fast, ranging from 150 to 460 km / h. And they are just around the corner; most of these companies expect to start selling tickets around the middle of the decade.

The future is (almost) now: Lilium from Germany presents a demonstration from real life

Within a few short years, a commercial electric flight turned from a dream into a reality. Currently, regulators in Japan, Europe, the UK and the US are introducing a number of designs through the rims. Virgin Atlantic is confident enough to have ordered a fleet of VA-X4 aircraft. Its 19, a 19-passenger aircraft with a range of 300 km, for a planned premiere in 2026. And DHL Express has ordered 12 Alice in delivery in about three years.

There are deep pockets involved. Rolls-Royce has built the electric power train on the VA-X4 and is investing in the P-Volt, a passenger plane with up to nine passengers that is scheduled to take off commercially in 2026.

Useful Helicopter Surface: The maneuverability of eVTOLs allows them to use existing helicopter infrastructure | Image: Aviation and vertical space

Down in terra firma, a new infrastructure is being formed in the form of “vertiforts” for the absorption of municipal taxis in the form of eVTOLs (electric vertical takeoff and landing). Several German airports, including Munich, are preparing for the Lilium Jet. About 25 vertical ports are planned in the UK, including one in London Heathrow, with 2025 set as a reasonable start date. Rome Airport is preparing for VoloCity’s electronic helicopters. And U.S. airports expect to be ready to report back in about three years, just in time for the expected arrival of an electric flight. EVTOL can also use existing helicopter platforms, of which there are thousands around the world.

Time saving

An electric flight promises to be a different experience for passengers. First, the cabin will be much quieter at cruising speeds, probably around 45 decibels, which is about as loud as air conditioning or a washing machine. If you are in eVTOL, flight times for short jumps of about 160 km should be faster than regular planes as it avoids taking a taxi up and down the runways. Also, vertebrates are expected to grow in such numbers that they will be placed much closer to home. Although it is still decades away, life near a busy airport will become much quieter as the roar of jets can be gradually eliminated by electric flight.

But will an electric flight be exclusively for the rich? Not by industry, which predicts ticket prices at least equal to the cost of driving a car over an equal distance, which puts it in most people’s pockets. For example, Lilium estimates an average cost of US $ 2.25 per mile per passenger on a six-passenger eVTOL, while US-based Jaunt Air Mobility expects about $ 3 per mile for its electric helicopters, equivalent to a luxury Uber ride. .

Electric planes do not offer a silver ball to clear the sky, not least because the current commercial fleet will increase in number massively in the coming decades. On the plus side, Airbus is pursuing what UK Air and Space Group chief executive Trevor Higgs calls a “zero jet” using sustainable fuel. Airbus has already set the date – it has promised to start selling zero-emission commercial aircraft by 2035.

God Research by the International Transport Forum (ITF) on carbon emissions from air transport Recommends policymakers to set timely and ambitious fuel quality requirements to encourage the use of sustainable aviation fuel (SAF). The ITF encourages governments to design fuel specifications with effective sustainability criteria that take into account greenhouse gas emissions in the life cycle. Further work from ITF introduces SAF’s flagship policy Leading aviation markets in the US, EU as well as emerging markets.

Look, no pilot

A fully autonomous electric flight could also be around the corner, maybe in a decade. China’s e-Hang says it’s almost ready to go, and in October 2021, another Chinese company, AutoFlight, demonstrated a pilotless eVTOL. Known as the V1500M, it will drive four passengers up to 250km / h at a top speed of 200km / h, according to founder Tian Hugh who predicts: “The V1500M is a milestone in the global development of urban aerospace.”

Handsfree in China: EHang’s Autonomous Flight Trials

However, it may take some time for passengers to feel comfortable about a pilotless flight. Mid-2021, a McKinsey Global Survey Out of 4,800 electric flight potential customers found that while most were drawn to the idea, 60% cited safety as their primary concern in fully autonomous aircraft.

Autonomous or not, electric flying will steadily become mainstream as scientists spend more money on lithium money. Within 15 to 20 years, they predict, electric passenger planes can carry up to 50 people within a range of 800 km, a distance of about half of all flights worldwide.

And yet a flying ferry may get there first! A U.S.-based marine group, Regent Craft, predicts that its Seaglider, an all-electric seaplane, will be able to move at speeds of up to 160 knots (almost 300 mph) thanks to wings that form an airbag over water. The technology has been around for almost half a century, but only recently has it become secure. Regent Craft expects to launch the first 12-passenger ferry by 2025, with a 150-passenger version arriving later. Towards the end of the decade, Regent Craft hopes the latest batteries will give its flying shuttle the same magic range of 800km.

Is it a bird? Fully electric travel costs from Regent Craft’s Seaglider

“The potential to take part in airlines cannot be underestimated,” CEO Billy Thelheimer predicted at a ferry conference in Spain in September.

So maybe the threat to the whole flight – tram and otherwise – might come from below.

Selvin Parker is a freelance journalist and author of Chasing the chimney sweep On the first Tour de France of 1903.

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