Airbus advances its fixed-wing eVTOL air taxi closer to reality

Airbus UAM Saudi Arabia

European aviation giant Airbus has revealed the updated version of its CityAirbus urban air mobility (UAM) plane. Certification of fixed-wing, all-electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) air taxi is being planned for some time in 2025.

Europe’s aviation heavyweight revealed updated fixed-wing eVTOL air taxi program

The CityAirbus program has been in development since 2016 under direction of Airbus’ helicopter division, and the previous iteration of the craft was unveiled in 2020. On Tuesday Airbus showcased an updated design of the four passenger fixed-wing eVTOL air taxi, whose eight propellers will drive it to top speeds of 120 km/h across a maximum flight range of 50 km. By swapping combustion engines for battery power, the UAM vehicle – known as CityAirbus NextGen – will generate just 65 dBa of noise during overhead flight, and 70 dBa during takeoff and landings.

Airbus made the announcement during its “Pioneering Sustainable Aerospace ” summit in Toulouse, which examines topics and developments providing lift to the nascent but swiftly ascending UAM market. It said the craft is optimized for maximal hover and cruise efficiency, and is constructed without moving surfaces or tilting parts similar vehicles often use during transition phases. The company said the plane can be navigated by an onboard pilot, or remotely.

Recent reports by specialized media suggested Airbus was nearing completion of the CityAirbus demonstrator’s test flight phase. Those had also anticipated the manufacturer would make some sort of move before long to position the vehicle in what’s becoming a somewhat bustling air taxi crowd and wider UAM craft sector.

Legacy passenger airline builder reaffirms its commitment to future UAM craft

Its move to do just that Tuesday was significant in not only committing Airbus to short-to-medium haul, fixed-wing eVTOL air taxi production. It also marked a huge legacy passenger airline manufacturer reinforcing its position in a sector that has thus far been dominated by startups developing UAM aircraft. 

Airbus’s experience and heft in broader commercial aviation construction and use may prove influential to how critical but still fluid concerns like UAM craft certification, operational regulation, and integration into wider air spaces play out.

“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,” said Airbus Helicopters CEO Bruno Even. “Airbus is convinced that the real challenges are as much about urban integration, public acceptance, and automated air traffic management, as about vehicle technology and business models. We build on all of the capabilities to deliver a safe, sustainable, and fully integrated service to society.” 

Airbus says it gained valuable insight during the development and testing of earlier CityAirbus generations, as well as its one-seater eVTOL craft, Vahana. Combined, those two demonstrator vehicles racked up 242 air and ground tests, and around 1,000 km in flights. That, the company says, should help the CityAirbus NexGen to rapidly advance from design to prototype test flight stage by 2023, with certification expected two years later.

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