Atkins to assess plans for electric air taxis in South West England, with Bristol airport involved
Atkins will work with Vertical Aerospace and the West of England Combined Authority to assess the feasibility of introducing electric air taxis in the area. The project was awarded partial funding of £2.5 million through the government’s Future of Flight Challenge, “which was created to find innovative methods of achieving greener air transport, finding new ways to travel, increasing mobility, improving connectivity and reducing congestion.” The feasibility study is expected to take 18 months, and will involve an assessment of the demand for air taxi services in the South West; development of use cases for the technology; and evaluate the integration and impact on the wider transportation network, including the region’s airports, as well as the benefits to cities and residents. It will establish viable markets and businesses cases for these services and seek to understand public perceptions and attitudes to electric vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) aircraft.” One of the British Government’s innovation agencies, Connected Places Catapult, will lead the research into public perception of air taxis, demand etc. Bristol Airport will be acting as the principal support airport.
Atkins to assess plans for electric air taxis in South West England
27 JAN, 2021
BY ROB HORGAN (New Civil Engineer)
Trials could begin as early as 2023, following the award of a £2.5M grant from government to assess the plans.
Image from https://www.vertical-aerospace.com/va-1x/
Atkins will work with Vertical Aerospace and the West of England Combined Authority to assess the feasibility of introducing electric air taxis in the area.
The project was awarded partial funding through the government’s Future of Flight Challenge, which was created to find innovative methods of achieving greener air transport, finding new ways to travel, increasing mobility, improving connectivity and reducing congestion.
The feasibility study is expected to take 18 months, and will involve an assessment of the demand for air taxi services in the South West; development of use cases for the technology; and evaluate the integration and impact on the wider transportation network, including the region’s airports, as well as the benefits to cities and residents.
It will establish viable markets and businesses cases for these services and seek to understand public perceptions and attitudes to electric vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) aircraft.
Atkins advanced air mobility lead James Richmond said: “As we look to the future of travel, it’s now more important than ever that we begin exploring more sustainable methods of transport within our increasingly populated cities.
“Bringing together the experience and expertise from across the consortium, we’re excited to begin developing a fully integrated system concept, using the latest digital innovations. This an important and tangible step towards making Advanced Air Mobility (AAM) a reality, and by demonstrating that we can provide a case for air taxis, we could begin trialling these services as early as 2023.”
Other consortium members include Altitude Angel, AirXOS (part of GE Aviation) and air navigation services provider NATS, which will investigate advanced traffic management solutions and the integration of conventional air traffic control.
Cranfield University will lead on the communication systems required to enable flight, particularly within an urban environment. London-based IT company Neuron will focus on interconnectivity to enable safe and efficient passenger movement.
One of the British Government’s innovation agencies, Connected Places Catapult, will lead the research into public perception of air taxis, the ways this method of travel would be used, and the expected demand on AAM as a service.
West of England mayor Tim Bowles added: “I want to bring the jobs of the future to the West of England and get our region moving.
“This air taxi trial brings both those ambitions together and is a significant step in cementing the UK and the West of England as leaders in air taxis.
“Doing things differently is in our region’s DNA and I’m proud we are once again leading the way on yet another exciting new technology, building on our region’s global reputation as a worldwide aerospace hub and supporting our low carbon objectives for the region.”
Bristol Airport will be acting as the principal support airport. Subsequent input will be provided by other airports in the region to ensure the concept’s transferability across different infrastructure.
Comments on Twitter about this:
Graeme Heyes @GraemeHeyes commented:
So I would encourage communities to keep an eye on this and the location of any proposed heliports. I suspect they will end up in old car parking infrastructure in city centres as car ownership should fall as automated driving-as-service business models emerge.
Legislation nearly always lags behind innovation because of political inertia and money, so the pessimist in me thinks this will start to happen before policy controls it, at which point I suspect we’ve already started making the same mistakes as with airport noise.
I was involved in a funding bid on this kind of stuff (envi impacts) recently so learned a little about it. In the next 20 years or so people will take a self driving uber car to the city, get on a self-flying car to the airport, and get on a plane to go on holiday. #noisey
The race to build a flying electric taxi
By Ben Morris – Technology of Business editor (BBC)
22 October 2019
Article with lots of pictures at https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-50040149
For any commuter the prospect of being whisked to and from work in a fraction of the time it usually takes is pretty irresistible.
No traffic jams, no train delays and no cold platforms – what’s not to love?
This is the promise of more than a hundred companies developing electric vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) aircraft.
Like helicopters they don’t need a runway, but unlike helicopters they promise to be quiet and cheap.
Yet the dream seems to be some way off. Industry experts say that taxi services using such aircraft won’t be a mass-market phenomenon until the 2030s.
So what is the hold up?
Can they fly far enough?
There are good reasons why the eVTOL industry is focussing on short hops in and out of cities.
Firstly, there are plenty of potential customers in cities; secondly, eVTOL aircraft can’t fly very far.
Most have batteries that can allow them to fly for around half an hour. In the case of Germany’s Volocopter this amounts to a range of about 22 miles (35km) with a maximum speed of around 68mph (110km/h).
On Tuesday it made a test flight over Singapore’s Marina Bay.
Other companies have boosted range by adding wings. So companies like Germany’s Lilium have an aircraft which can take off vertically but can also tilt its wings and engines and fly more like a regular plane. Lilium expects its aircraft to have a range of 185 miles (300km).
Vertical Aerospace in the UK is also working on eVTOL with wings that it hopes will fly more than 100 miles.
But the industry would still dearly love to see a breakthrough in battery technology which would make all these prototypes much more useful aircraft.
If you are planning an air taxi service then you are going to need somewhere convenient for your aircraft to take off or land, and also charge or swap their batteries – what the industry likes to call vertiports.
That presents several challenges.
In big cities space is already limited. Heliports already exist but might not be ideally located or able to cope with extra traffic.
Some buildings might have suitable rooftops, but they are likely to be expensive to use.
Even if sites are identified, they would still need to comply with planning regulations, which don’t even exist yet.
One of the big selling points of eVTOL aircraft is that they are relatively quiet. While hovering they should make just a quarter of the noise of a helicopter, according to Michael Cervenka, a senior executive at Vertical Aerospace.
And while flying forward “you wouldn’t hear them at all”, he says.
So that might ease the concerns of those living near a vertiport, but you could still imagine people objecting to a continuous stream of air traffic.
And just one accident might create widespread opposition to having landing zones in heavily populated areas.
How safe is safe?
Aviation regulators in Europe and the US are currently working out the standards they want these new aircraft to meet.
Once agreed an eVTOL aircraft is likely to go through years of testing before it meets them, a process likely to cost hundreds of millions of pounds.
“Most eVTOL manufacturers I have been talking to are trying to get certification by 2023,” says Darrell Swanson, who runs his own consultancy specialising in the eVTOL industry.
In their favour, electric aircraft are much simpler than helicopters or passenger jets, so mechanically there is much less to go wrong.
“We don’t need great big gear boxes and things like that,” says Steve Wright, an avionics expert, at the University of the West of England.
Several aircraft designs have multiple motors, so they can fly even if one motor fails.
Uber, which has an eVTOL project called Uber Air, says that flying taxi services only need to be safer than driving a car, perhaps twice as safe.
But the public and regulators might expect safety standards closer to those of airlines.
Another question that has not really been answered is how eVTOL aircraft will perform in bad weather.
To save weight they will be very light, which could make flying in windy conditions bumpy or dangerous.
Yet a taxi service that has to shut down on a windy day would not be much use in many places in the world.
Who will monitor these aircraft?
Air traffic control systems already monitor the activities of helicopters over cities and experts says those systems could probably cope with hundreds more eVTOL aircraft.
Many big cities have rivers running through the middle which – with no residents below – make ideal flight paths.
But if eVTOL is going to become a mass market transport system, with thousands of aircraft, then new airspace management systems will have to be put in place.
image captionAvionics expert Steve Wright says simplicity is the big advantage of electric aircraft
That will definitely be the case if the industry meets its eventual goal – aircraft without pilots.
Those aircraft themselves will need be able to sense what is going on around them and identify other aircraft.
“It’s not like all of a sudden we are going to get 5,000 vehicles flying over London on 1 January 2023,” says Mr Swanson.
“There’s going to be a slow build up of traffic over time and that will allow us to prove these systems work properly.”
What will it cost?
The business model of a flying taxi service is yet to be worked out. But it is likely that they will serve short, well-defined routes in and out of cities.
Uber Air believes that such services will become “an affordable form of daily transportation for the masses, even less expensive than owning a car.”
However, to begin with, such services will target richer customers who are prepared to pay a premium.
“It’s the same old story, there will be early adopters with lots of money who will pay over the odds,” says Mr Wright.
“The hop from the top of an expensive area in the City of London out to Heathrow or something like that would be incredibly valuable.”