As the world population continues to grow exponentially, cities around the world, particularly in third world countries are growing more polluted on a daily basis. With the rise in urbanisation and increased need for services, urban commuting and cargo transport have never been more in demand.
Looking to facilitate growing transport needs whilst limiting the human carbon footprint, electric power is the direction the world is set to go. Whilst the realm of cars has exploited electric technology, aviation lags behind, but many firms are set to make electric flight a reality in the near future.
eVTOL: Electric Vertical Take-Off and Landing Aircraft
Whilst many firms such as Airbus and Embraer have large electric passenger aircraft on the drawing board for the distant future, the technology may make its way to cities sooner than imagined.
eVTOL aircraft could revolutionise urban transport due to the fact that as the name implies, it operates in the same manner as helicopters, without the need for runways whilst also providing clean and quiet transport solutions that would be well suited for densely populated urban centers.
For now, Airbus has conceptualized the Vahana and CityBus aircraft, single-seat and four-seat models respectively. Whilst Boeing is joining forces with Porsche to create their own version of urban eVTOL aircraft although in their case it is being dubbed as the world’s first flying car. Uber joined the race in 2016 with Uber Elevate, although the company was eventually sold in 2020 to Joby Aviation. Together with Toyota, they are looking to create an air taxi with a capacity of five passengers able to reach a top speed of 322km/h covering a range of 240km.
Away from Europe, the Chinese firm EHang has been heavily invested in urban flying technology and has successfully tested their two-seater eVTOL aircraft multiple times carrying passengers in urban environments. EHang is also considering implementing its drone transport applications in Japan by 2023.
Overcoming the Challenges
Whilst the concept of flying vehicles in the urban landscape is exciting to say the least, there are a plethora of difficulties to overcome before the technology can be fully implemented in city skies. The first concern is safety, with extensive testing needed to ensure that the vehicles will be fit for passenger use along with enveloping the necessary accident and malfunction scenarios and their procedures.
At the same time, passengers that will be given the choice to ride air taxis will have to be psychologically prepared for the experience before it can be integrated into society. This will entail PR campaigns along with their gradual introduction to ease their presence for both passengers as well as pedestrians on the ground. Meanwhile, urban planners will be burdened with the task of having to construct the necessary infrastructure to accommodate for the boarding and drop-off points that will be needed for air taxis navigation.
Otherwise, governments must prepare themselves for licensing procedures, although this only applies to manned vehicles. The question stands whether flyers of eVTOLs will be required to hold pilot licenses or whether a new independent certification will be made for them. This will also come with its own list of airspace rules and regulations that must be formulated before these drones can be handed to the public.
Whilst the above list may give the impression that eVTOL integration will be impossible in cities; it is worth noting that during the course of human development all-new transport technologies, from trains to aviation came with their myriad of problems that were gradually addressed to the point that they have grown to be natural components of the urban scenery known today.
Coming to Africa
As Kenya Airways pioneered drone delivery services with Fahari Aviation, a new subsidiary of the airline – Eve Urban Air Mobility (Eve for short) is teaming with Embraer to test air taxi technology in the Kenyan airspace.
Together with Fahari Aviation, the two subsidiaries plan to unite to create an urban air mobility network whilst Fahari’s experience in drone operation will be used to assist Eve in refining its eVTOL aircraft.
“The creation of disruptive and widely accessible Urban Air Mobility solutions will help democratize mobility by making it more accessible, affordable and giving communities more options,” says Andre Stein, President & CEO of Eve.
Eve has hopes to use air taxis to make direct connections between the Keyan capital and its prominent airport – Jomo Kenyatta International:
“When it comes to the partnership between Fahari and Eve, an air connection between downtown Nairobi and Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (NBO) is high on the list. It’s noted that using these small electric vertical aircraft between the airport and downtown Nairobi will reduce the duration of conventional road trips by up to 90% turning an hour and a half ride into a 6-minute flight” according to an EVE statement.
This move would significantly benefit the country on the business and touristic fronts as arriving passengers are usually met with heavily congested roads during their commute from the airport to the city.
Out of A Movie
While in the past the concept of flying cars was reserved to science fiction and thought impossible, it seems sooner than later this will be the urban dweller’s reality. Meanwhile, aside from giving passengers the joy of flying and lower congestion, eVTOL aircraft will significantly reduce the thick carbon emissions guzzled by cities on a daily basis.