Aviation’s electric dreams are fast approaching reality
When the last Farnborough International Airshow took place four years ago, the aviation industry focused more on the concept of a more electric aircraft than on reality. At the 2022 event, where environmental sustainability is one of the major themes, electric aviation will play a much bigger role as some of the most ambitious start-ups will exhibit alongside established traditional aerospace players.
One of the upstarts ranks as arguably the UK’s strongest current prospect in the booming Advanced Air Mobility (AAM) sector. Bristol-based Vertical Aerospace (Stand 41000) is assembling the first full-scale prototype of its four-passenger VX4 eVTOL and aims to begin test flights before the end of this year as it pursues its goal of achieving the British type and simultaneous EASA certification in 2024.
Work at the Filton plant of Vertical Aerospace partner GKN Aerospace is to supply wings and wiring systems alongside the Rolls-Royce aircraft engine group (electric propulsion system), Honeywell Aerospace (controls flight) and Solvay (composite materials). Vertical expects the aircraft to fly over 100 miles and operate at cruise speeds of up to 200 mph.
In December 2021, Vertical completed an initial public offering on the New York Stock Exchange which raised approximately $300 million. The IPO involved a merger with a special purpose acquisition company (SPAC) called Broadstone.
To date, the company has announced tentative sales agreements potentially covering deliveries of 1,350 aircraft with a combined value of $5.4 billion (implying a unit purchase price of $4 million). Commitments have come from high profile customers including Virgin Atlantic (which is planning a network of vertiports in the UK), American Airlines, leasing group Avolon, Japan Air Lines, Gol, Iberojet and Bristow.
The Lilium Jet eVTOL would carry six passengers on flights up to 155 miles at a top speed of 175 mph. An elongated version planned could accommodate 15 people.
Lilium (Stand 1111) aims to offer more range and payload with its eVTOL vehicle, which is now expected to receive type certification in 2025. The initial Lilium Jet model will seat up to six passengers and offer a range of 155 miles at speeds of up to 175 mph, while a later stretched version could accommodate between 10 and 15 seats.
Lilium’s design differs significantly from many lift and cruise configurations being developed by eVTOL developers. Its propulsion system is based on 30 ducted fans, each with its own electric motor, integrated into the wing and the canard.
Last year, the German company also raised funds through a SPAC-backed New York Stock Exchange listing and in June arranged an additional $75 million line of credit with Tumim Stone Capital. In May, it selected Honeywell and Japanese automotive group Denso to supply electric motors. Other partners include GKN, component maker Aernnova and battery technology group Livent.
Before the end of 2022, Lilium’s engineering team aims to agree on the details of its certification program with EASA. It aims to obtain simultaneous approval with the American FAA and the Brazilian agency ANAC within the framework of bilateral agreements with the European Union. Earlier this year, it resumed flight testing with its smaller-scale technology demonstration aircraft in Spain.
Lilium continues to work on scheduled regional service plans in markets such as Florida, where it has partnered with airport and rail group Ferrovial to develop a network of vertiports in cities including Orlando and Miami. Fractional ownership group NetJets, which earlier this year signed the rights to purchase 150 Lilium Jets, plans to get involved in operating Florida services. Other tentative customers include Brazilian airline Azul, which has pledged to supply 220 aircraft for domestic flights.
Even after a business combination and IPO with Zanite Acquisition in May, Brazilian aircraft manufacturer Embraer (Stand C105) remains the majority shareholder of advanced air mobility group Eve. The $377 million raised in this latest eVTOL IPO turned out to be less than expected, as did several others over the past 12 or so months, but Eve characterizes its plans to bring a vehicle to market to four passengers in 2026 as robust and well funded. . The company reported tentative sales agreements, which like all others in the industry appear to be backed by no deposit, for more than 1,800 devices.
According to Embraer, its backing in terms of engineering and certification experience and its global customer support network will prove key advantages for Eve. The company has already agreed on the basis of type certification with ANAC.
So far, however, Eve has revealed very little about the progress of work on her full-scale prototype. In February, co-CEO Andre Stein told a press conference in Singapore that the company would begin flight testing this year and pointed out that it had used a simulator extensively for early development testing.
Like many other eVTOL aircraft pioneers, Embraer advocates for the need to develop a so-called ecosystem to support operations. The company has established multiple partnerships around the world with companies such as Skyports that aim to develop vertiports in cities around the world, including London, Miami and Rio de Janeiro.
Earlier this year, Eve partnered with potential customer Helisul Aviation to conduct a month-long trial for planned urban air mobility services in Rio de Janeiro. Using Helisul’s existing fleet of helicopters, the partners sought to demonstrate how efficient new routes could be established across the sprawling Brazilian city. As it seeks to develop an air traffic management system to meet the needs of eVTOL operations, Eve maintains an advantage through its sister company Embraer Atech, which works directly with the Airspace Control Department of the United States. Brazilian Air Force.
Another major aerospace group committed to supporting the advanced air mobility sector – Airbus (Stand E009) – unveiled plans for the CityAirbus NextGen vehicle in September 2021. The fixed-wing model, which features a V-shaped tail and eight sets of electric motors and propellers, will carry up to four passengers on flights of up to 50 miles at speeds of 75 mph.
The European company’s eVTOL plans support its stated ambitions to certify a hydrogen-powered airliner by 2035 through its ZeroE program. It aims to achieve the first flight with a full-scale CityAirbus prototype in 2023 en route to EASA type certification in 2025.
Vertical-lift aircraft are not the only way to electrify aviation, as several types of fixed-wing aircraft have also entered development. Three years ago, Eviation Aircraft (Stand 1000) introduced its six- to nine-seat Alice aircraft, and the company has made significant changes to the design since then. Input from potential customers and improved propulsion technology led to a redesign that saw a trio of 350kW electric motors replaced by a pair of 650kW units now tail-mounted, instead of be mounted on the wingtips. Sister company MagniX manufactures the motors.
The US-based start-up aims to achieve FAA Part 23 type certification and EASA bilateral approval in 2024. It already holds commitments for 75 planes from New England-based carrier Cape Air, and express delivery giant DHL plans to take an initial dozen units. in a cargo configuration.
ZeroAvia aims to convert existing regional airliners such as the Dornier Do-228 with hybrid-electric systems that use hydrogen fuel cells.
This week’s Farnborough Show will also feature companies with hydrogen propulsion projects. ZeroAvia (Stand 1010) wants to convert existing regional airliners to a hydrogen fuel cell-based propulsion system, starting with a 19-seater in 2024.
Taking a somewhat similar approach, Cranfield Aerospace Solutions (Stand 4530) continues to work with two regional airlines in the UK and Germany to convert nine-seat Britten Norman Islander aircraft to hydrogen. It aims to approve an additional type certificate by 2025, and in the longer term to expand the scope of its technology to power a 100-seat aircraft.
Rolls-Royce (Stand C41160) is also working with Embraer and Scandinavian carrier Wideroe on a joint study for a new zero-emissions airliner. Several propulsion options remain under consideration, including all-electric hydrogen fuel cells and a hydrogen gas turbine. Rolls has also partnered with Italian Tecnam for the development of the P-Volt derivative of its nine-seater P2021 shuttle.
Earlier this year, Rolls-Royce and Honeywell hit 1MW power levels in ground tests of their respective hybrid-electric powertrains. Competing engine manufacturer Safran (Stand B038) supplies versions of its EngineUs electric propulsion systems to aircraft manufacturers such as Bye Aerospace, Diamond and Aura Aero, as well as Chinese eVTOL start-up TCab Tech.