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Will the promise of electric flying taxis be fulfilled?

by Noor Zaman
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The Summer Olympics will start in Paris in one year.

Of course, the sportsmen will want to go down in history, but so will Volocopter, an aviation startup.

If everything goes according to plan, its two-person electric plane, VoloCity, will be transporting passengers throughout Paris. Using an electric vertical take-off and landing (EVTOL) aircraft, it will be the first service of its kind in Europe.

Many businesses around the world are working to create EVTOL planes, which promise to be cheaper, quieter, and emission-free aircraft that can land directly in the middle of cities.

In order to be prepared for the Olympics, Volocopter anticipates receiving approval from the European Aerospace Agency, or EASA, to use its vehicle, the VoloCity, for passenger transport in the coming months.

The chief financial officer of the German corporation, Christian Bauer, states that “everything is ready and set to go for the middle of next year.”

There will be three routes that run from Paris’s city center to its heliport and airports. For sightseeing, the volocopter will also provide round rides.

It took a lot of effort to organize flying routes and landing areas (known as vertiports), which is difficult in a big metropolis like Paris. Volocopter has accomplished a lot in its 12-year history, especially when you consider the technical difficulties involved in creating and obtaining approval for a new aircraft.

However, some would contend that Volocopter and its competitors face their toughest obstacles yet. They will need to demonstrate that there is a demand for their aircraft in the upcoming years.

The largest issue is still with batteries. EVTOL aircraft’s economic benefits over helicopters, trains, and cars are limited by their continued weight and expense, which also reduces their range.

The VoloCity’s range is 22 miles, which is enough for quick city hops but not very far when compared to a helicopter’s range.

The difficulty is acknowledged by Mr. Bauer: “What is holding us back right now is the battery technology, which all of our peers are working on right now.”

According to him, more affordable, powerful batteries will become available, enabling Volocopter to create a larger aircraft that can provide services at a reduced cost.

We’ll start out with more expensive costs that are comparable to helicopter segment pricing. When we have a four- or five-seater vehicle in place, we will then gradually descend with a large step, he adds.

The German company Lilium has previously created a larger EVTOL. It is a sophisticated-looking vehicle with seating for up to six people.

Lilium employs 30 electric jets that can be angled simultaneously to switch between forward flight and vertical lift in place of rotors like the Volocopter. It anticipates receiving EASA certification in 2025.

According to Lilium, there could be a sizable demand for an airplane that can provide connections across crowded cities or services where rail connections are insufficient.

“We wouldn’t want to compete when you have an excellent train link at a reasonable cost. According to Lilium CEO Klaus Roewe, “We step in when there is no infrastructure and it is hard to establish infrastructure.

He cites an agreement that Shenzhen Eastern General Aviation (Heli-Eastern), which aims to purchase 100 Lilium aircraft, announced in June.

In the Greater Bay region of China, which encompasses Hong Kong, Shenzhen, and Macao, Heli-Eastern operates air links. It can be a “nightmare” to move around because of the mountains, numerous islands, and peninsulas, according to Mr. Roewe.

Lilium, like Volocopter, is counting on advances in battery technology to increase the competitiveness of its aircraft.

Although Mr. Roewe claims that there is still “uncertainty” regarding battery pricing, he is optimistic that both prices and capacity will decrease. He believes that the advancements gained in automotive batteries can benefit the EVTOL sector.

Since the manufacturing process is the same for all automobile batteries, there is no justification for our batteries to cost more, according to Mr. Roewe.

Despite their anticipation, several analysts have reservations regarding the battery aspirations of the EVTOL sector.

According to Bjorn Fehrm, who has a background in aeronautical engineering and has flown combat planes for the Swedish Air Force, “They [EVTOL aircraft] actually have a very special battery set, that’s a very low production and very expensive production, and will not reach high volumes any time soon.” He is currently employed by aeronautical consultancy Leeham.

Mr. Fehrm makes the point that EVTOL planes use their batteries far more fast for takeoff and flight than a car does.

The airplane would also need to be charged quickly in order to be economical. According to Mr. Fehrm, the battery suffers greatly from the quick charge and discharge, necessitating a different and more costly method than that of a car.

He does anticipate advancement, but by the end of this decade, batteries will likely only be “twice” as good.

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