Boeing NeXt, which leads Boeing’s urban air mobility division, worked together with Boeing subsidiary Aurora Flight Sciences to design and develop the electric Vertical Takeoff and Landing (eVTOL) aircraft. The company successfully tested the aircraft’s autonomous functions and ground control systems of its autonomous Passenger Air Vehicle (PAV) on 22nd January, 2019.
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The test involved vertical lift off, hover, and landing operations. Boeing has progressed from the design concept to the first flight test within one year and it will be interesting to see how the company progresses to the next stages of flight testing. The next stages will be crucial as they will test the transition from hover to forward flight. The company has a long way to begin, however, this test is a stepping stone towards establishing and commercializing the concept of urban air mobility. Boeing being one of the market leaders in the aviation industry, with its extensive experience and resources, the company is a strong prospect to turn this vision into reality.
According to Vaibhav Dixit - Associate Vice President : Aerospace & Defense, at MarketsandMarkets™, The passenger air vehicle is suitable for urban city commute. The all electric engine will help in reducing the carbon footprint and the VTOL technology will support the take-off and landing almost anywhere with greater flexibility. Assuming the favorable regulatory framework, infrastructure development, technology advancements in terms of battery capability and power to weight ratio, and social acceptance, the autonomous passenger air vehicle is expected to be commercialized by 2023.
Impact on Market
Boeing has also been working with regulatory bodies to develop a system for urban air traffic management. Successful tests like these might persuade regulatory bodies to work faster to prepare the framework for the regulations required for certification of the PAVs.
The technology required to integrate the e-VTOL autonomous PAV continues to develop further with successful flight tests to support the developments. Therefore both, the OEMs and regulatory bodies will have to work together to efficiently build the blueprint required for passenger safety and the successful integration of the technology, infrastructure, and regulations.
Successful tests will also increase the confidence of investors in the urban air mobility market. Along with investors, public confidence will be gained via safe flight tests. Public confidence is very important for the market to take off as the general public does not place confidence easily to such large scale changes that could impact their everyday life. Safety, low noise producing technology, and infrastructural changes, among others, will be the parameters required to win public confidence.
Impact on Top Competitors
The first successful test flight of Boeing has placed pressure on competitors in this space. Competitors are looking forward to booked orders from service providers, such as Uber and others leading them to strive hard to prove their concepts.
Boeing along with Bell, Pipistrel, Karem, and Embraer have partnered with Uber for shared air transportation. These companies are pushing towards the testing of their air vehicles for Urban Aerial Mobility.
Airbus, with its substantial experience and resources, has tested its Vahana air taxi and is aiming to commercialize it before any other players. Bell unveiled their scaled prototype of Nexus, which aims to take flight by mid-2020.
Start-ups in this space have been particularly interesting and innovative. Although the eventual goal and application of all air vehicles is similar, the designs and prototypes of these companies are different to each other as compared to conventional commercial aircraft where the basic design framework is similar for all aircraft. These companies might not be direct competitors to Boeing and Airbus in the autonomous aircraft space, however, they are all working toward towards urban air mobility. This has led to companies pushing boundaries with their designs. Successful flight tests like Boeing’s will drive all the companies to integrate their innovative designs into successful flight tests as well as update their designs based on test results. This will further lay the ground work towards the certification and passing of regulations.
Such successful flight tests take a company closer to commercialization. All companies in this market are working towards developing air vehicles that have a balance of innovative design, safety, and efficiency.
There are challenges for the commercialization of urban air mobility. However, strong support from investors, instances of successful test flights from leading players in the industry, and technological advancements from upcoming startups showcases a promising future for urban air mobility. The existing partially autonomous technology can be used as a ladder to further develop the fully autonomous air vehicle, with a full set of regulations for safety.