Green Technology

Electric VTOL Aircraft — China’s New Technology Lead


China is leading the world in the production and sale of quality electric cars and buses. It looks like it is set to dominate the “low-altitude economic industry,” or eVTOL industry, as well. Want to catch up on eVTOL? Check out these articles.

EVTOL stands for Electric Vertical Take-Off and Landing, and these new aircraft designs are instrumental in a new movement toward Advanced Air Mobility (AAM) and/or Urban Air Mobility (UAM). AAM is the concept and development of infrastructure for a safe, automated air transportation system for passengers and cargo in urban and rural locations. UAM is a subset of AAM and focuses on lower-altitude operations within urban and suburban areas.

Essentially, it is a taxi service operating at low altitude — quicker, safer, cheaper, and less polluting. That’s the dream.

From FutureFlight‘s Jennifer Meszaros we hear that “The Bao’an district of the vast city of Shenzhen in China’s Guangdong province is set to become a hub for advanced air mobility (AAM) services, with its district government now having signed partnership agreements with three eVTOL aircraft developers. Earlier this month, officials there signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with China-based AutoFlight, which is working to bring its Prosperity I aircraft to market. This followed similar alliances recently announced with another Chinese company, EHang, and Germany’s Lilium, which this week published its latest letter to shareholders reporting on the second quarter of 2023.”

The agreement with AutoFlight will result in the establishing of a marketing center and a research and development institute in Bao’an. Bao’an has a population of 4.4 million and is one of the nine districts of Shenzhen. The Shenzhen area has more than 17 million inhabitants.

Driving the 50 miles between Shenzhen and Zhuhai takes up to three hours. In an eVTOL, from Fengfei Airlines (AutoLight’s operational arm), the trip will be cut down to 15 minutes. EHang, Lilium, AutoFlight, and the district government are exploring the potential for eVTOL air services across the Greater Bay Area, which also encompasses Hong Kong, Macao, Zhuhai, and Guangzhou.

The Bao’an district government plans to develop a “low-altitude economic industry.” Six hundred companies are already active in the Bao’an aviation hub in AAM activities in manufacturing and operations.

“AutoFlight has manufacturing operations at Jining in Shandong province and Kunshan in Jiangsu province, as well as a facility in Shanghai. The group also has research and development facilities working on the Prosperity I program in Germany and in California.”

Guangzhou-based EHang is collaborating with Bao’an officials to establish the “Wings of the Bay Area” urban air traffic operations demonstration center and says this could consist of 10 routes by the end of 2023 and will be based in the southern coastal zone of Bao’an. EHang is working on certification for its two-seat, fully autonomous EH216-S eVTOL vehicle with the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC). EHang intends to produce the EH216-S eVTOL in high volumes. EHang also plans to establish a research and development center and maintenance facility in Bao’an.

The Chinese authorities appear to be embracing eVTOL in order to stimulate the unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) industry even further. Currently, it is growing at an annual rate of about 14%. There are now approximately 15,000 UAV companies trading in China, with over 700,000 registered individual UAV owners. Total UAVs registered has reached 1 million and national cumulative annual flights total around 20 million hours.

China is organizing industry and government seminars to facilitate information sharing to strengthen the harmonization and management of low-altitude airspace. The Bao’an district has released its “low-altitude economic industrial plan and has set ambitious targets to establish ground infrastructure by 2025, including more than 100 vertiports. The local government says it will also create more than 50 UAV routes and facilitate 300,000 cargo drone commercial flights annually as it looks to attract leading firms engaged in low-altitude research and development, manufacturing, and operations.

“AutoFlight’s engineering teams in China and Germany are working to achieve type certification for the four-seat Prosperity I model, first with CAAC and then with EASA in Europe (in 2025, the company hopes) and with the FAA. In March, its latest Generation 4 prototype claimed a world record for the longest eVTOL flight on a single electric charge, logging 250.3 kilometers (156.4 miles).”

A cargo carrying version of Prosperity flying is expected to be flying by next year. Trial operations will allow the vehicle to be evaluated before it goes into series production.

AutoFlight claims that its electric aircraft are fully sustainable and silent — ideal for urban operation and the future of mass transport. They are planning to participate in the Paris Olympics next year. “In June, AutoFlight reached an agreement with French partners including airports group ADP to join the Re.Invent Air Mobility exercise that is to be conducted during the 2024 Paris Olympic and Paralympic Games. This will allow it to conduct experimental flights with the Prosperity I during the events in July and August using the Paris-area Pontoise Airport as a base.”

Even my home town of Brisbane is building an eVTOL airport in preparation for the 2032 Olympics. See the video here:

Wisk Aero of California revealed its Generation 6 air taxi — the world’s first electric, autonomous, four-seat eVTOL (electrical vertical take-off and landing) air taxi for passenger transport — last October. The drive from Brisbane to the outer suburbs could be cut from two hours in peak time to approximately 15 minutes.

“We need to be innovative and ambitious if we are going to solve growing congestion issues in our region and improve mobility across South East Queensland by the time the 2032 Olympic and Paralympic Games come around,” Peter Flannery, Mayor of Moreton Bay Region (north of Brisbane) said.

“This is a great opportunity for new and ambitious industries to take off right here in Moreton Bay, which could not only help solve congestion issues, but opens up huge possibilities for jobs, business investment and other opportunities.

“Innovation like this supports our vision for a polycentric city model to have multiple business hubs across the region rather than one singular centre like Sydney and Melbourne which have all become car parks.”

“Advancements in technology, autonomy, and electric propulsion are creating a wave of inspiring inventions which have the potential to change transport forever — the likes of which haven’t been seen since the invention of the car,” Wisk Aero CEO Brian Yutko said.

“A thriving AAM sector will create important economic opportunities and transportation linkages that will help the region develop in a sustainable way,” Catherine MacGowan, Wisk Asia Pacific Regional Director, added.

Another global revolution in the making? Is the world of the Jetsons getting closer? You bet it is — in California, China, Europe and even in my own backyard of Brisbane.


 


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