Urban air taxi development continues as UTM frameworks evolve

01 March 2019
Volocopter 2X, on display in October 2018 at an urban mobility summit in Paris. Source: Getty Images

Efficient and safe methods for managing low-level UAV operations over populated areas are essential

Flight test programmes are being prepared for urban air taxis, while work continues on unmanned air system (UAS) traffic management projects.

The CityAirbus electric vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) vehicle, initially to include a human pilot but ultimately expected to operate as an unmanned taxi when regulations allow, has completed powered ground tests. We are expecting a first take-off in the coming weeks,” company officials informed Jane’s .

CityAirbus is one part of Airbus’ multipronged approach to air mobility. In 2017, its Silicon Valley unit A3 launched an unmanned traffic management (UTM) project called Altiscope. Last year, a report on the Altiscope project entitled Blueprint for the Sky: The Roadmap for the Safe Integration of Autonomous Aircraft set out how UTM could work but as yet Airbus is not involved in public UTM trials. However, in February 2019 it released a survey showing that almost half of the general public favours urban air mobility (UAM).

A more mature UAM concept is the Volocopter two-passenger, all-electric autonomous air taxi. Multiple flight tests have been conducted, and on 12 February Volocopter and Frankfurt Airport operator, Fraport, announced they will develop concepts for ground infrastructure and operations.

“We want a blueprint for all airports worldwide,” Volocopter co-founder Alex Zosel told Jane’s . He added that Volocopter expects test flights at Frankfurt will take place in the next three years, and the company will release videos when they announce the results. While Fraport declined to comment, it has tested unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) operations scenarios in its FraDrones programme.

UTM in the UK

In January 2019, the UK Department for Transport (DfT) announced a UTM framework research project involving Altitude Angel, ANRA Technologies, Cranfield University, NATS, the Satellite Applications Catapult (TSC), and Thales UK.

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