There is less time to catch a taxi to heaven. The public entity Enaire has announced that it is participating in two European projects to bring aerotaxis demonstrations to Barcelona and Santiago de Compostela in 2022. Its director Ángel Luis Arias explained it last Tuesday at the virtual congress The future is waiting for us: the new urban air mobility, a meeting in which the challenges of urban air mobility were discussed. According to company sources, the flights managed by Enaire in Galicia and Catalonia will use large platforms, will travel through open spaces and, depending on the regulatory development reached at that time, will embark people or test dummies.
In any case, they will not be the first taxis to occupy Spanish airspace. The State Aviation Safety Agency (AESA) intends to test half a dozen companies with air taxis in 2021, and some private initiatives have already taken advantage in the development of flying vehicles. This is the case of Tecnalia, which in mid-July 2019 launched a taxi with a capacity for one passenger – a maximum of 150 kilos – and a range of 15 kilometers. Since that test at the Donostia Arena, the company has made progress in controlling the aircraft to achieve greater stability, precision and efficiency. “We are working on these three lines with more advanced control algorithms and applying reinforcement learning techniques,” explains Joseba Lasa, a researcher at the company, who also announces: “We have just been approved for a European project in which we will fly together with Ehang in three European cities (Santiago de Compostela, Cranfield and Amsterdam) in the next two years. “Boeing and Airbus also participate in this project.
The second air taxi in Spain should have started in summer. The Llíria City Council and the Chinese company Ehang signed a collaboration agreement at the beginning of the year to test an air taxi in the 5G-equipped corridor of the Carrases industrial estate, but this collaboration will hardly be executed before 2021. “Although the team is already in place in Spain and the CEO of Ehang in our country asked us to come now in November, we have not been able to specify a date to speed up the procedures because in this context there are other priorities ”, says Manolo Civera, mayor of the Valencian town. “This air taxi is similar to those being developed around the world, it has multirotors, takes off and lands vertically and works electronically,” describes Israel Quintanilla, project supervisor and drone expert at the Polytechnic University of Valencia.
Quintanilla explains that the large aviation companies worldwide, that is, Boeing and Airbus, closed 2018 working on real prototypes of aerial cars. The American multinational flew its Boeing NeXt in January 2019, a vehicle with wings – unusual in air taxis – and a fixed front stabilizer. Four months later, Airbus’ Citybus, with a capacity for four passengers, passed its first test by lifting off remotely. “The fact that the two largest aviation companies on the planet have designed their own Urban Air Mobility (UAM) division means that there is a positive trend in the integration of these vehicles. The technology is already in place and the regulations will be in place ”, says the UPV professor.
They reach the cars
Parallel to the air taxi business, the other great beneficiaries of this new market, car brands, are arriving. Rolls Royce has teamed up with Airbus to develop the aforementioned CityAirbus; Audi signed an agreement -extinct- with the same manufacturer to create Pop.Up Next; BMW has teamed up with Alaka’i Technologies to develop Ski Flying Car; Uber has teamed up with Bell Helicopter to launch the Bell Nexus, etc. All companies with extensive experience in the automotive industry that will have to share the sky, if one day the air highways are democratized, with independent operators such as Vocolopter, Lilium or the Spanish Tecnalia.
Be that as it may, aerotaxis will not be able to operate in Europe’s airspace before the year 2023, which is when the European Union plans to approve the regulatory framework that will give the green light to the circulation of the certified category -aerotaxis and drones with dangerous goods. . Until then and as long as the European standard on open and specific categories that comes into force on December 31 does not change, flight tests can only be made in non-urban areas and without people on board. “The certified category that integrates aerotaxis will be at the same level as manned aviation, so you will need an airworthiness certificate – issued in Spain by the National Institute of Aerospace Technology – with which to operate. We have two years of margin to develop the technology “, says Quintanilla,” from then on the air taxis will be a reality. “
The new European regulations divide the devices into three types (open, specific and certified) depending on the operational risk. Flights can be made depending on the risk of the operation. The flights that Enaire will test fall into the certified category, which includes air taxis (as well as commercial aircraft and helicopters).