Image Courtesy: Eve Air Mobility
The launch of urban air mobility promises to revolutionise the way we travel around cities. But despite it (theoretically) being less than a year away, there are still numerous kinks to work out of the system.
Flexjet is a private aviation company that provides partial ownership and leasing of aircraft. In the UK, it manages a fleet of 11 helicopters that operate primarily around London. Eve, along with developing its own UAM eVTOL, is working on an Urban Air Traffic Management (Urban ATM) system.
Urban ATM is a vital step in introducing eVTOL to urban environments. Anyone familiar with aviation will know the role air traffic management plays in keeping aircraft safe, so its role in urban environments should be fairly clear. In short, it’ll establish flight paths, collision avoidance, and vertiport automation and support.
So, what are the companies actually collaborating on? Eve has used Flexjet’s UK helicopter fleet to simulate its software. The purpose was to see how it works in a real-world setting by shadowing helicopter flights; the helicopters specifically conducted operations unique to eVTOL UAM flights.
The collaboration took place over four days at Flexjet’s Tactical Control Centre at Farnborough Airport. It also included assistance from NATS – the UK’s largest air traffic control services provider – and London Heliport. Together, the companies provided user testing and feedback on the ATM software from a user perspective.
The value this collaboration will have for the industry should be evident in its description alone. UAM has, generally speaking, been mostly theory so far. While numerous companies have tested aircraft and produced very promising results, the supporting software and infrastructure have received less focus.
Testing Eve’s Urban ATM changes this. Without efficient and effective air traffic management, flying eVTOLs around an urban environment could prove to be very risky. After all, it’s a relatively novel concept; current aircraft are mostly kept away from cities due to noise and safety concerns. eVTOL has the potential to change this, but not without ATM services.
Eve’s software is still early in its development cycle, but this collaboration is a necessary move in the right direction. It should hopefully provide valuable data into which services are most important for eVTOLs to operate safely, and to improve the efficiency of flights around urban environments.
However, another useful aim of this test was to see whether Eve’s ATM could provide value to the existing helicopter industry. As an urban air traffic management system, it’s not specifically designed for eVTOL, so it could make helicopter flights around urban space more efficient too. However, we still have a while until the data is processed and published.
An effective air traffic management system will play a vital role in the development of UAM. Although much of the industry’s focus is on eVTOLs, the software that supports them is just as important. Eve’s tests with Flexjet promise good things, and hopefully mean we’re much closer to the rollout of this transformative technology.