Electric air taxi planes have generated a lot of buzz in recent years. However, as a relatively new type of technology, many want to know: Are electric air taxi planes safe?
Whether electric air taxis are safe is an open-ended question. The technology behind these planes is new and still mostly untested, leading many experts to hold off on judging the aircraft’s capabilities until more broadly in use. Manufacturers are likely to make changes after receiving feedback from pilots.
One of the things that aviation enthusiasts can expect is to see more attention given to electric aircraft safety as these planes become more common.
Table of Contents
Are Electric Air Taxi Planes Safe? What You Should Know
Electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) aircraft have been under development by over a dozen aviation companies. These aircraft have become so popular that venture capitalists invested over a billion dollars in 2020.
One of the anticipated uses for eVTOLs is flights between suburban and urban areas. These aircraft could be a more affordable, clean, quiet, and fast alternative to helicopters.
How Are Electric Air Taxis Different?
One of the primary differences in how eVTOL aircraft work is how the craft generates lift if the power system fails. When a plane’s engines fail, the wings can provide enough lift to allow gliding for a safe landing.
Helicopters also have the means to generate lift for safe descents and landings. These crafts can accomplish these safer landings through autorotate features on the rotors.
About Distributed Propulsion
Distributed propulsion systems supply all or part of what EVTOLs require for lift. These systems consist of electric motors that drive fans or propellers.
Although some eVTOL models feature wings, these wings have not been designed for landings. Many of these aircraft depend on powered lift systems that make lift impossible in the event of a mechanical failure.
Aviation companies developing air taxi vehicles know their success depends on customer and regulatory confidence. The more confidence these companies can build, the more everyone will benefit in the long run.
What Aviation Companies Are Doing to Make EVTOLs Safe
eVTOL vehicles have the potential to disrupt and change the aviation industry in many ways. However, changes are required to help make the widespread use of these aircraft a reality.
One of the developments that Volocopter, a German-based company, has achieved is effectively demonstrating the safety level to aviation authorities. This safety level has exceeded the safety level of traditional light rotorcraft or fixed-wing aircraft.
The EVTOL technology that Volocopter uses incorporates a propulsion system with 18 rotors and no passive lifting surfaces. These vehicles have a decreased risk of mechanical failure.
How Engine Failures Are Less Likely
Volocopter developers are optimistic that their aircraft will exceed safety standards, even those of larger commercial planes. These vehicles have backup systems to make safe landings possible during motor failure.
In an ideal situation, one or two motors failing are less likely to affect the flight performance. Failure involving three or more motors is less likely.
Wisk Aero, another eVTOL manufacturer, has created an aircraft with two wings that utilize 12 lift fans and a pusher prop. In addition to helping the aircraft glide, the wings also help increase flight performance.
Gliding is helpful in some emergencies but not others. Developers have had to consider different possible failure scenarios to help decide what measures to take when designing new aircraft.
Most eVTOL aircraft have redundant, simple systems without single failure points. The individual power points on many of these motors can compensate for each other in the event of a failure.
Joby’s aircraft have propellers that keep working if one or two motors fail. These propellers can tilt for horizontal or vertical thrust, and the wings allow the plane to glide into a safe landing when necessary.
What is the Approval Process Like for Electric Air Taxis?
Companies that manufacture eVTOLs have system safety analysis processes designed to help evaluate what happens during possible failures. Every element in the system is assessed so developers know what could contribute to a motor failure.
Some of the types of testing in use include ground testing and accelerated life testing. Ground testing involves creating multiple copies of elements running 24 hours a day.
Accelerated life testing involves testing circuit boards at higher temperatures. Another part of this testing involves subjecting the circuit boards to higher vibrations than the boards would encounter in the air.
This type of testing helps ensure that the components can withstand adverse conditions. However, internal testing only tells part of the story with approval.
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), as well as its European counterpart, the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA), are the two most likely to approve these vehicles for passengers first. Both agencies are likely to provide effective frameworks for other regulatory agencies.
Each agency is choosing a different path in how the regulatory processes are handled. These frameworks are part of an ongoing process and will likely evolve as needed.
The FAA’s approach involves frameworks similar to those for conventional aircraft. A different system by the EASA uses specific eVOTL.
The ultimate goal of these companies is to make their vehicles something that passengers feel safe using. If companies meet this goal, as well as satisfy regulators, there is a greater chance of these vehicles achieving more widespread usage.
How safe are air taxis?
Compared to commercial airliners and other aircraft types, air taxis are usually rated as the least safe. Air taxis have more accidents per 100,000 flight hours than other aircraft.
Are eVOTL air taxis safe?
Some models can glide to safety or autorotate if the propeller motors fail. These features provide an advantage for evOTL aircraft.
How high can air taxis fly?
The most recent eVOTL from Wisk has reached 2,000-4,500 ft altitudes.
Are electric air taxis ready for use anytime soon?
Electric air taxis are overcoming more hurdles to widespread usage. Aviation experts are confident that these vehicles will be ready for passenger use sooner than expected.
What disadvantages do flying taxis have?
These planes must qualify as ultralight aircraft to operate in most areas. The planes can carry a limited number of passengers to meet these qualifications.
Are electric air taxi planes safe? Electric air taxis are a work in progress, but experts predict that developers will be able to correct any issues to regulator satisfaction.