The Future of Advanced Air Mobility

Earlier plans had called for an early iteration of Boeing's Passenger Air Vehicle (PAV) prototype to be ready for test bed operations by 2020 in prospective early-adopted eVTOL urban markets like Dallas and Dubai. However, even before the June 2, 2019, accident during the fifth flight of the prototype being tested by Boeing's Aurora Flight Sciences subsidiary, this goal seemed far-fetched. The prototype only achieved a first flight in January 2019. The preliminary NTSB report into the accident, published on October 1, found that resonant aircraft vibrations had incorrectly actuated the aircraft's "ground mode" which resulted in the motors being shut down. This caused the aircraft to fall to the ground, breaking the aft boom and horizontal stabilizer and causing damage to other parts of the fuselage.

On November 18, while displaying the PAV at the Dubai Air Show, the company confirmed that it intended to resume PAV test flights early in 2020. However, as of September 2020, this had yet to happen, or at least had yet to be publicly confirmed.

Aurora Flight Sciences was started in 1989. It has a strong track record in the development of unmanned aircraft and has been a leading partner in U.S. military programs such as the Global Hawk and Lightning Strike X-Plane. The company was acquired by Boeing in October 2017.

Boeing NeXt has provided almost no information about the PAV's specifications and performance. German automobile group Porsche has been working with Aurora on the PAV prototype. Separately, a team from Boeing NeXt has been working on a Cargo Air Vehicle and Boeing is also the majority shareholder in the Wisk joint venture with Kitty Hawk that is working on the Cora passenger eVTOL.

In September 2020, Boeing announced the closure of the Boeing NeXt unit. The company said that Aurora would continue to be a subsidiary of the Boeing group.

Timeline

test flight

The Passenger Air Vehicle made its first flight on January 22, 2019 at the Manassas, Virginia, headquarters of Boeing subsidiary Aurora Flight Sciences.

Outlook

Our objective assessment of this program’s probable success.

FutureFlight assesses the probability of success for a new aircraft program by considering the following criteria:

  • Total investment funds available in proportion to the anticipated cost of getting an aircraft certified and in service
  • A company’s in-house capability (in terms of numbers of engineers, technical staff, and customer support teams)
  • The past experience of the company and its senior leadership in developing aircraft
  • The caliber and past experience of key program partners
  • Whether key aircraft systems have been selected and are available for use
  • Whether the preliminary design review has been completed
  • Whether the design for the full-scale prototype has been completed
  • Whether the type certification process has been formally initiated with an appropriate regulator
  • Whether the company has achieved a first flight with a full-scale prototype
  • The number of hours logged in a flight test program
  • Whether type certification has been achieved
  • The number of orders and commitment received for the aircraft
  • Whether the company has adequate facilities to begin series production of the aircraft
Our Methodology

At face value, an aerospace group of Boeing's caliber would be viewed as more than capable of bringing a new eVTOL aircraft to market, assuming this is truly a business priority. Similarly, its Aurora Flight Sciences subsidiary would seem to have just the right sort of engineering pedigree to accomplish the task. However, quite apart from the set back of the PAV prototype's June 2, 2019, crash, there are wider questions about where Boeing goes next in this sector. That said, there was good news on November 18, 2019, when a spokesperson for Aurora said that it intends to resume PAV test flights early in 2020.

Firstly, on June 25, 2019, Boeing NeXt and Kitty Hawk announced a strategic partnership around Kitty Hawk's Cora eVTOL program. Very few details were included, but it appears that Cora may effectively become a Boeing NeXt program going forward (especially since details about Cora no longer appear on the Kitty Hawk company. website). Boeing NeXt vice president and general manager Steve Nordlund said that working with Kitty Hawk "brings us closer to our goal of safely advancing the future of mobility."

Secondly, the wider Boeing group has been reeling from major issues such as the long-running grounding of its 737 Max narrowbody airliner in the wake of serious accidents. Quite apart from the reputational blow inflicted by Boeing's handling of the issue, the group has acknowledged possible costs as high as $5 billion. This may raise questions as to whether other planned investments by the group might have to be curtailed.

Boeing Passenger Air Vehicle Models

Boeing Passenger Air Vehicle Specifications

Optionally-piloted vtol Lift + Cruise

Performance

  • Passenger Capacity
    n/a
  • Range
    n/a
  • Cruise Speed
    n/a
  • Powerplant Type
    multi rotor
  • Power Source
  • Endurance
    n/a
  • Max Altitude
    n/a
  • Takeoff Distance
    n/a
  • Landing Distance
    n/a
  • Empty Weight
    n/a
  • MGTOW
    n/a
  • Payload Weight
    n/a

Dimensions

  • Length
    n/a
  • Width
    n/a
  • Height
    n/a
  • Wingspan
    n/a

The Passenger Air Vehicle (PAV) has been developed by experienced unmanned aerial systems manufacturer Aurora Flight Sciences, which was acquired by Boeing in October 2017. The company is now operating as part of the Boeing NeXt advanced technologies division. The PAV made a first flight in January 2019, and photos of this event revealed a design with four two-bladed propellers to provide vertical lift and a five-bladed pusherprop at the rear. During its fifth flight, on June 4, 2019, the PAV prototype crashed, with Boeing reporting "minor damage" to rear of the fuselage.

On November 18, 2019, a spokesperson for Aurora said that the company aims to resume flight testing early in 2020. The company has yet to provide any further details about the aircraft's projected performance and specifications. The timeline for entry into service also is unknown.

Separately, Boeing NeXt is developing a Cargo Air Vehicle with a 500-pound payload. A prototype made a first flight in early 2019 and, as of October 3, had made more than 90 flights at speeds of up to 23 mph.