The Future of Advanced Air Mobility

Airbus Commits to eVTOL Development Despite Ending Work on E-Fan X Hybrid-Electric Aircraft

Airbus says it will continue developing its plans to build eVTOL aircraft for urban air mobility applications, despite the recent cancellation of its joint E-Fan X hybrid-electric aircraft program with Rolls-Royce. Flight testing of the CityAirbus multicopter is set to resume at the Airbus Helicopter facilities at Manching in southern Germany as soon as Covid-19 lockdown restrictions permit, a company spokesman confirmed on May 5.

The two-seat CityAirbus made its first untethered flight in late 2019. Like the earlier single-seat Vahana tiltwing eVTOL, it is intended as a technology demonstrator to provide data that will inform Airbus’s eventual plans to develop a production aircraft.

In late April, Airbus and aircraft engine manufacturer Rolls-Royce announced that they are ending development work on the E-Fan X technology demonstrator, which was based on a BAE 146 regional airliner. The project was launched in 2017 as part of a long-term effort to develop a hybrid electric commercial aircraft, starting with the replacement of one of the 146’s four turbofan engines with a 2MW electric motor.

For the E-Fan X project, Rolls-Royce developed a hybrid-electric power generation system built around one of its AE2100 gas turbines driving a 2.5MW generator and a 3,000V power electronics and electric propulsion unit. According to the UK-based group’s chief technology officer, Paul Stein, this represented the largest-scale hybrid-electric propulsion system yet developed for an aircraft.

Announcing a 49 percent decline in operating profit and a 15 percent dip in revenues for the first quarter of 2020 on April 29, Airbus CEO Guillaume Faury made a point of saying that the decarbonization of aviation remains a key research and development priority for the European group. Meanwhile, Airbus is reducing capital expenditure for this year by around $761 million.

Airbus has previously indicated that flight testing of the CityAirbus would likely be complete by the end of 2020, although this timeline may now have to be pushed back because of delays associated with the Covid-19 pandemic. The company has not published a timeline for developing its first production eVTOL model, but it appears to view this as a longer-term project that may well run through to the second half of the current decade.