For aviation enthusiasts, the development of air taxis presents an exciting new mobility option.
The prospect of the electric air taxi has also been greeted as eagerly as in airline boardrooms. Even as the travel industry continues to emerge from the coronavirus crisis, one of Africa’s leading carriers has been embracing the promise of eVTOLs, as it signed a letter of intent for 40 aircraft to be delivered from 2026.
However, for these aircraft to be successful in providing a large impact they need to broaden their appeal.
Eve Air Mobility, the spinoff of Embraer that’s developing an eight-rotor, four-passenger electric aircraft, is in the beginning stages of exploring wildlife protection, local passenger transport, and other applications under a multi-year program with Kenya Airways.
According to sources, Eve and Kenya Airways are “benchmarking” transportation “inefficiencies” to understand how people and goods move around Nairobi and how eVTOLs could be effectively deployed.
“There are so many potential applications, including tourism flights, commuter flights, going to and from the airport, wildlife protection, medical services, and moving cargo,” David Rottblatt, Eve’s vice president of business development, said in an interview.
“There are so many cities in Africa that suffer from the pain point of time loss due to traffic congestion,” Rottblatt said. “Think about how much people suffer just trying to get from point A to point B.”
Eve and KQ are collaborating to research who would operate the eVTOLs or how flights would be conducted for cargo and passenger transportation.
“We’ve done a lot of work studying concepts of operations in the United States, as well as in Brazil, Australia, the United Kingdom, and Japan,” Rottblatt explained. “There’s a lot that we’ve learned from those exercises that we can bring to this working group with Kenya Airways, but I think that there’s so much nuance with any market — especially when you’re introducing a brand new technology. There’s always going to be local, contextual things that need to be taken into account.”
And the lessons in Kenya could also be applied to other African cities and countries, he said. Eve sees several African markets where its eVTOLs could operate.
“Cairo and Lagos are examples,” Rottblatt said. “I think Johannesburg certainly has a lot of potentials, as well as Cape Town. Anywhere where there’s a very obvious need for an alternative solution to public transportation that just can’t seem to fit the bill on its own and also where personal car ownership is a difficulty.”
Questions on the technology
Dozens of companies are spending billions of dollars to make eVTOLs that will operate like air taxis – taking off and landing from what are called vertiports on the tops of buildings, parking garages, or helipads in congested cities.
The eVTOLs promise a faster, safer, and greener mode of transportation – potentially changing the way we work and live.
However, the technology surrounding flight control and electric systems is only now being developed across the entire eVTOL industry. Challenges arise about which type of battery will work best in various eVTOL aircraft—depending on the mission.
Manufacturers have been testing rechargeable lithium-ion battery technology as well as hydrogen fuel cells to learn more about which types can provide the most power most efficiently while remaining as lightweight as possible.
Scientists have also been trying to develop rechargeable batteries with higher energy density in watt-hours per kilogram, which is a key factor in propelling eVTOLs.