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Brave New of Flight


World 62 Mar/Apr 2021


Juan Plaza is CEO of Juan B. Plaza Consulting, which provides guidance to customers on issues regarding unmanned aircraft and general aviation. Plaza is also a pilot, aerial photographer/mapper, writer, and expert on the emerging commercial drone industry.


Urban aerial mobility (UAM) is one area where Plaza expects commercial drones to proliferate. UAM transportation systems will use highly automated aircraft to transport passengers or cargo at lower altitudes within urban and suburban areas. “For instance, the Uber Elevate UAM initiative is based on the notion that it is far cheaper to fly a four-passenger autonomous or remotely piloted air taxi over New York City’s gridlocked streets than it is to pay for a helicopter ride with an onboard human pilot,” he says. “Anywhere where driving is a problem and helicopters are expensive, AI-controlled air taxis that run on electric batteries will be an affordable and effective alternative.”


For this very reason, Airbus Helicopters has established its own UAM manufacturing division. It is currently working on CityAirbus, an all-electric, four-


seat multicopter demonstrator meant to prove the concept of remotely piloted electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) flight. This prototype conducted its first takeoff in May 2019.


“Urban air mobility is a key element in Airbus’ zero emission strategy,” says Balkiz Sarihan, Airbus head of UAM strategy execution and partnerships. “It is also essential to our long-term strategy of driving the development of ‘techno-bricks’ such as autonomy, connectivity, and fully electric flight that will benefit both traditional helicopters and the future urban air mobility market.


“On the purely technical side of things, we have taken a demonstrator approach to mature the techno-bricks that we will need for a certifiable aircraft,” Sarihan adds. “The result from our tilt- wing Vahana flights have already been analyzed. Testing with our real-sized CityAirbus multicopter vehicle is still ongoing. This allows us to learn a maximum amount about the possible architectures in the shortest possible time.”


California’s Parallel Flight


Technologies (PFT) has a different take on the commercial unmanned


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