German startup Volocopter says its multicopter electric vertical-takeoff-and-landing (eVTOL) air taxi can offer the majority of inner-city and airport shuttle services in more than 90% of its Top 100 target cities. The company details its approach to urban air mobility in a new white paper.

Volocopter is an early mover in the nascent urban air taxi market, scaling up multicopter drone technology to produce a relatively simple vehicle that would be easier to certificate but with lower speed and range than more complex eVTOL designs that change configuration to transition between vertical and forward flight.

The white paper, by Volocopter chief technology officer Jan-Hendrik, acknowledges the vehicle is simple, but says it will have safety levels equivalent to commercial aircraft with low noise and sufficient range to service the majority of likely air-taxi routes within megacities.

The Volocopter has 18 rotors mounted on a branching structure above the cabin. Multiply redundant motors, flight control computers and data networks will enable the vehicle to meet the European Aviation Safety Agency’s (EASA) expected safety standards for small VTOL vehicles, the paper says.

EASA’s proposed special conditions for small-category VTOL vehicles, which Volocopter expects to be finalized this month, would require urban air taxis carrying up to 9 passengers to meet the same 10-9 probability of catastrophic failure as commercial aircraft.

While Uber is targeting a minimum range of 80 km (50 mi.) for its Elevate air taxi service, requiring the speed and range of transitional eVTOLs, Volocopter says its analysis shows most megacities have an urban area spanning less than 30 km and major airports within 30 km of the city center.

As a result, the report says, the Volocopter’s range of 30-35 km will enable it to offer inner-city taxi and airport shuttle services in more than 90% of megacities, while its speed of 80-100 kph (50-60 mph) will provide time savings of at least 50% over ground transportation.

The report argues transitional eVTOLs will require 500-1,000 kW of power and consume 25-50 kWh of energy—the battery capacity of the Tesla Model 3—in just 3 min. during a vertical takeoff or landing. In comparison, it says, the Volocopter can fly 30 km on less than 50 kWh because of its low disk loading.

Because of this relatively low energy consumption, the Volocopter does not require fast charging, or rapid discharge rates, extending battery life and reducing costs, the report says. Volocopter plans to use automated battery swapping between flights, rather than fast charging.

Designed to be autonomous eventually, the two-seat eVTOL vehicle will be piloted initially, and able to carry only a single paying passenger, but Volocopter points out that 70% of trips under 160 km by car today only carry a single occupant.

Graham Warwick