Electric aircraft development rising fast

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A massive increase in the number of hybrid and electric aircraft in development could present the aerospace sector with challenges scaling up test and manufacturing capacity, experts have said.

According to the latest research from consultancy Roland Berger there are 170 electrically-propelled aircraft in development around the world, a number which could rise to more than 200 by the end of 2019. This count only includes development programs which have conducted a first flight after 2010. Around 70% of these are all-electric and 30% are hybrid aircraft.

The largest number of projects in development are electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) aircraft, also known as urban air taxis, and the related infrastructure such as air traffic control and heliports. More than 100 projects to develop and test urban air mobility systems are being run by cities, universities and potential operators.

Deloitte this month also released a summary of a two-year study on eVTOLs which estimates that the market in the USA alone could be worth US$17 billion by 2040. The study, which includes surveys and interviews with aerospace industry members, predicts that the first phase of passenger- carrying eVTOLs will be introduced from 2025 and be piloted.

Robin Lineberger, principal of US and global aerospace and defense at Deloitte Consulting, said production of eVTOLs in large numbers could change the industry significantly. “At tier zero, the fully assembled aircraft, there is not enough capacity to build them. The production volumes for eVTOLs are fundamentally different.

“The market will have to deliver at automotive-like rates of production, not at today’s commercial volumes for either fixed wing or rotary.

“At the lower tiers for existing subsystems, such as fly by wire, hybrid electric engines and detect and avoidance systems, the ramp up will be more straight forward. But it will be a challenge for new types of components, particularly aerostructures, because they may require yet to be developed fabrication techniques to be proven and scaled.”

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