So far, Airbus and Boeing have been competing over who can build the most aircraft for the biggest number of airlines. Now they are extending that competition to the short-haul market: Both aircraft manufacturers are looking to make faster air transport possible over the coming years – via two very different concepts.
Boeing is basing its idea on a typical airplane: Together with the American startup Zunum Aero, Boeing plans to develop a hybrid commuter aircraft that can carry up to twelve passengers. It is to be driven by two electric motors, with an additional turbine and electric generator installed. The aircraft will reportedly cover a range of up to 700 miles and fly at approximately 340 miles per hour (a little less than 550 kilometers per hour). The market launch of this mini-plane is allegedly planned for 2022.
At the same time, Boeing recently acquired Aurora Flight Sciences, a company which relies on autonomous, battery-powered flight systems. The acquisition is intended to help Boeing build self-piloted air vehicles – both for commercial and military use. Aurora Flight Services will reportedly continue to operate as an independent company after the takeover.
Airbus is working on a different concept. A battery-powered air taxi is due to make its maiden flight at the end of 2018, as was announced in a recent company press release . The appearance of the CityAirbus is reminiscent of an oversized drone and is intended to transport up to four people. It takes off and lands vertically like a helicopter and is designed to bring passengers in major cities quickly to important locations like train stations or airports.
The first, on-ground tests of the CityAirbus were carried out without any human intervention. The first flights however will be remotely piloted. For the long term, Airbus – like Boeing – wants to rely on self-piloted aircraft. The first taxiplane is being designed to reach up to 120 kilometers per hour, and the first test of the propulsion systems was successful, according to company reports.
The winner in the race for aerial superiority remains to be seen. One thing however is clear: Airbus and Boing aren't the only ones. The startup company Lilium Aviation just recently collected USD 90 million for its planned electro-jet. Just like Airbus and Boeing, the Munich-based company plans to use these funds to develop new transportation concepts. And just last week , Dubai successfully performed a five-minute flight with a drone-type vehicle which was developed by German startup Velocopter. Meanwhile, just a few months ago the taxi competitor Uber held a three-day summit on air taxis and is planning to conduct its first tests by 2020. The race to build the first air taxi is thus more than just a two-company affair.