Passengers in Europe are likely to be flying in electric-powered air taxis by the middle of the decade, according to the EU’s chief aviation safety regulator, but fully autonomous operations are likely to be some time away. Patrick Ky, executive director of EASA, presented the results of a study into public attitudes toward urban air mobility (UAM) services, saying that given the good progress , he believes economic use of such aircraft will likely begin in the 2024-2025 timeframe. EASA is in the process of certifying some of the vehicles that will be used for UAM and the certification target is 2024. Lilium and Volocopter, both based in Europe, hope to bring their electric vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) aircraft to market in that timeframe.
EASA predicts that each vehicle’s certification will take four to five years, though the unfamiliarity of some start-up companies with EASA processes can cause delays in their aircraft’s approval. A dozen projects have applied for EASA certification, including delivery drones in the list. However, the time it takes to certify these vehicles would be shorter and EASA will likely consider “lower safety targets for goods drones,” especially if they will be flying over unpopulated areas. EASA Executive Director believes it will be several years before passenger flights without a pilot are conducted. There is no timeframe and autonomous air taxis will take at least five more years. EASA’s Drones program manager Maria Algar Ruiz considers that pilots of UAM vehicles will be expected to hold a commercial pilot license – whether for fixed-wing or rotary-wing aircraft, but this will change with technology improvement.
EASA surveyed nearly 4,000 people in six cities earlier this year to better understand public perceptions of this new sector: Barcelona, Budapest, Hamburg, Milan, Paris, and the Oresund area on the Danish-Swedish border, which includes Copenhagen. Over 80% of those respondents had a positive outlook about UAM operations and 71% willing to try out such vehicles. The findings will be used to shape the agency’s regulations in line with citizens’ perceptions and expectations. Based on the survey results the public expectations are passenger operations to be as safe as regular commercial air travel. The majority of survey respondents consider the emergency medical services and the inter-city flights as beneficial to society, as long as those flights are accessible.
EASA would not be in control of issuing individual operator licenses, deciding permissible roads or determining the position of ground infrastructure.