6 projects that are taking air travel to new heights
When the idea of cities was born, it was crucial to be close to water and rivers. Then, it was important to have well-developed rail systems for trains. For the last century though, the need for well-developed airports has been the centre of attention. With the rapid development of eVTOL (electric vertical take-off and landing) airships, aviation is taking its next step without significant infrastructural changes.
By ERIK SEDIN
This is part one of four from our mobility special that was originally published in Scandinavian MIND Issue 2 — The Great Tech Infusion in July 2021. The special investigates the modern-day traveller’s need to address the four pillars of transportation: time, price, comfort, and sustainability. We have listed the most interesting players within road, rail, air, and sea — from established companies to exciting start-ups.
Back in 2014, a Swedish aviation company had a clear vision to become a sustainable airline. Most airlines would look at changing the oil-dependent aeroplane motors to electric or hydrogen versions, but Ocean Sky thought a little differently — they didn’t want to build a plane at all. How do you travel by air with maximum range and energy efficiency? With an airship, obviously.
Lighter-than-air (LTA) technology could be the future solution to luxury air travel, according to Ocean Sky. An airship can save 90 % of the energy used compared to an aeroplane, and the remaining 10 % can be fossil-free.
— I have been a part of the aerospace industry for the last 46 years. An airship can carry a huge amount of payload to great efficiency and land anywhere. We can operate in areas without infrastructure and civilization, and our first expedition to the North Pole will prove that travel and transportation by air can be sustainable – truly sustainable in the essence of the word, says COO Kim Krogtoft.
The maiden trips, planned for spring 2023, are luxury cruises from Svalbard to the North Pole. The eager explorer can sign up for the two-day round trip now, and the 2,000,000 SEK (€200,000) reservations include private en-suite bedrooms and horizon-to-horizon views in the 98-metre long airship.
It is only fitting that the biggest taxi company in the world is looking to launch electric air taxis. And when such a big-time player throws its hat in the ring, things reach new heights fast. Uber Elevate has acquired Joby Aviation to integrate their respective services into each other’s apps. This means that you could order a traditional Uber from your house, which automatically drives you to an Uber Elevate launch pad where your air taxi awaits. When you land, an Uber car is obviously ready to pick you up. Door-to-door travel will be breathtakingly fast with Uber Elevate, and it will also be here soon.
Joby Aviation says they will operate their air taxis by 2023, much thanks to Uber’s continuous financial support and investments. The zero-emissions aircraft can transport four passengers and a pilot with a range of 240 kilometres per charge, and a top speed of 320 km/h.
Excitingly enough, heaps of eVTOL aircrafts are being developed and constructed in all corners of the world today. We could fill up all pages in this magazine with various models and concepts if we wanted to, so cherry-picking a few was a delicate deed. However, the radically different U.S. Navy and U.S. Air Force backed Talyn aircraft has to get a mention.
The aircraft disassembles into two parts mid-flight. A large drone attaches and releases a passenger aircraft from above, making for vertical take-off and landing. The drone uses its own battery to lift the passenger eVTOL and when it reaches sufficient flight level and speed, the aircraft is released. The drone then automatically returns to its base where it recharges for another lift or incoming flight. Passengers can then schedule a pick-up point where they please, and the plane and drone duo meets them there. This unique technology allows for three times farther flights than its competitors, with a range of 500 kilometres, a payload of 450 kilos and a top speed of 320 km/h.
American co-founders and pilots Jamie Gull and Even Mucasey have 11 years of engineering experience at SpaceX between them, so you could say that Talyn is in good hands when it comes to mid-air separation and docking of vehicles. Any concrete launch dates are not specified, though.
Swedish healthtech startup Everdrone offers more than just mobility as a service, they save lives as a service. With the help of an autonomous drone and a thirty-metre long winch, you’ll receive a user-friendly heart-starer at your doorstep.
Everdrone deploys autonomous drones equipped with Automated External Defibrillators (AEDs), that can reach a scene of emergency minutes before the ambulance does. In the case of a cardiac arrest collapse, the chance of survival decreases by 10% with each minute that passes, so sending the Everdrone on its way the second a patient calls for an ambulance can be the difference between life and death. Everdrone is currently a world leader for autonomous drone operations in the health field. Sweden’s national emergency call centre SOS Alarm and the Centre for Resuscitation Science at Karolinska Institutet (KI) are two close partners for the startup, that is hoping to expand its operations to Demark by the end of this year.
We covered Heart Aerospace in our last issue, but just like couscous and Duran Duran, some things are too good not to repeat again. In 2026, the Swedish aeroplane manufacturer is launching the fully electric ES-19 aircraft, a 19-passenger airliner with a range of around 400 kilometres. But why only 19 seats?
— It’s all about the international aviation certificates! It’s a tougher certification basis for electric planes, and if we would have gone for 20 seats, that one extra seat creates even more difficult certification processes. 20 seats would basically mean the same amount of work as for a jumbo jet, and that means we wouldn’t start flying until 2032… We’re not a tech startup that can just start from a garage, unfortunately, says CEO and founder Anders Forslund.
Even though eVTOL (Electric Vertical Takeoff and Landing) taxis are being built and developed all over the world, the Heart Aerospace ES-19 has a world-leading take on traditional air travel — a way to allow shorter domestic and cross-border flights without the substantial CO2 emissions. Forslund explains that the ES-19 has a Scandinavian approach with a global mindset. The inhabitants of Indonesia fly ten times more than they did 10 years ago, simply because of the many short domestic trips they fly to get around the 13,000 different islands that the country sits on.
What about cold Scandinavian temperatures? Don’t batteries die easily in the cold?
— Batteries work like us humans. If we’re not warmed up and prepared for a big physical test, a sudden and strong start can be too draining. But fortunately, aviation is very planned and follows a schedule. An aeroplane is parked somewhere where it can be taken care of. A car or a phone is used more spontaneously, Forslund says.
Forslund is certain that a flight ticket with the ES-19 will be cheaper than a corresponding jet plane. Partly because the maintenance of jet motors has such a high price, and with subventions and climate premiums, Heart Aerospace can lower the costs even more.
— As a Swedish company we can pave the way for electric aviation on a global scale. Our biggest risk is not being too aggressive and eager — it’s being too passive and too late. But again, we need to handle all these certifications first.
German startup Lilium is flying the European flag for eVTOL companies. In April this year, Lilium announced that they are developing a 7-seater aircraft, rather than the 5-seater version that was initially planned. Lilium has already conducted testing of four generations of prototypes (including the 5-seater) and applied for concurrent type certification with EASA (European Union Aviation Safety Agency) and FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) back in 2018. This means that Lilium will launch the first eVTOL minibus, which is planned to launch commercially in 2024. The jet has a top speed of 280 km/h, and a maximum range of 240 kilometres.
— Transport infrastructure is broken. It is costly in personal time, space consumption, and carbon emissions. We are pursuing our unique electric jet technology because it is the key to higher-capacity aircraft, with lower cost per seat mile while delivering low noise and low emissions, says Daniel Wiegand, co-Founder and CEO.
Read more stories from Scandinavian MIND issue 2 below.