Silicon Valley Airbus wants to create VTOL prototype by 2017 with commercialization by 2020 and eventual volumes 100 times more than helicopters

The Silicon Valley outpost of Airbus Group aims to redefine the future of flight. The mission A³ is to build the future of flight now, by disrupting Airbus Group and its competitors before someone else does.

Project Vahana started in early 2016 as one of the first projects at A³ (pronounced “A-cubed”), the advanced projects and partnerships outpost of Airbus Group in Silicon Valley. At Vahana, they are passionate about personal flight. The aircraft we’re building doesn’t need a runway, is self-piloted, and can automatically detect and avoid obstacles and other aircraft. Designed to carry a single passenger or cargo, they’re aiming to make it the first certified passenger aircraft without a pilot. We aim to fly a full-size prototype before the end of 2017, and to have a productizable demonstrator by 2020.

Vahana sits at the convergence of trends in urban demographics and rapid improvements in batteries, advanced sensors, mass-produced lightweight composite structures, and more.

Today, many of the technical and regulatory challenges to scalable, affordable flight are trending favorably:

  • Battery safety and energy density are now adequate for airborne applications.
  • Low-cost, reliable avionics are becoming broadly available, leveraging decades of unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) development.
  • Mature obstacle detection and avoidance technology can enable safe aircraft takeoff and landing, and provides reliable collision avoidance in flight.

Recent advances in automated composite manufacturing and assembly show that small, lightweight vehicles can be produced at high volumes and significantly lower costs than traditional aerospace methods have previously allowed.

While “many critical subsystems” have been developed or procured, much of the crucial work for the plane is incomplete. Chief among these concerns is energy—specifically, the batteries that will power Vahana in the air

One thing Airbus does not believe it will have to worry about is a market. Uber has declared its interest in the VTOL market, and Airbus believes that they can supply the tech while the ride-sharing service provides the customers. “You quickly realize that the potential demand corresponds to about 100 times the yearly production of Airbus Helicopters,” says Jörg Müller from the Airbus Group’s corporate development department, speaking to Forum. “This would only require replacing one out of a hundred ground taxis.”

There are about 60,000 to 100,000 helicopters in the world. One hundred times would be 6 to 10 million.
There are about 1.3 billion cars in the world. There are a few million taxis and ride sharing ground vehicles.

Airbus is also working on a larger flying vehicle deemed CityAirbus that could transport multiple people.”

SOURCES – Project Vahana, Airbus SV