Atea might be one of the first air-taxis to fly commercially

The French startup, Ascendance Flight Technologies, is the latest company to offer a low-emission, VTOL air taxi. At least one company has already agreed to a purchase contract, but with many other startups yet to bring a product to market, is this more likely to be successful?

Atea might be one of the first air-taxis to fly commercially

The French startup, Ascendance Flight Technologies, is the latest company to enter the VTOL Air Taxi arena. Co-founded by former members of the electric fan development team at Airbus, the company’s ‘Atea’ aircraft offers a unique hybrid propulsion technology that promises extended range and simple maintenance. At least one company, Yugo, a private aviation company based in South-East Asia has agreed a purchase contract with Ascendance, which means this startup may be one of the first to bring a VTOL air taxi into regular operation.

Is it a plane? Is it a drone?

At first glance of the ‘Atea’ vehicle almost anyone will notice that it looks like a plane, albeit quite a futuristic one. What makes this aircraft different from a standard plane however is the unique ‘fan-in-wing’ technology and hybrid engine system.

Eight rotors are set inside the tandem wings, giving the Atea aircraft the power to land and take-off vertically, while the fixed wings and tractor propellers allow the aircraft to operate like a conventional fixed-wing plane during level flight. The vehicle uses a hybrid engine configuration running on batteries and a kerosene motor. What all of this means is that unlike many startup-designed passenger drones and VTOL designs, Ascendance Flight Technologies has created an aircraft with a range of approximately 400km that is four times as quiet as a helicopter and that can cut carbon emissions by 80% compared to a regular helicopter. 

By comparison, the Volocopter has a maximum range of 65km, with the proposed ‘City Airbus’ having a range of 80km. Fundamentally, this makes the Atea essentially a next-generation, low emissions VTOL airplane, rather than a futuristic, inner-city air-taxi.

Where does Ascendance Flight Technologies stand?

As with all futuristic, electrically-driven VTOL start-ups, Ascendance Flight Technologies has many hurdles to overcome before it will be seen in the air. Passenger and air traffic safety remains at the forefront of concerns about small, electric VTOL aircraft with regulations for air traffic, especially in cities, and even more so if autonomous, still under development.

Because the Atea aircraft is more plane than taxi, it is likely that it will operate out of traditional airports, at least initially. This means fewer regulations need to be met before they can operate. However, the first of their hybrid-electric VTOLs is set to be delivered in 2025, which is the same year that production is scheduled, giving the company little leeway for delays.

Haven’t we been here before?

If it seems like flying taxis have been three years away for the last ten years, then you are not alone. Airborne VTOL taxis flying through the city has been a staple within science fiction for decades, but we might be getting closer. Investment in advanced aerial mobility (as the sector is known) has more than tripled in 2021, with analysts expecting the sector to be worth £2.7 trillion by 2050.

However, those who follow the sector will know that many flying taxi and VTOL aircraft startups have been heavily invested in already, with none currently running. Names like Volocopter, Joby Aviation, and even City Airbus, a subsidiary of the multinational aircraft manufacturer, have yet to bring a product to the market. And there is good reason to be skeptical. As Richard Abbott, co-owner of Abbott Aerospace Canada said, “when you see a program that combines electric propulsion with eye-popping production numbers, it is almost certain that the universe is getting ready to create some very disappointed investors.”

However, if the Atea aircraft can enter the market as a plane first and prove that the efficient and sustainable hybrid propulsion technology works, then Ascendance Flight Technology could quickly become a major player in the sector.

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