Airbus has taken the wraps off its CityAirbus NextGen prototype, revealing the electric vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) platform at an event in Germany.

Although the configuration of the aircraft has not changed since the programme was disclosed in 2021, it is the first public showing for the battery-powered NextGen design.

CityAirbus NextGen proto2-c-Airbus

Source: Airbus

Prototype is scheduled to fly later this year

Featuring eight electric-powered rotors and a 12m (39ft)-wingspan, the CityAirbus NextGen is scheduled to make its first flight later this year. Power-on of the completed prototype was achieved in late 2023.

The prototype was unveiled during the opening of the manufacturer’s new CityAirbus test centre in Donauworth in southern Germany, also home to Airbus Helicopters’ second largest production line.

While Airbus Urban Mobility is a separate legal entity, it draws on expertise from the airframer’s different divisions, with the helicopter unit a key partner. Final assembly of the production eVTOL aircraft will also take place at Donauworth.

“Rolling out CityAirbus NextGen for the very first time is an important and very real step that we are taking towards advanced air mobility and our future product and market,” says Balkiz Sarihan, chief executive of Airbus Urban Mobility.

Testing at the Donauworth facility ahead of the uncrewed maiden sortie later this year will focus on the propulsion system, flight controls and avionics.

Featuring a lift and cruise architecture, along with a distinctive V-tail, the CityAirbus NextGen is designed for missions of around 45nm (80km) travelling at a cruise speed of 65kt (120km/h). Airbus opted for fixed rather than tilting rotors to maximise simplicity.

CityAirbus NextGen proto4-c-Airbus

Source: Airbus

Airbus opted for fixed rotors to simplify design

In contrast to many of its eVTOL peers, Airbus does not see an initial use case for the CityAirbus NextGen as an air taxi, instead it is developing missions for the platform, such as emergency medical services (EMS), that offer a broader societal benefit.

“In order for this new technology to become a true service it has to demonstrate value to the communities it serves,” Sarihan told reporters during a February briefing.

EMS provision is “a way of making a direct impact on the lives of people in the communities we want to serve”, she says.

While she sees the potential for some “scheduled services on pre-planned routes” to link poorly connected communities, Sarihan says there will not be “on-demand rooftop-to-rooftop services from day one”.

Operators will have to “earn the right” and “earn the trust” of the wider public before launching intra-city services, she adds.

Airbus does not have a target date for service entry, Sarihan says; that goal depends on the aircraft being “business viable”, for both the manufacturer and operators. “If it’s not business viable all we are doing is building some very expensive museum pieces.”

CityAirbus NextGen proto3-c-Airbus

Source: Airbus

Lift and cruise design features eight electric-powered rotors

Airbus has been building extensive partnerships to help prove out the technology and the infrastructure and operating environment essential to its future adoption.

With that goal in mind, later in 2024, the airframer will fly a subscale model of the CityAirbus NextGen – with a 3.7m wingspan – and an airship between Ingolstadt, Manching and Munich in southern Germany.

Part of the Bavarian Air Mobility Initiative in which it is participating, the flights will test “how the whole system works”, says Sarihan.

Separately, Airbus signed an agreement with lessor LCI at the recent Heli-Expo show in Anaheim committing the pair to collaborate in three core areas for advanced air mobility: strategy, commercialisation and financing.

“Our entire history is based around financing and financiers – we will bring that network to the CityAirbus programme,” said Jaspal Jandu, LCI chief executive, speaking at Heli-Expo.

LCI has not placed an order with Airbus as part of the pact, but that could come in the future, Jandu adds. In addition to finance options for the aircraft themselves, LCI will also look at the funding requirements for ground infrastructure such as charging or vertiports.

CityAirbus NextGen5-c-Airbus

Source: Airbus

Airbus has not set a timeline for service entry