Emergency First Response Could Boost Urban Air Mobility

 - August 3, 2020, 9:33 AM
EHang has introduced a version of its 216 Autonomous Aerial Vehicle design to fight fires in urban areas. [Photo: EHang]

Emergency medical service (EMS) providers could benefit as early adopters of eVTOL aircraft, according to experts speaking in an NBAA webinar on July 31. This type of application, they argued, could also help to build public acceptance of the new technology, especially for urban air mobility operations.

The event was held on the same day that China’s EHang announced plans to use its 216 Autonomous Aerial Vehicle (AAV) for fire-fighting. Webinar attendees also heard from startup Jump Aero, which is developing an eVTOL specifically for use by first responders.

According to Yolanka Wulff, co-executive director of the Community Air Mobility Initiative, EMS missions using eVTOLs will generally not need as much new infrastructure as applications such as air taxi services. In her view, new airspace infrastructure is probably more of a challenge overall than ground infrastructure, and she urged the industry to try to enlist the support of state and local officials in pushing for progress on this front.

Wulff said building support for EMS applications with public officials will be helped by the fact that they have the potential to aid the wider community. “It has a clear public benefit,” she stated. “Everybody understands when a medevac helicopter flies overhead that there is a public benefit.” So while she believes more complex eVTOL applications could take another 10 or more years to get established, EMS could “come much more quickly.”

While all speakers acknowledged the infrastructure challenges facing eVTOL pioneers, for aircraft manufacturers getting their new designs certified is a more immediate issue. In this regard, how EMS operations are categorized by regulators is a significant consideration.

Jump Aero maintains that its aircraft will be flown by a first responder and will be able to land on a city street to provide quick assistance to injured or sick people. Initially, it will operate purely under VFR rules.

According to Jump Aero co-founder and business development lead Katerina Barilov, there are around 3.4 million time-critical emergencies in the U.S. and survival rates directly correlate to the time it takes for patients to receive first aid. “The average response time is eight minutes and eVTOLs could halve this and so would have a very quick impact [on the effectiveness of EMS operations],” she said.

The company will argue that the EMS use of its aircraft will not be on a commercial basis. Barilov said its research indicates that EMS organizations already employ significant numbers of personnel holding private pilot licenses or people who are willing and able to learn to operate the aircraft. It said eVTOLs could be used in much the same way that some first responders use motorbikes today, albeit much faster with speeds of up to 200 mph. Jump Aero also is considering a two-seat version of the aircraft.

Meanwhile, EHang last week revealed the 216F firefighting version of its two-seat 216 AAV. The company said the autonomous aircraft could be deployed within a radius of around three miles to provide an initial response to building fires before fire crews can reach the scene in trucks.

The aircraft would be able to carry almost 570 gallons of fire-suppressing foam and six fire-extinguishing “bombs.” Operating at altitudes of almost 2,000 feet, the 216F would use a camera to identify the location of the fire before deploying a laser-aiming device to deploy the fire-fighting materials.

According to EHang, the aircraft will be especially well suited to dealing with fires in high-rise buildings. It is unclear when the AAV will achieve type certification, but the Civil Aviation Administration of China has granted the company significant flexibility in conducting trial operations of various applications, including sightseeing trips and providing support for medical teams dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic.

EHang appears to have reached an agreement for the fire service in the Chinese city of Yunfu to start using the 216F. In a press release announcing the new model, local fire chief Weiqiang Chen made the following statement: “Firefighting and rescue is a race against death. By taking advantage of the rapid response and centralized management of the EHang AAV platform, we can greatly improve the effectiveness of our efforts.”

Jaunt Air Mobility has plans for an emergency medical version of its eVTOL family. The Jaunt Jambulance is being developed in tandem with the Jaunt Journey air taxi, the Jaunt Joust (for military missions) and the Jaunt Geap (for package delivery).

The compound helicopter design features both a main rotor and a fixed-wing with propellers and is targetted to achieve FAA Part 29 type certification by the end of 2025 (to be followed by autonomous versions in 2029). U.S.-based Jaunt, which is one of eight partners in the Uber Elevate urban air mobility program, is partnered with Honeywell (providing avionics, navigation systems, electric propulsion system, and connectivity systems), the Triumph Group (engineering services) and BAE Systems (energy management).