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Prototype of the first air taxi, the eVTOL – electric vertical take-off and landing jet – from the manufacturer Lilium, a Rolls-Royce competitor

Photo: Daniel Karmann / dpa

The British engine manufacturer Rolls-Royce is focusing on the air taxi business and is launching a gas turbine on the market. The turbogenerator can be powered by sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) or hydrogen and generates electricity for the individual engines of the air taxi, Rolls-Royce announced. The machine will now be tested in the coming months. "With this product, we can offer our customers longer routes with electric aircraft, which means that more passengers can travel with low-emission aircraft," said Olaf Otto, the manager responsible for the electrical business.

The engine does not drive the aircraft directly, but generates electricity for the electric motors. This increases the range of the machines, because the buffer batteries that are still required can be correspondingly smaller and lighter. In addition, larger aircraft are possible, which could be used in regional traffic with distances of up to 300 kilometers. Rolls-Royce is striving to become the leading manufacturer of propulsion systems for air taxis and sees this as an opportunity to develop new business areas.

Electric air taxis are considered a market of the future. Experts see a need for flying taxis, especially in densely populated and congested metropolises in South America and Asia, as well as cargo drones. A number of start-ups such as Lilium, Volocopter and Archer have positioned themselves, but established manufacturers such as Airbus, Boeing and Embraer are also developing their own offerings. So far, however, no electric vertical take-off aircraft (EVTOL) has been approved for commercial operation, and it remains to be seen which business models will prevail.

Rolls-Royce mainly manufactures large engines for long-haul aircraft such as the Airbus A350 and Boeing 787, as well as engines for business jets and propulsion systems for ships, submarines and power plants. The new boss, Tufan Erginbilgic, has imposed austerity measures on the company. Rolls-Royce is still suffering from the consequences of the corona pandemic, which has temporarily brought air traffic to a standstill. In the meantime, the market is recovering, but wide-body aircraft have not yet reached pre-Corona levels.