While passenger transport is the major target market for eVTOL aircraft, a number of companies are pursuing alternative uses for their platforms, with emergency medical services (EMS) viewed as particularly promising by some major players.
Alex Zosel, founder of Volocopter, told eVTOL.com that his company sees EMS as one of many possible use cases for its eponymous eVTOL aircraft. Volocopter is currently running a feasibility study with ADAC Luftrettung, Germany’s largest air rescue organization, to test whether a physician could be brought to the patient faster on a Volocopter than by rapid response vehicles.
“Together we are investigating how large the time savings would be and how that could help save more lives,” Zosel said. “In this function, eVTOLs would complement helicopters that can provide patient transport, for example.”
The study will be centered on two German regions: the EMS area of Ansbach, Bavaria (from the Dinkelsbühl helicopter EMS base), and the state of Rhineland Palatinate. The Volocopters in the study have been adapted for EMS use, deployed as air shuttles for emergency doctors.
The study is formed of several stages. First, the Institute for Emergency Medicine and Medical Management at Ludwig Maximilian University in Munich developed computer simulations of aeromedical missions using Volocopters in the two regions. The next stage comprises research flights to test the cost effectiveness and usability of the platforms in this function.
The entire project is expected to last for about 18 months (until late 2020). It will cost around 500,000 euros, according to Volocopter, and will be supported by the charitable ADAC foundation, with scientific support from the German Aerospace Centre.
Zosel highlighted the high cost efficiency of eVTOLs, and noted that they are relatively simple to operate. “As a result, more [EMS] stations could afford one or two eVTOLs to support their rescue efforts,” he suggested.
The goal, he emphasized, is to supplement rather than replace helicopters, which still provide greater range and more flexibility for transporting payloads of different sizes and shapes.
“While eVTOLs in their current form are not able to replace the role that helicopters play in EMS, they can certainly provide a further layer to help EMS operators save more lives,” he added.
Such platforms could also perform some ancillary medical missions including organ transport. Through its subsidiary Lung Biotechnology, United Therapeutics plans to use eVTOL aircraft to deliver organs from its facilities to receiving hospitals, a task currently being performed by helicopters. The company is already a confirmed customer for several eVTOL programs, including Beta Technologies’ ALIA.
Some companies see potential in EMS in the future, though they are not considering it at present. Airbus is targeting the passenger transport market because it sees strong potential there, said Joerg Mueller, the company’s head of urban air mobility strategy. He said that eVTOL platforms are designed to operate between well-defined and equipped “vertipads,” which could prove challenging in EMS, where the vehicles may have fewer options regarding where they land. Additionally, he said that electric battery designs have limited energy reserves that limit the hover periods that are often needed in EMS missions, especially to landing points with no infrastructure.
“Most of today’s eVTOL projects do not have the size and volume to carry flight crews, medical teams, equipment, and the patient,” Mueller added. However, he said that when such challenges are overcome, eVTOLs could bring advantages in noise, cost, and emissions, particularly for missions like transporting a doctor or material between two hospitals or to an appropriately equipped point in a city.
The advances being seen in the sector should yield positive outcomes for the EMS market, said Oliver Walker-Jones, head of communications at Lilium, maker of the Lilium Jet. However, his company also is not targeting the market at present. While defined landing pads allow for safe and regulated operations and contain the technology eVTOLs need — from communications systems to electric charging — it is currently hard to envisage the platforms “landing anywhere,” which would be required for EMS support.
“That said, there’s nothing to stop us considering this in the future, once operations are established, and we do see clear use cases for transporting patients from point to point, for example from hospital to hospital, avoiding traffic congestion on the ground,” he added.
Although Pipistrel is currently prioritizing development of a low-cost cargo drone, a spokesperson said the company sees EMS as a potential use case for its 801 eVTOL platform, along with urban air mobility, military applications, cargo transport, and surveillance. Such electric have a number of advantages over helicopters, the spokesperson said, notably in terms of noise generation.
“This is a great advantage, especially in the urban environment, where emergency transports are needed in highly populated city centers,” the spokesperson added.