The Slovenian aircraft manufacturer Pipistrel has issued a statement confirming that it remains committed to participating as a vehicle partner in the Uber Elevate initiative, but “has decided to reduce the intensity of development” of its 801 eVTOL air taxi.
The statement clarifies comments made in a May 2020 newsletter from its Pipistrel USA distributor, which declared that “changes to the company’s priorities have come after delays with the Uber flying taxi program by many international aviation authorities.” The newsletter reported that Pipistrel is instead prioritizing other projects including a hybrid-electric VTOL cargo drone, which the company revealed at the exclusive TexasUP Summit in November 2019.
In its May 15 statement, Pipistrel explained, “The 801 project was never interrupted but is continuing with slowed-down pace in favor of accelerating large cargo delivery UAVs [unmanned aerial vehicles]. We keep both projects in parallel, which allows the use of the same development methodology and tools for both vehicles. The project has flown several scale models and performed full-scale system testing in the meantime.”
According to the statement, the decision to prioritize the cargo drone over the air taxi “was made based on an increasing amount of indications that due to regulatory and other constraints the realistic entry-into-service is being pushed back towards 2028.”
Uber, however, remains optimistic that it will be able to launch its first eVTOL air taxi services on its original timeline of 2023, using aircraft from other of its vehicle partners (which also include Joby Aviation, Hyundai, Jaunt Air Mobility, Boeing, Bell, Embraer, and Karem Aircraft).
“We continue to see progress against our vision for Uber Air among many of our vehicle partners despite the challenges that come with COVID-19,” an Uber spokesperson said in a statement provided to eVTOL.com. “We expect some partners will proceed faster than others, but we remain focused on readying for commercial Uber Air service on our timelines.”
Meanwhile, Pipistrel said it will share more details about its hybrid-electric cargo drone at some point in the future, “when we are ready to unveil the exact specifications, purpose, and capability.”
Pipistrel also confirmed it is engaged in the Unifer19 development project for a 19-seat hybrid-electric aircraft along with academic partners including Politecnico di Milano and the Delft University of Technology (TU Delft). Contrary to a claim by its USA distributor, however, “at the moment no third-party commercial entities or companies are involved,” Pipistrel said.
The company added that its parallel Mahepa project is creating technological foundations for future developments.
“In the course of project Mahepa our partners have developed and tested exciting next-level powertrain components, including best-in-class electric powertrains and hydrogen-fuel cell propulsion systems. We are looking forward to flight demonstrations in 2020,” the statement reads.