In a groundbreaking leap towards the future of urban air mobility, Hyundai’s subsidiary, Supernal, is set to introduce the SA-2, an electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) air taxi, into the market by 2028.
Recent developments in eVTOL technology have seen several manufacturers, such as Boeing, Airbus, and Honda, bring forward working prototypes. The SA-2, equipped with eight all-tilting rotors, embraces distributed electric propulsion (DEP), a system where multiple electric motors and propellers are strategically placed across the airframe. According to Simay Akar, a senior member of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, DEP-powered eVTOLs are poised to shape the future of urban air mobility, provided legal frameworks and technological advancements fall into place.
Designed for speeds of 120 mph and altitudes up to 1,500 feet, the SA-2 is projected to cover distances between 25 and 40 miles. Impressively, it aims to minimize noise pollution, emitting 65 decibels during takeoff and landing and reaching midflight sound levels of only 45 dB—quieter than conventional helicopters, as per the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) standards.
The SA-2’s journey to market hasn’t been without twists. Initially presented in 2020, Hyundai faced delays as its partnership with Uber, slated for test flights in 2023, dissolved when Uber sold its air taxi division in 2020. Undeterred, Supernal plans to conduct test flights in the coming year, filing preliminary applications with the FAA and seeking a special airworthiness certificate by 2025, with full-scale testing anticipated in 2027.
While Hyundai targets a 2028 launch, the fate of eVTOLs hinges on factors such as battery energy density, motor efficiency, thermal management, and weight control, according to Simay Akar. Legislators worldwide are grappling with safety and air traffic concerns associated with these futuristic vehicles. Encouragingly, the European Union Aviation Safety Agency proposed rules for operating eVTOLs in Europe in August 2023, aligning with plans to introduce eVTOL services in time for the 2024 Olympic Games in Paris. Additionally, the FAA finalized rules in June 2023, outlining qualifications for pilots, operational requirements, and a roadmap for introducing air taxi services across the U.S. by 2028 under its Innovate28 initiative.
The convergence of technology, regulatory frameworks, and public acceptance will ultimately determine the success of Hyundai’s SA-2 and the broader adoption of eVTOLs in the evolving landscape of urban transportation.