Electric Vertical Takeoff and Landing (eVTOL - pronounced eee-vee-toll) startups are building prototype aircraft that are a crossover between a helicopter and a drone. It’s not only new well-funded corporate brands that are shaking up the air mobility market, leading recognised industrial giants such as Airbus and General Motors are also involved in this exciting air mobility space.
With investments and funding ramping up, the race to launch the first commercial eVTOL service is competitive, with the hopes of seeing “flying cars” in the skies by 2030.
We look at some of the most popular eVTOL manufacturers and aircraft leading the pack, and how this generation of new aircraft could transform the future of urban transportation through air taxi services.
These eVTOL options include the exciting aircraft from Archer, Joby and Vertical Aerospace, as well as concept flying taxis services from leading developers such as Blade and Halo. We also touch on how the technology works and the size of the financial investments flowing into eVTOL development.
How much will the Air Taxi Market be worth?
EASA, the European aviation safety regulator, published a report predicting that by 2024-25, urban air mobility "may be a lived reality in Europe", while the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) is exploring the safety and guidelines with eVTOL manufacturing partners in the United States.
Morgan Stanley has estimated that the market for aerial taxi rides could be worth $674bn by 2040.
How are the eVTOL powered?
Among the range of new technology in this emerging industry, Electrical Vertical Take-off and Landing aircraft are developing innovative electric motors, batteries, and IT technologies to revolutionise air travel and make it greener.
A report from IDTechEx entitles "Air Taxis: Electric Vertical Take-Off and Landing Aircraft 2021-2041", looks at the range and potential of eVTOL aircraft which aim to:
- Improve journey times between locations
- Offer affordable air mobility transport options
- Create low emission, and quiet aircraft to operate within cities and urban areas.
Air taxi startup Archer revealed its Maker electric aircraft in June 2021 after months of build-up and excitement. Although no flight test was performed at the high-profile Los Angeles event, it did garner mainstream and niche technology and travel media attention.
Archer has already raised a staggering $1.1 billion by going public through a reverse merger with a special acquisition company, or SPAC. The merger, valued at $3.8 billion, is also backed by Stellantis, the parent company of Fiat Chrysler and Peugeot, and United Airlines.
The Maker has 12 rotors, with six on each side of the pod-shaped fuselage and the eVTOL weighs 1,508kg. The aircraft will have a range of around 96 kilometres and is powered by a 75 kWh battery, which will enable the Maker to reach a top speed of around 240 km/h.
Archer claims the Maker will be 100X quieter than a helicopter, “generating only 45 decibels of sound” when flying at an altitude of 600 meters.
The Archer Maker is intended to be a taxi and short flight service which can, for example, be within a city. The eVTOL can take off and land vertically like a helicopter and then transition into forwarding flight like a plane (like some military aircraft already have been doing for decades).
At the launch, the two-passenger demonstrator aircraft was meant to serve as a stepping stone for showing the potential of developing this new technology.
Archer expects to produce a five-seater aircraft to serve as the main product vehicle when it reaches eventual commercial operations, which it plans to launch in 2024. They also told MSNBC that they are working with the FAA and NASA on approving the safety guidelines for commercial passenger use in the near future.
United has placed a $1 billion order for 200 Archer electric vertical takeoff and landing aircraft, with an option to purchase 100 more for $500 million, it has been confirmed. (This follows their potential order of 15 Boom Overture supersonic commercial aircraft jets.)
However, in this competitive space, Archer is currently facing a lawsuit from rival aviation startup, Wisk Aero, which accuses Archer of stealing its trade secrets and infringing on its patents. Archer has countersued Wisk over ‘false statements’ as a result.
Wisk Aero itself is a joint venture between Boeing and Kitty Hawk.
Joby Aviation eVTOL
Joby Aviation has been developing a five-seat, six-rotor transitioning eVTOL air taxi, and released promotional videos in early 2021 to attract investors. The company hopes to be listed on the New York Stock Exchange after signing a Special Purpose Acquisition Company (SPAC) with Reinvent Technology Partners.
The American eVTOL manufacturer is developing a 322 km/h aircraft that has already completed more than 1,000 test flights. The range of the Joby eVTOL is 240 kilometres using battery technology, and the aircraft also utilises six tilting rotors to achieve vertical lift and horizontal winged cruise.
Joby has the support of Toyota after signing a huge deal in 2020 (Toyota's share of a US$590 million series C finance round was $394 million), and Joby also owns Uber Elevate,
This means that Joby Aviation is regarded as one of the best-funded company’s in the eVTOL space; it has a nearly finished aircraft, and confirmed certification terms with the FAA.
Vertical Aerospace - VA-X4 Electric Vertical Takeoff and Landing Aircraft
Flying taxi start-up Vertical Aerospace was the latest to sign a large deal through a Hugh Osmond SPAC merger valued at around $2 billion, it was reported in early June 2021.
The British 'flying taxi' company deal with Broadstone Acquisition Corp means it might also be a publicly traded company in New York if all goes ahead smoothly.
In March 2021, Vertical Aerospace agreed on an engine supply partnership with Rolls-Royce Holdings to power its VA-X4 (which has four propeller engines). The company said: “it will transform the way people travel vehicles”.
The flying taxis are said to be capable of carrying four passengers for 190 kilometres at cruise speeds of up to 320 km/h.
The company is also addressing the issue of carbon neutrality, saying “Our globally certified aircraft will be used by airlines and local transport partners and will be the first commercial aircraft most people will fly on that has a zero carbon footprint.”
Vertical Aerospace is aiming to have commercial flights of the VA-X4 in 2024 and foresees the aircraft fulfilling passenger, medevac and cargo services.
Beta Technologies - Alia eVTOL
Beta Technologies agreed to sell electric vertical takeoff and landing aircraft to United Parcel Service (UPS) in April 2021 and the deal was one of the first to signal “mainstream acceptance of eVTOLs as commercially viable” reported CNBC.
UPS expects Beta Technologies to design and build 10 of its Alia-250 eVTOLs to be delivered in 2024, pending certification from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). This version of the Alia aircraft is powered by five propellers and can travel up to 400 kilometres at 270 km/h when fully charged. The charging process should only take 50 minutes to complete. The sale price of the Alia eVTOL is believed to be approximately $4 million.
CNBC added that although Beta Technologies and UPS did not disclose the financial terms of the deal, UPS has the option to purchase up to 150 more eVTOLs from Beta.
In addition, another prototype, Beta eVTOL Alia electric vertical aircraft, offers a 50-foot wingspan aircraft that has four propellers. The aircraft is designed to carry up to six people up to 400 kilometres and is powered by rechargeable electric batteries.
The company raised $143 million in new private capital in March 2021 and agreed on a deal to sell the aircraft to Blade Urban Air Mobility which already runs chartered flight services using helicopters in the US.
EHang - VT30 Chinese eVTOL
EHang is a Chinese startup that has already completed successful trial flights in Japan in 2021 with its EH216 autonomous aerial vehicle (AAV).
EHang confirmed in Q2 2021 that it will launch a new line of winged eVTOL aircraft called the VT series, as it simultaneously pursues certification of its EH216 multi-copter.
The EHang VT series will include a 700-kilogram “passenger-grade” model called the VT30, and will have a range of more than 300 kilometres. EHang says the vehicle will be used for commuting, aerial sightseeing, and aerial logistics.
The design of the VT30 will see it powered by eight propellers and a pair of fixed wings, with a propeller at the rear.
The company also saw practical use of its advanced aerial vehicles (AAVs) and passenger drones for coronavirus response in Guangdong, China.
eVTOL Air Taxi Services
Not only are eVTOL manufacturers ramping up, but air mobility eVTOL taxi services have also emerged, ready to take advantage of the technological advanced and paradigm-shifting aircraft the manufacturers are producing.
CityAirbus is a new eVTOL being developed by Airbus and is designed to carry four passengers with a range of around 90 kilometres, travelling at 120 kilometres per hour. Airbus actually had its first public demonstration in mid-2020 and the CityAirbus was piloted remotely.
Airbus says the CityAirbus has eight propellers which are driven by electric motors at around 950 rpm to ensure a low acoustic footprint and is developing the eVTOL for aerial urban ridesharing. However, the flying time is currently only 15 minutes limiting the flights to short urban journeys.
Blade Urban Air Mobility - US and India
Blade Urban Air Mobility is already running helicopter services across the United States and also looking at starting operations in India.
They will launch air mobility taxi services using VTOL after having placed orders with manufacturers such as Wisk and Beta Technologies.
Ascendance Atea - Long-Range eVTOL Air Taxi
French eVTOL manufacturer, Ascendance, is working on a hybrid to allow for long-range, low-emission VTOL flights. The company's Atea aircraft has a forward propeller, with three five-bladed fans (one in each wing) and can carry 4-5 passengers. It utilises the company’s proprietary STERNA hybrid propulsion technology.
The company hasn't made any claims about a range for the Atea but claims their technology enables for an “environmentally friendly alternative to the helicopter. Atea reduces carbon emissions by up to 80%, and noise by four, while offering long-range performance to connect people around the globe more quietly, sustainably and cost-effectively.”
The Atea is designed for urban and regional use in passenger transportation, tourism, medical emergencies, logistics and surveillance.
Ascendance is aiming to launch its eVTOL in 4-5 years, and have held discussions with some commercial carriers, reports claim.
Halo - UK & US
Halo is based in the UK and owned by Directional Aviation's OneSky Flight, which already runs private jet operations through its other brands Flexjet, Sentient Jet, FXAir and PrivateFly.
Halo is currently running helicopter operations in the UK, but it has announced a bulk order of electric VTOLs in June 2021. The company is planning to start zero-emissions eVTOL operations in New York and London in 2026 using the EmbraeXr spin-off Eve and has placed an order for 200 Eve eVTOLs. This is all pending the next-gen air taxi aircraft getting approval from the regulators.
Embraer has released very little information on the Eve aircraft’s speed, range or other specifications but Eve Urban Air Mobility has announced it will be moving into the Asia-Pacific markets working with air charters in Thailand and the Philippines.
We will also release content in the future about the larger eVTOL’s under development such as the Kelekona proposed 40-seater mass transport eVTOL aircraft - which has a much larger 4,540 kg of cargo, and the Lilium eVTOL Minibus which aims to be a 7-seat "air minibus" for longer air mobility trips.
The developments are also seeking regulations similar to self-drive, or drive assisted cars, as autonomous eVTOL are seen as one of the future pathways for mass adoption for these taxi services.
The eVTOL sector is very fluid with new deals, investments and prototypes being launched in 2021. The industry seems to be moving closer to approved regulations, flight-tested aircraft & services which will seek to dominate air mobility in the future with newer, potentially safer and greener aircraft.
Realistically though, it might at the earliest be a decade until these eVTOL aircraft are in operation.