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Passenger eVTOL Aircraft

Passenger eVTOL Aircraft

Passenger eVTOL aircraft: Sustainability takes flight

The concept of vertical flight has a long history—it can be traced as far back as the 15th century to Leonardo Da Vinci’s sketch of the aerial screw, considered the precursor of the modern helicopter. Five hundred years later, automobile pioneer Henry Ford predicted the emergence of the “flying car,” and several attempts were made to build one. Even Hollywood fed our imagination with vehicles like the Avengers’ Quinjet and the speeder bikes in Star Wars.
Could electric vertical takeoff and landing aircraft (eVTOLs), one of the hottest topics in aviation, be the reality of fantasies that have spanned generations? The market has developed considerably, particularly since 2009, when a NASA engineer showcased the modern eVTOL concept with his personal air vehicle. In fact, 2021 was a banner year for the eVTOL market. eVTOL companies attracted USD 5.8 billion in investments (compared to USD 4.5 billion over 2010–2020), and developers Joby Aviation, Lilium, Archer Aviation, and Vertical Aerospace went public through mergers with special purpose acquisition companies (SPACs).
eVTOLs are part of a larger movement known as Urban Air Mobility (UAM). This Insight explores UAM, the enablers and drivers of the eVTOL market, the main market players, and the challenges to market growth.

What is Urban Air Mobility?

Uber’s super idea. UAM refers to the use of airspace above cities for urban and suburban transportation. NASA’s definition elaborates, stating that such air traffic operations carried out by “manned and unmanned aircraft systems” should be “safe and efficient.”
Uber's breakthrough Uber Elevate White Paper published in 2016 titled "Fast-Forwarding to a Future of On-Demand Urban Air Transportation" has been credited with launching UAM. Formed the same year, Uber Elevate played a key role in establishing the aerial ridesharing market by connecting key stakeholders with each other and developing software tools for its advancement (Uber Elevate was acquired by eVTOL developer Joby Aviation in December 2020).
Urban mobility re-imagined. With population increase and greater urbanization, the already-stretched ground transport infrastructure will become even more congested. To ease this congestion and the inevitable air and noise pollution, UAM envisions the use of small, highly automated aircraft to carry passengers and cargo at lower altitudes. The development of such aircraft are enabled by new technologies such as electric propulsion and enhanced battery capacity.
The UAM concept comprises eVTOLs (most of which are initially piloted, but later could be piloted remotely or autonomous), unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs, or drones which do not include a pilot, crew, or passengers), and conventional VTOL aircraft such as helicopters. There is some debate as to whether electric short take-off and landing (eSTOL) aircraft support the UAM concept if their infrastructure needs are not aligned with the vertiports being designed for eVTOLs.
Besides overcoming the drawbacks of air travel and ground transportation, UAM aircraft must also contain safety features to avoid hazards and improve survival rates. These include crash force reduction, power redundancy with distributed electric propulsion, emergency backup systems, emergency landing systems, built-in parachutes, and emergency reference guides.
The EU Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) expects UAM to become a reality in Europe within the next 3–5 years, as early as 2025, with 340 million people living in EU cities experiencing UAM by 2030.
NASA goes the extra mile. Championed by NASA, Advanced Air Mobility (AAM) builds on and transcends UAM to include non-urban applications. It has attracted the interest of ~250 companies that are seeking to build electric flying vehicles and related infrastructure. What's more, the industry had attracted investment in excess of USD 8 billion as of March 2021, with passenger transport garnering the most interest.
The focus of this Insight is eVTOLs used for passenger transport—an area that has attracted significant attention over the past few years with several companies competing for (air)space, and that has witnessed fundraises, acquisitions, and partnerships.
UAM encompasses eVTOLs, VTOLs, and UAVs
UAM encompasses eVTOLs, VTOLs, and UAVs
UAM encompasses eVTOLs, VTOLs, and UAVs
The diagram is not to scale • Electric conventional take-off and landing (eCTOL) aircraft are electric versions of traditional combustion-powered aircraft
Source: Compiled by SPEEDA Edge based on various sources including Cleantech Group

What are eVTOLs?

eVTOLs are electrically powered aircraft that can take off and land vertically and hover; they do not require a runway. Their closest internal combustion engine-powered proxy is the conventional helicopter. eVTOLs have many use cases including passenger and cargo transport, provision of essential services (such as police, fire and rescue, and emergency medical services [EMS]), and military activities. Those used for passenger transport—also known as personal air vehicles (PAV)—can be used for short and mid-range distance travel (inter- and intra-city), for travel to areas with limited infrastructure (for rescue efforts and to provide medical assistance), and for recreation.
eVTOLs can be segmented in several ways
eVTOLs can be segmented in several ways
eVTOLs can also be segmented by range (in km) and by maximum takeoff weight (Mtow)
Source: Compiled by SPEEDA Edge
The passenger eVTOL industry is enabled by several factors: 
Battery technology. Advancements in lithium-ion (Li-ion) battery technology have led to increased energy density, or more energy per unit weight. While energy density impacts the aircraft’s weight, it is also a key determinant of its range. Improvements in their charge rate, namely how quickly the battery can reach a full charge, affects the aircraft’s idle time and frequency of use. Additionally, increases in the battery’s cycle life, or the number of cycles it can sustain before its capacity reaches 80% of the original, determines the frequency of replacement and the cost per kilowatt-hour.
Advancements also continue to be made in hydrogen fuel cells, which advocates say are superior to Li-ion batteries in terms of energy density and lifespan. As such, they are better suited for aircraft that require a longer range (over 100 miles or 160 km).
Composite material. The availability of strong, lightweight composite materials to fabricate aircraft determine its weight and payload capacity and ultimately its speed and range.
Infrastructure. Availability of ground infrastructure, such as charging stations, and vertipads/vertistops/vertiports, and air infrastructure, such as navigation, flight controls, and other avionics, impact aircraft operability and their geographic reach.
Pilot augmentation technology. This could reduce pilot skill requirements and lead to reduced training time, making eVTOLs accessible to more people.
Registration/certification. The route to registration and certification of aircraft airworthiness and operability with governing authorities such as the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and the EU Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) will determine how soon the commercial production of eVTOLs can commence.

What’s driving the market?

Currently, eVTOL aircraft are ideally suited for short- and medium-haul air travel, with several factors driving demand.
Need for convenience and on-demand travel. eVTOLs offer daily commuters a safe, reliable, congestion-free, and rapid transportation option, saving them a considerable amount of time otherwise lost using conventional ground transportation. In 2019, congestion cost US drivers more than USD 88 billion or USD 1,377 each. The EASA estimates that, on average, 15–40 minutes of standard city travel time could be saved, and EMS and medical delivery services could experience time savings of more than 70%. Taking these benefits into account, a management consulting firm estimated the total addressable market for eVTOL ride-hailing services alone at USD 70 billion annually in North America
Need for low noise-generating, emission-free, sustainable travel. Electrified powertrains and smaller rotors generate less noise, being low enough to blend into background noise. Market player Archer Aviation estimates that the noise generated by its Maker eVTOL measures 45 A-weighted decibels (dBA) on the ground, making it nearly 1,000 times quieter than a helicopter.
eVTOLs generate significantly less noise than conventional ground and air transport vehicles
A fully electric eVTOL is emission-free at the point of operation. (Electricity powering eVTOLs may not always be sustainably generated.) This is significant for the aviation industry, given that air travel accounted for about 3% of all greenhouse gas emissions in the US in 2019 and 3.8% of total CO2 emissions in the EU in 2017.
eVTOLs are also more economical. A study by industry analysts in 2019 revealed that, based on jet fuel consumption of 50 gallons per hour, a mid-size helicopter’s fuel cost is USD 200 per hour. In contrast, based on an electricity cost of 8.2 cents per mile (as per the Uber Elevate whitepaper) and a nominal speed of 50 miles per hour, an eVTOL’s “fuel” cost is just USD 4 per hour.
Desire for safer air travel. Statistically, air travel (mainly commercial air travel) is safer than road travel. With the goal of being safer than any of their predecessors, eVTOLs incorporate safety-focused design features that drive demand.
  • Using distributed propulsion solutions. An eVTOL uses many small electric motors that drive propellers or fans, allowing it to safely complete a flight if any engine shuts down. In contrast, if a helicopter’s main (lifting) rotor fails, the results are usually disastrous.
  • Using battery packs. Fully electric and electric hydrogen eVTOLs use battery packs instead of fuel or combustion engines to power the aircraft. Thus, the power source is self-contained and is not at risk of contamination. What’s more, independent battery packs allow the aircraft to complete its flight even if one fails.
  • Incorporating fly-by-wire technology systems. Also used by commercial aircraft, fly-by-wire systems convey pilot commands and information collected by the aircraft’s to the control surfaces (i.e., dynamic parts that can be manipulated to steer the plane) via electric signals. eVTOLs may also be enhanced with pilot augmentation technology, reducing the risk of operator error.
  • Incorporating layers of redundancy and dissimilarity. Every critical system in an eVTOL has a backup system. In turn, each backup system uses a different kind of hardware, running different software written in a different programming language. Electric motors are also simpler than piston or turbine engines and can compensate for each other during failures.
National-level promotion of UAM and its contribution to national goals. UAM is being promoted at the national level in many countries, and the development of the eVTOL industry should also support several government objectives. The infrastructure for an eVTOL network will cost significantly less than the development of infrastructure for ground transport such as roads, bridges, and tunnels. Additionally, the EASA anticipates a positive impact on the EU’s labor market, expecting UAM to create 90,000 jobs by 2030. National emission targets will also support the growth of the eVTOL market; for example, Norway plans to make all its short-haul flights fully electric by 2040, making it the first country to switch to electric air travel; Sweden targets domestic air transport to be fossil fuel-free by 2030 and international flights starting at Swedish airports to be fossil fuel-free by 2045; and Denmark aims for fossil fuel-free domestic flights by 2030.
Local, urban agencies are also promoting UAM. For example, Choose Paris Region, an economic development agency that promotes Paris as an international business destination, launched the Re.Invent Air Mobility challenge to develop UAM in the region ahead of the Paris 2024 Olympic Games. It had selected 30 partners as of January 2021.

Who are the main players? 

Incumbents in the passenger eVTOL space include aircraft manufacturers such as Airbus and Boeing, and automotive manufacturers such as Honda, Hyundai, and Aston Martin. Several incumbents entered the space through acquisitions and joint ventures.
Some large automotive manufacturers are indirect industry participants: Toyota was an early investor in SkyDrive, while Suzuki partnered with the company 2022 to co-develop its all-electric two-seater eVTOL. Toyota also invested in Joby Aviation, developer of a vectored-thrust four-seater eVTOL. Additionally, it is developing a solid-state battery, which could revolutionize eVTOLs by nearly doubling their range, allowing regional travel. Meanwhile, Daimler invested in Volocopter, the developer of two UAM vehicles: the VoloCity and the larger VoloConnect, while Fiat Chrysler partnered with Archer Aviation in 2021 to develop eVTOLs.
There are several players in the eVTOL space, and their aircraft are in different stages of development. Pipistrel's Velis Electro (acquired by Textron in 2022) received EASA type certification in 2020, making it the only in-operation certified electric aircraft in the world. In November 2021, Joby Aviation announced that it expects to be the first eVTOL developer to receive FAA type certification in 2023. Most developers are entering the market with piloted aircraft. Once these are certified and the certification process is more established, some plan to develop autonomous aircraft.
The industry enjoys the support of federal agencies. The US Air Force (USAF) launched its Agility Prime program in 2020 in an effort to support and accelerate the development of the UAM market. It does so by funding early flight testing and experimentation, providing infrastructure such as simulators and airspace, and providing access to aerospace subject matter experts at the Department of Defense. Beta Technologies, Joby Aviation, and LIFT Aircraft have established operations at one of its airports in Ohio. The USAF intends to purchase five eVTOL aircraft in 2023, to be used across several applications including logistics and evacuations.
NASA is also committed to the development of AAM and promoting public confidence in emerging aviation markets. It launched the Urban Air Mobility Grand Challenge, a series of technology demonstrations to test the readiness of UAM vehicles and systems. Among the companies selected were eVTOL developers Joby Aviation for flight testing and Bell Flight, Boeing, NFT, and Zeva for an information exchange.
Select eVTOL developers (segmented based on energy source) and developers of flight controls and infrastructure for UAM
Select eVTOL developers (segmented based on energy source) and developers of flight controls and infrastructure for UAM
Source: Compiled by SPEEDA Edge
Please see the appendices for more details on key incumbents and startups.

What are the challenges to growth?

Aircraft certification process. Already the most complex hurdle faced by the industry, the recent change in the FAA’s certification pathway has raised fresh concerns. Having applied the federal code for small airplanes (Part 23) to certify fixed-wing eVTOLs thus far, the FAA changed course in 2022 by deciding to define these new aircraft as “powered lift” vehicles to be certified under a different code with special class rules along with rotary-wing eVTOLs (Part 21.17[b]). Going forward, all eVTOLs in the US will be certified through this special class.
Critics of the FAA’s slowness in certifying eVTOLs believe that this change will push the US back further as a key player in the eVTOL space, anticipating a longer time frame for new vehicles to be certified for airworthiness and operation given that standards and rules are yet to be created. Another concern is that the US certification may not be easily used to gain a certification in Europe and vice versa. In response to these concerns, the FAA has assured industry players that aircraft already on the certification pathway will not be jeopardized, and that the criteria applied to “power-lift” vehicles would not be too different to those applied to light aircraft. Rather, it may impact the training and certification of pilots to operate powered-lift aircraft. Industry analysts also expect the race for certification to lead to consolidation of the market, with the more viable players surviving. 
The EASA has been a pioneer in creating a UAM regulatory framework covering airworthiness, operations and pilot licensing, and airspace integration and was the first to publish a Special Condition to authorize small VTOL aircraft operations in July 2019. The UK Civil Aviation Authority intends to use the EASA approach as well.
Technology development. The energy source is a key determinant of an eVTOL’s weight, range, and speed. Although most eVTOLs currently under development use Li-ion batteries, eVTOL market growth is not dependent on improvements in this battery technology alone. Hydrogen fuel cells, green hydrogen, solid-state batteries, and hybrid electric systems can be substituted for Li-ion batteries in the future. Developments in electric propulsion systems—such as cyclorotors, where several wings rotate around a central rotation axis—will also aid industry growth. 
Infrastructure development. Although helicopter infrastructure can be used initially, UAM-specific infrastructure such as landing pads, charging stations, and maintenance facilities is required. The FAA has shared its intent to identify infrastructure design needs and develop a new vertiport standard in the coming years. It issued draft interim guidance in March 2022 for the design and operation of facilities that eVTOLs can use for their initial operations.
Public acceptance of UAM. Winning public acceptance of eVTOLs is critical for market growth. Factors such as safety, environmental impact, noise, perceptions of elitism, and NIMBY-ism (Not In My Back Yard) impact the level of acceptance. Key to greater acceptance is, of course, education. 
As part of its efforts to develop UAM in Europe and promote its global leadership in this field, the EASA conducted a study in 2021 to measure EU citizens’ societal acceptance of UAM. Overall, 83% expressed an initial positive attitude toward UAM, with 49% ready to try out air taxis. EMS use cases (e.g., transport of injured persons to hospital or transport of emergency medical personnel) received the strongest support. Actions that would influence the public’s acceptance of UAM included maintaining noise levels at those of familiar city sounds, security and cybersecurity regulations being adopted collaboratively by European authorities at all levels, and integrating UAM’s ground infrastructure with the local mobility network.
China’s progressive efforts. China is a key player in the eVTOL space, and is home to several top aircraft. eVTOL developers in China enjoy several advantages, making the country a formidable threat to the US and Europe. These include a self-contained supply chain, a proactive aviation authority, a ready market in China and Asia, and expertise in key enabler technologies such as 5G and electric propulsion. 
In 2019, the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC) released guidelines for drone airworthiness and plans for the development of the unmanned civilian aircraft industry, placing them on par with areas such as AI and 5G. The plans include developing drone airworthiness standards and eVTOL requirements by end-2019, allocating segregated, low-altitude airspace by 2025, developing widespread commercial UAM by 2035, and developing world-class unmanned aerospace manufacturing by 2035. The goal is to achieve global leadership, surpassing the West.

In 2021, Morgan Stanley Research estimated the global UAM total addressable market (TAM) to reach USD 1 trillion by 2040, a downgrade from its 2019 estimate of USD 1.5 trillion attributed to the near-term challenges of certifying aircraft. The US and China vie for the top spot, followed by Europe. The firm also extended its projections, estimating a TAM of USD 9 trillion by 2050 on the back of the industry achieving its full potential in the long term.
Without a doubt, eVTOLs are set to revolutionize mobility. Although the rotors are very much in motion, large-scale commercialization appears to be some decades away. Regardless, Da Vinci and Ford would be pleased.

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