Up to 60,000 "air taxi" pilots could be needed by 2028, according to an industry report. Image Credit: Twitter | Gulf News

Air taxis, or the so-called "urban air mobility" (UAM) vehicles, could need up to 60,000 pilots to fly them by 2028, according to a projection by McKinsey & Co.

This is despite the fact that air taxis are, by design, meant to fly autonomously. The projected pilot demand timeline is just four years away from now (May 2024). This figure represents about 17 percent of the total number of commercial pilots in 2018.

In a recent article, the US consulting firm highlighted the challenges of hiring and training tens of thousands of pilots for air taxis – small, electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) aircraft that offer on-demand passenger services.

Piloted 'autonomous' aircraft?

While many eVTOL developers plan to transition to fully autonomous aircraft eventually, the McKinsey research  argues that pilots are essential for UAM’s “near-term” success.

VTOL aircraft
There are quite a few competitors in the global VTOL aircraft market. This is driven by cutting-edge developments in battery technology, AI and machine learning to boost the quality, safety and efficiency of products, as well as legislation. Image Credit: LinkedIn

“That could take a decade or more because of technology issues, regulatory concerns, and the need to gain public acceptance,” the consulting firm stated.

“Until autonomous flight of hundreds or thousands of vehicles above cities across the globe becomes a reality, the industry must recruit, train, and deploy thousands of pilots — an important but much less visible challenge than other issues associated with UAM.”


US-based air taxi maker Joby Aviation, following years of development, is on track to launch electric air taxi in 2025 – with further service expansion planned in the UAE, Korea and Japan.

On May 13, Joby announced the completion of their pre-production prototype flight test campaign, which completed more than 1,500 flights and over 33,000 miles of eVTOL flight over the past four years. These two aircraft were the company’s second generation of full-scale prototype aircraft.

Earlier, on April 30, Joby Aviation started work on a planned expansion of their Marina factory that will more than double our manufacturing capacity, targeting 25 aircraft per year. The company has completed the third stage of the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) certification process on February 27.

Joby is being billed as an “affordable” electric air taxi that will cut travel time from Manhattan to JFK in 7 minutes compared to around 50-75 minutes by car for $200 – similar to an Uber Black car service.

Besides Joby, other potential players in the incepient air taxi industry include Lilium, Archer Aviation, eHang and Wisk. The US, Germany, the UK, China, Japan, Brazil, the UAE and Saudi Arabia are leading the way in embracing air taxi technology.

Twitter | Lilium | Joby | Wisk | Eve | Skydrive | Volocopter
eVTOL: Numerous companies, backed by billions of dollars in investments, are making huge strides in the development of the next-generation electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) aircraft. Startups such as Joby, Lilium, EHang, Beta and established planemakers like Boeing, and Airbus are at the forefront of developing eVTOL vehicles. They are in various stages of testing and certification, regulatory and safety approvals, which would then create an entirely new industry.


In February, an agreement signed by Dubai’s Roads and Transport Authority (RTA), General Civil Aviation Authority (GCAA) and Dubai Civil Aviation Authority (DCAA), the British Skyports Infrastructure and Joby Aviation, calls for the operation of an air taxi service in the emirate by 2026.

Dubai seeks to be the first city in the world with a fully-developed network of “vertiports” – one each at the Dubai International Airport, Dubai Downtown, Dubai Marina, and the Palm Jumeirah.

The plan is to whisk air taxis passengers from Dubai International Airport to Palm Jumeirah in a 10-minute flight, reducing it from a 45-minute commute. There are dozens more e-VTOL companies seeking to hit the market first.


demand for new pilots between 2022 and 2041, as per Airbus estimates.

Spike in demand for pilots

While the COVID-19 crisis deferred the need for new pilots by a few years, European planemaker Airbus projected that the industry will require 585,000 new pilots between 2022 and 2041.

Its US competitor Boeing suggests the industry will need to hire and train 649,000 new pilots between 2023 and 2042 – if it wants to keep up with projected levels of demand. This works out to about 32,000 pilots needed a year.


new pilots needed between 2023 and 2042, according to Boeing.

These estimates do give an indication of the scale of the industry’s challenge. The fact that these numbers are based on global airframe manufacturers’ forward order-books also gives them a high level of credibility.

“That said, there will still be a need for most of those new pilots toward the end of the decade. Pilots for UAM would come on top of that,” the McKinsey paper stated.

Air taxis: a 70-year-old idea

The concept of air taxis harks back to the helicopter services of the 1950s and 1960s, slicing through the skies over cities in the US, Europe, and Australia.

In those heady days, these services thrived, airlifting hundreds of thousands of passengers and igniting imaginations.

In 1951, The Wall Street Journal triumphantly declared, “the age of aerial taxis is here.” But the dream hit turbulent skies, as economic and safety complexities grounded the soaring ambitions of this nascent industry.

Types of aircraft used as air taxis

Air taxis come in various configurations to meet the evolving demands of urban transportation:

Multirotor VTOL Aircraft: Quadcopters, hexacopters, and octocopters offer stability and redundancy, making them suitable for urban air mobility.

Fixed-Wing eVTOLs: Combine the efficiency of fixed-wing flight with vertical takeoff and landing versatility.

Tilt-Rotor and Tilt-Wing eVTOLs: Balance vertical and horizontal flight capabilities.

Electric helicopters: Provide hovering capabilities with reduced noise and emissions.

Hybrid VTOL Aircraft: Combine electric propulsion with a combustion engine or generator, offering higher speeds and extended range.

Precedence Research estimates that the market for air taxis will be worth $37.24 billion by 2032 from $2.94 billion in 2022.

That is equivalent to a 28.9 per cent compounded annual growth rate (CAGR), with North America leading the demand.

In terms of propulsion type, the parallel hybrid segment captured a significant share of the global market in 2022.

The electric segment is expected to expand the fastest from 2023 to 2032, while the multicopter segment is predicted to grow significantly with the largest market share between 2023 and 2032.

Benefits of air taxis

  • Reduced traffic congestion: By bypassing crowded roads and highways.
  • Time savings: Faster commutes result in increased productivity and improved well-being.
  • Direct point-to-point travel: Eliminates multiple transfers or stops.
  • Flexibility and accessibility: Promotes inclusivity and efficient transportation.
  • Environmental sustainability: Produces fewer emissions and reduces urban air pollution.
  • Reduced noise pollution: Quieter than helicopters and traditional airplanes.
  • Efficient land use: Requires less space for takeoff and landing, reducing city infrastructure expenses.

(Source: McKinsey & Co)