It's an exciting time to be alive. The buzz is on around electric vertical take-off and landing (e-VTOL) aircraft., which can change the way we move from point A to B. Numerous players, including legacy aircraft makers and startups, are taking their ambition to new heights.
eVTOL, powered by electrons instead of fossil fuel, flies like a plane and lands like a chopper. It's a new category of passenger aircraft, promising nthing less than a revolution in aviation. And it's about to hit a tipping point.
For example, one solution promises to cut travel time between Dubai and Abu Dhabi to less than 20 minutes, instead of the typical 1 hour drive, at the cost of a luxury Uber ride, about Dh500 (about $136).
Like the electrification of cars, battery-powered aviation is poised to play a vital role humanity's future, with a potential industry value of a whopping $30.8 billion by 2027, according to one estimate.
A "convergence" of tech is pushing VTOL forward today in ways not possible until the recent past — advances in electric propulsion, light-weight materials, AI/autonomous flying, powerful batteries — leading to a new market for urban air mobility (UAM).
Several companies are at the forefront of this journey. There are two key drivers that will propel this new industry that could disrupt transport as we know it: investments and innovation. And money is pouring in.
eVTOL startups have racked up at least $15 billion in venture capital. This includes $11 billion from the US Air Force, which has so far awarded 23 contracts to 15 companies.
$ 30.8 beVTOL market by 2027 (Source: Global Market Estimates)
On the ground, and in the air, teams backed by state and private money (including the likes of Nasa, Airbus, Toyota, Google, Apple and Boeing) are actively pushing their VTOL research and development work, too. As the field evolves, new companies are emerging, while existing ones are progressing.
Startups like Joby (US), Crisalion (Spain), Bellwether Industries (UK), Eve Air Mobility (Brazil), Volocopter and Lilium (Germany) are some of the companies that compete on the global stage. Many of them showed their gear at the recently-concluded Dubai Airshow 2023.
Following is the shortlist of exciting eVTOL companies:
Founded on September 11, 2009 (called Joby Aero), it as one of several projects incubated by JoeBen Bevirt on his ranch in the Santa Cruz Mountains. It has been a key player in the eVTOL space, developing all-electric vertical takeoff and landing aircraft for urban air mobility. Joby recently performed the first electric air taxi flight in New York City in a test amid Manhattan’s high-rises.
Volocopter GmbH, founded in 2011, is a German aircraft manufacturer based in Bruchsal. The company specialises in the design of electric multirotor helicopters in the form of personal air vehicles, designed for "air taxi" use. The VC1 was first flown in October 2011.
The two-seat prototype was designated as the VC-200 and the derived production model, the Volocopter 2X, started in 2013, which in turn evolved from early single-seat Volocopter VC2 prototype flown in 2011. Neom has recently announced a $175 million Series E investment in Volocopter, the pioneer of urban air mobility.
Lilium, founded in 2015, is a Munich, Germany-based company working on the development of electric aircraft for regional air mobility. Their jet-like eVTOL design aims to provide efficient point-to-point transportation. The Lilium Jet (7-seater) is expected to have a cruise speed of 280 km/h (175 mph), a 250+ km (155+ miles) range and has a cruise altitude 3,000 m (10,000 ft).
Bristol, UK-based Vertical Aerospace, founded in 2016 by Stephen Fitzpatrick, an ex-Formula One team owner, and founder and CEO of OVO Energy, focuses on the development of electric vertical takeoff and landing aircraft for passenger and cargo transport.
EHang, founded in December 2014 by Huazhi Hu, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, and headquartered in Guangzhou, China, has gained attention for its autonomous aerial vehicle (AAV) designs, including passenger drones and cargo drones. Terrafugia is a Chinese-owned corporation, based in Woburn, Massachusetts developing a "roadable aircraft" called the Transition and a flying car called the TF-X.
Terrafugia, founded in 2006 and a subsidiary of China’s Geely, is working on the Transition, a "roadable” aircraft, and the TF-2, an eVTOL concept for urban air mobility. Terrafugia is a Chinese-owned corporation,based in Woburn, Massachusetts is also developing a flying car called the TF-X.
This Airbus-based company, founded in 1970 and based in France, is actively involved in the development of eVTOL aircraft through its Urban Air Mobility division. The Vahana and CityAirbus Nextgen projects are among their initiatives. Airbus announced in 2021 that the CityAirbus NextGen, a fully-electric 4 seat eVTOL, is designed to be certified under the EASA special condition eVTOL. It will have about 80km range, 120kph cruise speed, 65 (cruise) to 70 (landing) decibel noise output.
• It is expected to grow more to around $37.24 billion by 2032, with North America predicted to the lion’s share of the market.
SkyDrive, based in Japan, was founded in 2018. It was preceded by eventual acquirer Cartivator, which began on work on flying cars in 2012, and was initially financed in part by Toyota. SkyDrive is accelerating the development of its eVTOL vehicle with the 9.6 billion yen ($67 million) it recently raised. It has set its sights on a first commercial flight by the 2025 World Expo in Osaka.
• VTOL aircraft can "hover in place", making them ideal for tasks that require precise control and stability.
• When used as air taxis, they don’t require extensive infrastructure.
Bell Nexus / Pipistrel
Bell Nexus, a hybrid-electric VTOL air taxi for urban air mobility, is being developed by Bell, a US company established in 1935. In April 2022, Bell acquired Pipistrel and formed Textron eAviation, focusing on conventional and electric VTOL aircraft for advanced air mobility. Textron eAviation oversees Bell's Nexus programme, unveiling the Nexus 4EX at CES 2020 — an all-electric, experimental, autonomous UAM aircraft. With four ducted propellers, a 150 mph cruise speed, and a 60-mile range, the Nexus 4EX offers flexibility with hybrid-electric power trains, providing a range exceeding 150 miles for interested customers.
Eve, launched in October 2020, is a new independent company founded by Brazil’s Embraer aimed to accelerate the Urban Air Mobility (UAM) ecosystem. Recently, Eve and Kookiejar announced a joint development of urban air traffic management system for operations in Dubai. In September 2022, United ordered 200 units of Embraer Eve flying taxis — designed to transport passengers between city centres and airports to avoid roadway traffic.
Moog, a US-based company founded in 1951, designs and manufactures electric, electro-hydraulic and hydraulic motion controls and systems for applications in aerospace, defence, industrial and medical devices. The company purchased the Workhorse SureFly electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) commercial aircraft for $5 million in 2019. The company announced in 2021, that is it also upgrading its SureFly eVTOL for military use and is involved with the US Air Force's AFWERX programme.
The San Jose, California-based aerospace company founded in October 2018 is building an all-electric VTOL aircraft focused on improving mobility in cities. It aims to advance the benefits of sustainable air mobility. Archer & BETA Collaborate for Fast eVTOL Chargers. BETA Technologies has installed its fast chargers at Archer Aviation's test facility in California for the company to use during the testing of its eVTOL aircraft.
Archer is constructing a manufacturing facility in Atlanta, Georgia, with an initial capacity under Phase 1 to produce 650 aircraft. Discussions are in progress regarding the establishment of a comparable facility within Abu Dhabi's Smart and Autonomous Vehicle Industry (SAVI) Cluster.
Santa Ana, California-based Its “air taxi” and “aerial mobility” solution company founded in 2019 is developing the Butterfly eVTOL along with strategic collaborator, Korea’s Hanwha Systems. The company is based in Santa Ana, California.
Jaunt Air Mobility
Founded in 2019 and based in Texas, Jaunt acquired all the Intellectual Property (IP) from Carter Aviation for its slowed-rotor and associated enabling technologies. Jaunt Air Mobility is owned by Airo Group, which is focused on avionics and drones. Jaunt plans to sell its Journey eVTOL to air taxi operators.
Supernal, founded in November 2021, and backed by Hyundai Motor Group, aims to lead the progress in Advanced Air Mobility (AAM). It aims to be a “smart mobility service provider” and build the integrated ground-to-air ecosystem to support the emerging AAM industry. The company said it seeks to “fuse autonomy, electrification, robotics and smart manufacturing technologies to accelerate the development of sustainable mobility solutions,” eventually redefining how people move, connect and live.
Wisk was founded in 2019 a partnership between Boeing and Google co-founder Larry Page's Kitty Hawk aircraft company. Since May 2023, Wisk has become a wholly owned subsidiary of Boeing. Wisk is developing its Generation 6 eVTOL aircraft, shown at the Paris Air Show. It is dubbed as "our ticket to the future reality of safe, everyday flight for everyone".