“Sixty-seven per cent of the world’s population will be cities by 2030, so that ground infrastructure can’t keep up and is costly to overhaul,” said Kominik, Asia Pacific Director at Wisk, during an interview with Reuters Next conference. “We have to move to the sky as a resource.”
The urban air mobility market is growing fast, with more and more start-ups wanting to join the eVTOL vehicles industry. The market, which grew by $2.6 billion in 2020 and saw a skyrocketing investment of $4.7 billion this year, is further projected to reach over $9 billion by 2030. Set in the context of cities seeing increasing traffic and pollution, air transport presents sustainable, price competitive and enhanced connectivity options.
In a recent report, McKinsey & Co. interviewed three executives of leading eVTOL companies to look at their vehicles in R&D. Here, we break down just the products you might see in the sky by 2030 and the trends supporting them.
Bonny Simi, the executive of Joby Aviation, spoke about the company’s vision of air taxis for aerial ride-sharing between rural and urban areas. The company foresees this future by 2024 and being the world’s largest airline by departures by 2030. Simi described this innovation as waking up in the morning and opening an app to book vehicles where a car will drop you to a heliport closest to you, riding in the aircraft to reach the closest port from where another car will pick and drop you at your exact destination. As a result, a journey of an hour and a half can be reduced to ten to fifteen minutes.
The journey is “seamless, convenient, and affordable”. For Simi, the adoption of aerial ride-sharing will evolve with changes in people’s lifestyles as working from home with occasional rides to the city. This will cause more people to move to rural areas and leverage aerial ride-sharing for short commutes to the city for meetings or work. Potential additional use cases can also be rescue missions from natural disasters to pick up citizens or drop emergency food and medical supplies.
Since the technology will be ride-sharing, the costs will be equivalent to taking a shared uber on the streets, unlike the public misconceptions. While it would be expensive initially, the cost should reduce with more people accepting the tech.
“The aircraft is very intuitive and easy to fly. You can take off and land like a regular aeroplane on a runway, or you can take off and land vertically—like, on top of a building”, Simi explains.
Electronic passenger aircraft
Daniel Wiegand, CEO of air-mobility company Lilium, talked about the existence of an electric passenger aircraft by 2030. Lilium envisions starting its first commercial flights by 2024 around Florida, Germany and Brazil.
The company’s vision is to leverage air mobility to facilitate a regional intercity service, claimed to be five times speedier than a car. Wiegand’s eVTOL aircraft can be pictured working on intercity shuttle routes with features for sightseeing, taxi, and cargo applications.
The aircraft are created on ducted electric vectored thrust technology, i.e., ducted fan engines powered by electric motors. Additionally, acoustic liners are placed around the fans to dissolve the noise made by the jet.
The starting rate will be $2.25 per passenger mile, but it will reduce to be equivalent to underground transportation over time.
Two-seater taxis and Drone transportation
German company Volocopter is offering three eVTOL vehicles in the future: velocity, a two-seater air taxi, VoloConnect, inter-city and inter-suburb travel, and VoloDrone, drone-based cargo transporter. These will be connected and booked through the digital platform, VoloIQ.
“Electric air taxis such as velocity, made by Germany’s Volocopter, are poised to revolutionise not just city travel but also the global mobility industry,” said the company’s CEO Florian Reuter.
The aircraft will be extremely lightweight yet performant to transform movement across the planet. The company collaborates with legacy suppliers in the aviation industry and creates VoloPorts to land the vehicles.
The upcoming innovations in the air mobility sphere come with their trends and quirks. We outline a few as discussed in the McKinsey interviews.
Considering that pilots will be operating in regular airports with commercial aeroplanes, they will have to hail from a conventional pilot education background. On top of that, they will be trained to fly the eVTOL aircraft, build up their experience, and get a commercial licence.
Is hydrogen the future?
Busting the idea that the future is electric, Simi believes that it is, in fact, hydrogen. It will initially start with a hybrid of hydrogen and electric but lead to hydrogen in the longer run. On the contrary, Wiegand believes that hydrogen consumes thrice as much energy as electricity and is non-sustainable.
Changed airport experiences
The eVTOL industry will change the airport experience, as we know. Gone are the big airports, the long queues and waiting times. eVTOLs airports will be small and distributed with efficient vertiports. This will reduce the hours to merely two or three minutes to get from a car and into an aeroplane.
This list is not exhaustive of the depth of R&D ongoing in the eVTOL industry. For example, just this year, Hyundai Motor Group’s Urban Air Mobility Division announced partnering with UK start-up Urban-Air Port to develop 65 global electric urban-air ports. United Airlines is ordering Archer Aviation’s eVTOL aircraft for $1 billion, the first step in their vision of acquiring a fleet of 200 electric aircraft. At the same time, American Airlines and Virgin Atlantic have partnered with space start-up Vertical Aerospace, developing the VA-X4, a zero-carbon aircraft, to carry four passengers and a pilot. It flies at 200 mph, ranging over 100 miles. In fact, Lilium has also signed a deal with Brazilian airline Azul to acquire 220 of Lilium’s eVTOL vehicles when they are fully developed.
It is an exciting time to be in the aerospace industry. The Blade Runner might not be so far in the future, and science fiction might just become a science fact.