Andi Dela Torre Griffiths
eVTOL Air Taxis: The Future of Urban Transport
The movement of goods and people has always been a necessity ever since the beginning of civilization. Back in the day, before the existence of bicycles, cars, and planes, people traveled by foot, rode animals, or constructed boats made out of logs and ropes. You can just imagine how challenging that was, but since we humans always want to innovate, we’ve come a long way from that. There are so many ways to travel conveniently right now, and things are just about to get better, with the Urban Air Mobility industry looking up.
Gone are the days when you thought flying cars were just a thing you’d see in your favorite sci-fi movies. It has long become a reality; we can now look forward to the launches of commercial air taxis (at least in some countries). Urban Air Mobility is on the rise, and it aims to provide an innovative and more sustainable way to go around the city and across urban areas in a shorter amount of time.
What is Urban Air Mobility?
As per the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), Urban Air Mobility or UAM is defined as a safe and efficient system for air passenger and cargo transportation within an urban area, inclusive of small package delivery and other urban unmanned aerial systems (UAS) services, which supports a mix of onboard piloted, ground-piloted, and increasingly autonomous operations.
Simply put, it’s a system designed to make the transport of cargo and passengers more efficient, particularly in urban areas. At the forefront of this are electric vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) vehicles that function like drones and look like futuristic flying cars. As the term suggests, these air taxis are fueled by electric power, making it a sustainable solution to the worsening traffic situation we experience on the ground.
Things are looking up for eVTOL air taxis
In a report prepared by global management consultant Roland Berger, it was revealed that in the first half of 2020 alone, a total amount of $907 was invested in startups. 43.72% of this comes from Toyota’s $394 investment in Joby Aviation, an aerospace company headquartered in California (they acquired Uber Elevate in December 2020 as well). Uber Elevate is the flying taxi division of Uber Technologies. Several companies have also conducted successful test flights; as part of plans to create a convenient and safe experience for the air taxi market.
A Volocopter at the Paris Air Forum. Photo courtesy of Volocopter newsroom Japan Airlines also aims to provide air taxi services by 2025, while Paris targets to do the same by 2024, just in time for the Olympics, which they will be hosting that year. Both are going to use Volocopter aircraft.
Other things you might find interesting
Chinese manufacturer EHang has conducted more than 2,000 test flights in various countries such as Japan, South Korea, and the US;
Volocopter (Germany) and CAE (Canada) are collaborating for a pilot training program for eVTOL vehicles and operations. CAE is looking into investing US$40 million for the expansion of its training network;
UAM platform Ascent (that offers flights in Thailand and the Philippines) and Eve Urban Air Mobility have partnered to step up UAM development in the Asia-Pacific region;
According to Business Wire, "Europe is expected to account 46% of the drone taxi market in 2025", making it a significant player in the UAM sphere.
The UAM industry is still in its early phase of development, but you’ve got to admit, it’s exciting to see how things would turn out once everything is in place and commercial air taxis start to be fully operational. Of course, passenger eVTOL vehicles aren't going to be accessible to everyone right away. It will start in highly urbanized and highly congested cities with growing populations.
While UAM companies are yet to generate steady revenues, it’s safe to say that based on available data, the confidence in the industry remains to grow, thanks to developments in existing and upcoming technologies. In the next decade (or maybe less), don’t be surprised when passenger air taxis become a common sight in urban areas of some countries. How do you feel about eVTOL vehicles gracing the skies in a few years time?
References: Avionics International (evtol development programs), Roland Berger Focus report on UAM, Volocopter Newsroom, Asian Aviation, Asian Sky Media, and Business Wire.