Revolution.Aero Uplift: ‘AAM is Formula One of Aviation’



In the driving seat: Joby Aviation’s eVTOL(R) and Lewis Hamilton at the Saudi Arabia Grand Prix (L). Credit: Formula One

In January 2021 there were no listed electrical vertical aircraft manufacturers. By the end there were four: Joby, Archer, Lilium and Vertical Aerospace – with Eve coming soon. Blade Air Mobility and Wheels Up – two companies looking to eventually sell electric flights – also went public via SPACs (special purpose acquisition companies).

Competitors Archer and Wisk were locked in a legal battle, showing that the industry was maturing, according to some experts. Airlines, including United and Japan Airlines, entered the space placing hundreds of orders with top eVTOL companies. Commercial aircraft lessors also started looking at the market seriously with Avolon and Falko placing letters of intent. Bristow, one of the world’s leading helicopter operators, was also busy working on investments and orders.

The year saw automobile manufacturers step up. Hyundai, already a market leader, rebranded its urban air mobility division as Supernal. Honda confirmed plans to develop a hybrid eVTOL and Chinese automaker Xpeng Motors’s UAM subsidiary, HT Aero, raised $500m for an eVTOL car concept.

Co-founder of early-stage investment company UP.Partners, Cyrus Sigari, told Revolution.Aero: “In our opinion, the automotive industry has the single greatest potential leg up when it comes to at scale manufacturing of vehicles.”

Dean Donovan, MD of DiamondStream Partners, agrees, suggesting that we are witnessing a shakeup which “will make aviation the most important element of the transportation system and re-factor multiple levels of our economy”.

The industry also saw its first round of electric world records last year. The world’s fastest electric aircraft, Rolls Royce’s Spirit of Aviation, averaged 345mph. Also, Pipistrel and Joby Aviation set range records for longest flight in an electric aircraft powered by renewable energy and longest eVTOL flight, at 260mph and 155mph, respectively.

“Electric and hydrogen powered aircraft development is now absolutely where the top talent wants to forge their aviation careers. AAM is the Formula One of aviation,” says Adam Twidell, Future Flight, OneSky – which ordered 200 aircraft from Eve.

Twidell says we can expect more records in 2022: “Looking ahead, that small trickle of records will become a flood, as many other manufacturers roll out their prototypes. 2022 is going to be the year of the e-debutant.”

Donovan is most excited about micro-airlines. He says as the aircraft (including drones) on the drawing board get closer to deployment, we are going to see the development of micro-regional air services.

He sees these small networks (or airlines) running missions from crop dusting and rural medical deliveries to urban parcel delivery, to UAM, to mid-mile freight and regional aircraft. Donovan adds: “What will change radically with AAM is the breadth of use cases driving new networks and the variety of aircraft operating against those use case networks.”

UPS subsidiary UPS Flight Forward has taken a step in this direction with its order for 10 eVTOL – with an option for 150 more – from Beta Technologies. Elsewhere, autonomous logistics company Elroy Air raised $40m in a Series A. It intends to offer same-day shipping for goods.

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