15 Aspirational eVTOL and eCTOL Aircraft Startups
Separating hype from reality in the race to certify green-friendly electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) and electric conventional takeoff and landing (eCTOL) aircraft is challenging. Robert W. Moorman updates sector leaders as they move to certify their offerings within the next few years.
The large number of eVTOL / eCTOL competitors and certification timetables might seem unrealistic, but there is little doubt that electric-powered aircraft are here to stay, offering a promising clean form of short-haul air transportation.
“Early days of the industry focused on the technical viability and energy and aerodynamic efficiency of different aircraft and efficiency of different aircraft configurations, and later the development of an urban air mobility (UAM) ecosystem,” said Kenneth Swartz, an industry analyst and special advisor to the Vertical Flight Society, who has followed the electric-powered sector since its inception.
He added: “I think we are transitioning from a period finalizing all aspects of the aircraft design and enabling technology to focus on achieving aircraft certification in a reasonable time period.”
Swartz said there remains additional work in refining the Concept of Operations (CONOPS), pilot pipeline and profitability for these new aircraft.
Another challenge is to determine which is the most immediate market for these aircraft. Some analysts believe that the Urban Air Mobility (UAM) sector could be the initial market for eVTOL aircraft.
UAM, or as some re-term it AAM (Advanced Air Mobility), is expected to “take off in the second half of this decade,” wrote Robin Riedel, Partner and Global Co-leader of McKinsey and Company Disruptive Aerospace unit. (See interview: ‘Innovation and a Leap of Faith’)
As promising as the market is, range anxiety is a main concern of electric-powered aircraft developers.
Said Sergio Cecutta, SMG Consulting: “Batteries are the enabler but also the limitation for the AAM market, especially in the regional use case. Today’s batteries have an energy density in the 250 Wh/kg range and the solid batteries being tested for commercialization by mid/end of the decade are 350-400 Wh/kg. They face old fossil fuel, Jet A, with a specific energy density of 12,000 Wh/kg.
He added: “Even if we take into account the low efficiency of jet fuel-powered engines, it is a big gap to make up to have similar capabilities as today’s aircraft. However, batteries open the door for decarbonization of very short regional routes.”
Phase 2 for the eVTOL and eCTOL aircraft will be tough for the developers of these clean-sheet aircraft. Nevertheless, this new form of air transport, still in its infancy, presents an exciting and cleaner alternative to Jet A-fueled aircraft.
Summed Swartz: “eVTOLs hold the promise of being faster, quieter and more economical to operate than conventional helicopters, but it is up to future operators to develop the aircraft’s full market potential.”
As for eCTOL aircraft, he added: “ they’re being developed to utilize existing airport infrastructure and offer improved connectivity between communities where driving is the only option since the air taxi and regional airlines upgraded to larger-capacity aircraft to offset rising fuel prices.”
BETA Technologies flight simulator. CAE is developing a training program for their ALIA 250 eVTOL aircraft.
Those non-traditional eVTOL developers that are striving for certification, in alpha order, could include:
- BETA Technologies,
- Jaunt Air Mobility,
- Joby Aviation,
- Vertical Aerospace,
A number of eVTOL OEMs went through special purpose acquisition companies (SPACs) as a way to raise billions of dollars in investment capital, allowing them to hire engineers and production personnel.
As the market evolves and certification regulations are in flux, some companies are modifying their business plans.
Santa Clara, California-based Archer expects late 2024 certification of its 4-passenger plus pilot eVTOL Midnight air taxi and commercial service entry the following year.
Investment and manufacturing partner Stellantis will mass-produce the Midnight at Archer’s Covington, Georgia manufacturing facility. Stellantis is providing up to $150 million of equity capital and expects to extend its shareholding in Archer through future stock purchases.
Said Carlos Tavares, Stellantis CEO: “Deepening our partnership with Archer as a strategic investor with plans for growing our shareholding demonstrates how Stellantis is pushing the boundaries to provide sustainable freedom of mobility, from the road to the sky.”
Added Archer Founder and CEO Adam Goldstein: “Stellantis’s continued recognition of Archer’s progress toward commercialization, and today’s commitment of significant resources to build Midnight aircraft with us, place Archer in a strong position to be first to market.”
Archer and United Airlines last month announced plans to launch the first air taxi route in Chicago, between O’Hare International Airport (ORD) and Vertiport Chicago in the Illinois Medical District near the Chicago Loop. "Both Archer and United are committed to decarbonizing air travel and leveraging innovative technologies to deliver on the promise of the electrification of the aviation industry," said Michael Leskinen, President of United Airlines Ventures. United Airlines & Archer Bring Air Taxi Service to Chicago | Halldale Grou
Archer plans to build 250 air taxis in 2025, a claim challenged by its eVTOL competitors.
BETA Technologies, in what could become a trend among eVTOL aircraft developers, announced in mid-March 2023 that it would move forward with plans to certify an eCTOL variant, the 5-seat CX300, ahead of its ALIA 250 eVTOL aircraft.
“We think this is an important step in the electrification of aviation,” Blain Newton, Chief Operating Officer for Burlington, Vermont-based Beta told CAT. “Flying our eVTOL [ALIA 250] aircraft in eCTOL demonstrates that the operating economics and performance work in missions today."
Blain said certifying the eVTOL ALIA 250 is still a long-term goal: “We’re making progress technically with FAA. But we’re excited to come to market in a relatively short period of time with customers that will put our eCTOL aircraft to work as soon as possible.
Beta hopes to certify the fixed-wing variant in 2025, under FAA Part 23. Air New Zealand, Bristow and United Therapeutics, an investor in Beta’s eVTOL program, have placed orders for the aircraft.
The big news at Jaunt Air Mobility is that its family has expanded, which could bode well for the Dallas-based company.
AIRO Group Holdings, a private multi-faceted aerospace and defense company, merged with Kernal Group Holdings, whose brands include Aspen Avionics and Jaunt Air Mobility, makers of the Jaunt Journey eVTOL aircraft. The combined entity will be renamed AIRO Group Inc., a publicly traded company listed on Nasdaq under the symbols AIRO and AIROW. AIRO has four business divisions within its aerospace and defense training companies: Advanced Avionics, Electric Air Mobility, Uncrewed Air Systems and Training.
The Jaunt Journey aircraft is the leading asset of the Air Mobility Division. Jaunt is building an all-electric eVTOL aircraft for the AAM market. The current aircraft combines rotorcraft with fixed-wing technology and is a leader in Reduced Rotor Operating Speed Aircraft (ROSA) technology.
As of this writing, Jaunt was working with Transport Canada toward certification under Chapter 5239: Transport Category Rotorcraft. The reason for certifying in Canada first is two-fold: Jaunt has offices in Montréal and Canada’s aerospace sector has highly skilled personnel and expertise in certifying Bell rotorcraft. Martin Peryea, Senior Vice President and General Manager of Electric Air Mobility/Jaunt Air Mobility at the AIRO Group, held senior management positions at Bell Helicopter and Triumph Aerospace Structures before coming to AIRO.
AIRO’s Training Division will include ab initio pilot instruction, adversary air and close air support missions. The training division is involved in the $6.4 billion US Department of Defense contract program to provide Close Air Support, Intelligence Reconnaissance, Surveillance and Adversary Air training. AIRO expects the training arm will provide significant revenue growth for the company.
International business is picking up for Jaunt. FlyBlade India, aka Blade India, a joint venture between Hunch Ventures and Blade Air Mobility, and Jaunt Air Mobility LLC announced a strategic partnership in late May to launch eVTOL aircraft operations in India and the subcontinent region by 2027. The news signals a broader sales and marketing mandate for Jaunt.
Joby has completed the second of the five-stage certification process required by the FAA to certify its aircraft for commercial passenger use… the first eVTOL company to reach this milestone, having also been the first to complete stage one and have its Certification Basis published in the Federal Register. This brings the company closer to its target of launching commercial passenger service by 2025.
In February, Joby Aviation announced the beginning of propeller blade testing at the National Full-Scale Aerodynamic Complex (NFAC) at NASA’s Ames Research Center in California’s Silicon Valley. Working with the US Air Force and NASA, Joby installed an electric propulsion unit and propeller assembly in the wind tunnel, which is mounted to a six-degree-of-freedom force and moment balance to capture performance data. The blades are being tested to measure the loads experienced while rotating. A representative wing section of Joby’s aircraft allows for analysis of aerodynamic interference effects. Joby Begins Testing at World’s Largest Wind Tunnel Facility | Halldale Group
Meanwhile, Joby is assembling its first production eVTOL aircraft at its manufacturing facility in Marina, California. Already built is the wing and aircraft fuselage. Next comes the mating of the structures and installation of electronics, actuation, electronics and propulsion systems on the production line. Flight testing of the production article is slated for the first half of 2023.
The assembly of this aircraft “unlocks the path ahead and allows us to exercise our quality management system in preparation for type certification and subsequent production certification,” said Didier Papadopoulos, Head of Aircraft OEM at Joby.
Joby has appointed Michael Huerta, former FAA Administrator to the company’s board. Huerta also serves on the Board of Directors for Delta Air Lines, which announced a multi-year, multi-market commercial and operational partnership with Joby in October 2022.
Lilium N.V. a manufacturer of eVTOL jets, announced this year a partnership with Collins Aerospace to build the Lilium Jet’s inceptors side-stick pilot controls.
Earlier, GNK Aerospace, a sustainable aerospace technology company, announced it would build EWIS hardware sets and integrate EVIS components for the operational systems on the Lilium Jet. GNK will provide onsite installation at Lilium’s final assembly line at Oberpfaffenhofen, Germany.
This latest announcement adds to earlier agreements for avionics, battery cells, aerostructures, e-motors, propulsion and other systems for the Lilium Jet.
Two major issues for the German company have been a lack of investment capital and a negative report about the aircraft’s performance capabilities. Last year, Iceberg Research, a watchdog of public companies, took issue with Lilium’s flight range. Iceberg stated: “Many experts have raised serious doubts about the Jet’s ability to fly 155 miles. This is largely due to its configuration of 36 ducted fans [since reduced to 30] that devour power during takeoff and landing (hovering), and leaves little power for actual flight.”
(Note: Lilium has since been reduced the range estimate to 109 miles.)
MarketBeat listed Lilium as hold, as of 20 March. Various financial publications stated that Lilium needs millions of dollars in additional capital to remain viable beyond 2024.
In mid-January 2023, Lilium announced the appointments of Oliver Vogelgesang as Chief Financial Officer and Sebastien Borel as Chief Commercial Officer. Vogelgesang succeeds Geoffrey Richardson, who left the company.
Lilium CEO Klaus Roewe recently said their focus has shifted to the private aviation market, leveraging their agreement with NetJets. He said wealthy corporate aircraft buyers are willing to pay more for comfort and safety. Roewe said he is “100 percent” confident of entry into service in 2025.
Bristol, England-based Vertical Aerospace continues to refine its operation and post orders for its four-passenger, single pilot VX4 eVTOL aircraft. Projected range and cruise speed for the $4 million VX4 is 100 miles and 150 mph. The aircraft has more than 1,400 conditional orders from operators, lessors, tourist groups and airlines, including Virgin Atlantic, American Airlines, Japan Airlines and AirAsia.
Vertical announced on 30 March the first Design Organisation Approval (DOA) issued to an eVTOL manufacturer by the UK Civil Aviation Authority, a milestone toward achieving type certification.
In mid-March 2023, the company opened its 15,000-sqft Vertical Energy Center (VEC), a battery-making facility for its eVTOL aircraft. E-One Moli Energy, a Taiwanese manufacturer of lithium-ion batteries, is responsible for the cylindrical cells for the ‘Molicel’ battery cells for the VX4, combining Vertical’s proprietary battery pack design with Moli’s cell technology. The facility will produce 220Wh/kg batteries. To fund the facility, Vertical secured £14 million, which comes from the Aerospace Technology Institute (ATI) through a joint program with the UK government.
Vertical’s first program partner, Honeywell, will install its fly-by-wire control system on the VX4. Helicopter manufacturer Leonardo is making the carbon fiber composite fuselage for the VX4 air taxi.
In mid-January 2023, Vertical secured a pre-delivery payment for the reservation of aircraft delivery slots from its first Asian customer, Japanese trading and investment conglomerate Marubeni Corporation. Marubeni has reserved delivery slots for 25 out of 200 VX4 conditional pre-orders. The company’s order bolsters Vertical market position.
In other developments, Vertical and Rolls Royce are pursuing battery and hydrogen-powered technology. The partnership received a £113 million investment from the United Kingdom’s ATI Program to support the effort.
Separately, RR is developing a liquid hydrogen-powered jet engine, which could have commercial airliner applications.
German eVTOL developer Volocopter expects to certify its Volocopter City air taxi in 2024 with the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA). Certification efforts are also underway with the US FAA and the Civil Aviation Authorities in Singapore and in Japan. Volocopter on Target to Achieve EASA Certification for Volocity | Halldale Group
The Japan Civil Aviation Bureau has accepted the company’s application for concurrent type certification. Plans are to enter its VoloCity air taxi into commercial service in the Japanese market in 2025. A full-scale model was to have been displayed in mid-March at the Grand Front Osaka, an enormous shopping mall and business park. The aircraft is expected to fly at the Expo 2025 in Osaka, Japan.
Volocopter also plans to launch commercial flights of its 2-seat, 18-rotor, all-electric VoloCity air taxi in Paris and Singapore by 2024.
Volocopter’s published offerings include the VoloCity air taxi, VoloDrone, VoloRegion and fixed-wing VoloConnect air taxi. The VoloConnect, a 4-seat fixed-wing passenger aircraft, completed its first flight in May 2022.
This year Volocopter entered into partnership with IT provider SITA, which becomes Volocopter’s preferred digital and IT systems partner for Vertiports.
“Working in concert with our partners, we are setting up for commercial operations,” said Christian Bauer, Volocopter Chief Commercial Officer. “This involves establishing the requisite infrastructure, maintenance, flight operations, IT and customer services.”
The company has offices in Bruchsal and Munich, Germany and Singapore.
In December 2022, Volocopter canceled plans to go public through a merger with a SPAC because of poor market conditions, according to German financial publication Finance FWD.
Credit: Eve Air Mobility
HEDGING THEIR BETS
Meanwhile, established OEMs like Embraer’s Eve Air Mobility, Airbus (CityAirbus NextGen) and Boeing/Wisk’s 6th-generation, 2-passenger, fully autonomous eVTOL aircraft move toward certification of their all-electric-powered aircraft.
Airbus’s CityAirbus NextGen is a 4-seat eVTOL aircraft with a projected range of 50 miles and a 75 mph cruising speed. The aircraft has eight fixed-pitch electric propellers and motors, fixed wing and a V-shaped tail.
Designed for the urban air mobility sector, Airbus expects to begin flight testing of the prototype in 2024; ground tests began in February 2023.
Airbus Helicopters facility in Donauworth, Germany is building the prototype. Spirit AeroSystems is building the aircraft’s wing while Diehl Aerosystems and Thales are responsible for the flight control systems. MagicAll is building the electric motors.
The Boeing/Wisk Aero joint venture is so far the only developer of a fully autonomous aircraft designed for the advanced air mobility and air cargo markets. The high-winged Generation 6 eVTOL production model, unveiled in October, to be used for certification purposes, has 12 electric motors, 12 propellers and a projected cruise speed of 138 mph and a 90-mile range. The aircraft will seat four passengers.
So far, Boeing has invested $450 million in the program.
The company has had an interesting history. “As Zee Aero became Kitty Hawk, it shifted its focus to the development of the 2-seat Cora eVTOL, which it’s been flight testing in California and New Zealand since 2018,” said industry analyst Swarz. “This was conceived as an autonomous aircraft and later rolled into the Wisk Aero joint venture with Boeing. The long path to certification of an autonomous aircraft means that Wisk will not be first to market in the eVTOL race, at least in the civil aviation sphere.”
The initial eVTOL company, KittyHawk Aero, was founded in 2010 by Google co-founder Larry Page. In September 2023, KittyHawk shut down, but the eVTOL program continues.
Eve Air Mobility, in which the Brazilian aircraft maker Embraer has a controlling interest, expects to achieve certification with the National Civil Aviation Agency of Brazil (ANAC) of its eVTOL air taxi “Eve” in 2026. FAA certification is expected shortly thereafter.
(Note: Miguel Cara’ and Luiz Mauad will present on ‘Eve’s Vision on Training for eVTOL at WATS 2023 on Tuesday, 18 April.)
Like its competitors, the company needs additional investment capital toward certification and production of its aircraft. The company has an initial investment of $400 million. Investors include United Airlines, SkyWest and Republic Airways.
The company continues to form partnerships. In March 2023, the company signed a Letter of Intent (LOI) with Ferrovial Vertiports to explore the use of Eve’s Urban Air Traffic Management (Urban ATM) software solution to support the safe and reliable operation of vertiports and eVTOL aircraft.
This agreement represents a significant step forward and is a strong validation of Eve’s Urban ATM service offering,” said Andre Stein, co-CEO of Eve. “Eve is more than an eVTOL manufacturer and we are working with companies like Ferrovial Vertiports to provide them with solutions that will allow these aircraft to operate safely and efficiently.”
Eve has LOIs of around 2,770 aircraft, according to Stein. In 2022, Eve Air Mobility listed on the New York Stock Exchange.
The Bye Aerospace eFlyer 4 advanced trainer aircraft.
Among the noteworthy eCTOL training aircraft developers are Bye Aerospace and Textron’s Pipistrel, the first OEM to certify an electric-powered aircraft. Also in the mix: Diamond, Eviation, Heart and Piper. Positively Electrifying | Halldale Group
Bye Aerospace’s eFlyer 2 received FAA approval for the standards and measures the agency will apply to certifying the aircraft. Bye provided the FAA with 16 certification plans that include subsystems, procedures and systems data, making the aircraft eligible for type certification.
The eFlyer 2 could become the trainer replacement for older training aircraft, including the Cessna 152/172. A new Cessna 172 Skyhawk costs $432,000 in 2023 dollars. The 152 has been out of production for 40 years.
“We believe the all-electric eFlyer 2 basic trainer, and later, the eFlyer 4 advanced trainer will be excellent pilot training aircraft,” said Founder and CEO George Bye. “We’ve made significant FAA certification progress as a purpose-designed electric aircraft. The advantages of this design approach include lower operational costs, higher efficiency, performance and endurance.”
In October 2021, Diamond Aircraft, a Chinese-owned maker of general aviation aircraft, announced plans for an all-electric trainer aircraft, the eDA40, a derivative of the existing avgas powered DA40 platform. The fast-charging-capable eDA40 will be certified under EASA/FAA Part 23 standards for electric aircraft. Certification is projected for sometime in 2023.
Diamond is partnering with battery technology company Electric Power Systems, which integrate the EPIC Ecosystem into the eDA40.
Eviation Aircraft is another eCTOL that bears watching. The company’s 9-passenger, all-electric propeller-driven aircraft is being offered as a commuter and executive aircraft.
Aerus, a Mexican regional airline, has a letter of intent for 30 Eviation Alice commuter aircraft. Monterrey City-based Aerus will use Alice for “middle-mile travel” to underserved communities in northern Mexico, including Nuevo Leon and Veracruz.
As of late 2022, Israel and Washington State-based Eviation had 300 orders for the Alice worth $2 billion. Customers include US regional airlines Cape Air and Global Crossing, German operator EVIA Aero and DHL Express. In November 2022, Northern Territory Air Services, a regional and charter carrier based in the Australian Outback, ordered 20 Alice all-electric aircraft.
Heart Aerospace and BAE Systems will create a battery system for Heart's fixed-wing regional electric plane, the ES-30, an eCTOL aircraft powered by four electric motors, capable of carrying passengers 120 miles. Heart has posted 230 soft orders and 100 options for the ES-30.
Piper Aircraft and CAE announced they were developing a conversion kit by way of Supplemental Type Certificate of two-thirds of its Piper Archers to electric power. The partners also are developing training and support services for the electric-powered Archer.
In April 2022, Textron Inc. closed on its acquisition of Pipistrel, a pioneer in electric-powered aircraft. Pipistrel’s Velis Electro is the first and still the only electric aircraft to obtain full type certification from the EASA.
As a Textron company, Pipistrel becomes part of a global company with numerous resources and subsidiaries. Textron’s acquisitions include Cessna, Beechcraft and Bell. Pipistrel is part of Textron eAviation, whose mission is to pursue opportunities in sustainable aircraft for the urban air mobility, general aviation, cargo and special mission roles.
Pipistrel Founder and CEO Ivo Boscarol remains a minority shareholder and advisor to eAviation CEO Rob School.
Headquarters, research and development and manufacturing and remain in Slovenia and Italy. Since its founding in 1989, Pipistrel has delivered more than 2,500 light aircraft, including several electric-powered aircraft.
In parallel to aircraft development, several eVTOL companies have announced training partnerships. In 2021, BETA Technologies and training solutions provider CAE announced plans to create a training program for pilots and aircraft training programs for the ALIA 250. Earlier that year, CAE and Volocopter announced plans to develop a pilot training program for Volocopter’s eVTOL air taxi. Also last year, Joby Aviation and Vertical Aerospace announced pilot training partnerships with CAE.
(Note: CAE’s Chris Courtney and Capt Chris Ranganathan will present, with Sergio Quito of Gol, on ‘The Intricacies of Training for the Take-Off of eVTOL’ on Tuesday, 18 April, at WATS 2023.)
In March 2022, FlightSafety International entered the eVTOL market, signing crew training memorandum of understanding with Lilium and NetJets, a fractional aircraft ownership provider. (Both FlightSafety and NetJets are owned by Berkshire Hathaway.) FlightSafety Eyes New Ways to Train in the AAM Space | Halldale Group
Surprisingly, work toward pilot training standards began sometime ago.
Jens C. Henning, Vice President of Operations for the General Aviation Manufacturers Association, whose responsibilities include advancing safety and security, explained: “Some companies have been working on training requirements, exemptions, and standards since 2018. GAMA chartered a pilot training standards committee under an FAA ARAC that presented some of the proposed standards in 2018-2019 for the agency’s consideration. We just filed comments on those in February 2023 after the FAA had done it’s review work of those recommendations.”
“There was a course correct from the FAA last spring related to some regulatory definitions,” Henning added, “…some issues caused by that change — the end result was focused work by the FAA to clear some bureaucratic roadblocks since then.”
“We’ve seen similar technical and regulatory work within an EASA-sponsored rule making task which is in final stages with comments being filed right now.”
For an update on standards development, see New ‘Code Number’ for eVTOL: 2117(b).