The vision, current status and challenges eVTOLs face in travel

Electric Vertical Takeoff and Landing aircraft – “eVTOLs” – offer the promise of next-generation air transportation with significantly less carbon emissions than their ancestor, the helicopter, or current alternative modes of transportation like short-haul planes, shuttle buses, taxis, or even ride-hailing services. The vision that developers present paints a picture in which eVTOLs move people and cargo over short distances more quietly and with a lower carbon footprint than current methods of air transport. Some plans even aim to make eVTOLs completely autonomous – drones with human passengers.  

Actualization of the eVTOL vision is not without some very large hurdles, however. This is a preview of Phocuwright's latest research report eVTOLs in Travel: Viable Addition or Flights of Fancy?, which analyzes the vision, current status and challenges eVTOLs face specifically around travel, tourism and human transport. 

The eVTOL Vision 

Though eVTOLs have now been in development for more than a decade, some like to attribute their inspiration to the 1960’s Warner Bros animated series, The Jetsons. In this sci-fi show, future Earth inhabitants lived in the skies and moved about the atmosphere in flying saucer-like personal vehicles that took off vertically or horizontally. eVTOLs currently in development for passenger mobility are not, at least initially, intended to be personal transportation vehicles. Instead, they’re meant to transport two to six individuals the first mile or last mile – between short-distance points of pick-up and destination – for a somewhat modest rate. The current estimates place costs between $2.25 to $11 per passenger mile. 

As futuristic as they still seem, eVTOLs have recently moved from concept to trial, and multiple manufacturers worldwide now have their vehicles in the certification process. Certifications vary significantly, depending on the governing region in which the eVTOL expects to operate, and getting certified remains a critical step for eVTOLs to actually start transporting passengers.

Some say full certification of commercial flights could begin as soon as next year, though most industry forecasts peg 2025 as more realistic. The future is almost here! 

Momentum Continues to Build

The number of companies working on eVTOLs is expanding quickly. One estimate claims there are 200 companies globally. McKinsey notes that the incumbents are actually playing catch up to the startups, with 72% of the largest 25 aviation manufacturers and 64% of the largest 25 suppliers now participating in some type of advanced air mobility activity. 

Making eVTOLs a reality requires significant capital. The investor market bullishly views the potential of eVTOLs as the next Uber. Several estimates place total category investment at $5-7 billion so far.

Beginning in 2021 and continuing into 2022, major airlines like American (with Vertical Aerospace), Virgin Atlantic (with Vertical Aerospace), Delta (with Joby), and United (with Eve Air Mobility) announced deals to either invest in or make purchase commitments for eVTOLs.

eVTOLs and Tourism 

The use of eVTOLs need not be limited to passenger transport.

There’s a viable opportunity for eVTOLs to be used within the tourism sector for quieter, less expensive, more environmentally-friendly airborne tours of hot spots such as natural wonders, wildlife preserves and ancient historical sites. 

One could also envision vertiports themselves becoming an attraction destination, much as enormous shopping malls or sky platforms are now – just add something of entertainment value like a museum, restaurant, theater or observation deck, and make it worth the tourist’s while to stay for a few hours.  

The Sustainability Question 

eVTOLs fall into a few categories:



Sustainable Aviation Fuel

Other Looming Obstacles 

Currently, the biggest obstacle to eVTOL use in the U.S. and EU is government body aviation certification. But there are also a few hurdles beyond that.

  • What will the public’s perception of eVTOL safety be?
  • Will they be comfortable with (and in) eVTOLs, especially pilotless ones?
  • How will they be assured that an eVTOL will be available for them, if and when they’re ready to fly in one?
  • Will eVTOLs’ claims live up to the hype?
  • Will eVTOLs ultimately be seen as another airborne novelty or nuisance with potentially hazardous impacts on sky space, including aesthetics, privacy and wildlife? 

With a 2025 full certification target date likely, eVTOLs will soon embark on their maiden voyages. Whether they take off successfully and their long-touted ambitions are achieved remains to be seen. 

The full article eVTOLs in Travel: Viable Addition or Flights of Fancy? is part of a content series that explores some of the most impactful innovation and technology-driven trends that will influence the travel industry in 2023 and beyond.

Get the full report here.

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