The Future of Advanced Air Mobility

South Korea's Hyundai unveiled its S-A1 eVTOL program on January 7, 2020, at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. At the same time, rideshare group Uber announced that the car manufacturer is now a partner in its plans to launch an air-taxi network called Uber Air.

Hyundai's engineering team aims to have a full-scale prototype ready to start test flights in 2023, with the company targeting type certification in 2028. The four-seat aircraft will initially be piloted, but might subsequently fly autonomously, at which point passenger capacity could increase to six. The all-electric S-A1 is expected to be able to fly up to around 60 miles (100 km) at speeds of up to 180 mph (290 km/h) while cruising at between 1,000 and 2,000 feet. A key design goal, as per Uber's specifications, is for the aircraft to be able to be fully recharged within five to seven minutes.

Hyundai somewhat confusingly refers to the S-A1 as a "personal air vehicle" even though it is evidently intended for air taxi operations carrying four passengers. The company's strategy calls for the aircraft to be part of a wider mobility "ecosystem" that would also include new S-Link Purpose Built Vehicles to carry passengers to and from flights that would operate from so-called S-Hub and S-Hub Skyport facilities.

In October 2020, Hyundai broke ground on a new Innovation Center in Singapore in a further sign of its long-term commitment to developing mobility technology. The group's Urban Air Mobility Division appears to be largely based in the U.S. where a management team still appears to be at a formative stage. Pamela Cohn recently assumed the position of chief operating officer, having joined the company in January as 

In April, Hyundai announced the appointment of Scott Drennan as executive vice president of the division, having recruited him from helicopter maker Bell, where he was involved in the Nexus eVTOL program. However, this month Drennan announced via his LinkedIn profile that he had left the company to launch his own engineering company called Drennan Innovation. Cohn reports to Jaiwon Shin, who heads the new division.

Outlook

Our objective assessment of this program’s probable success.

FutureFlight assesses the probability of success for a new aircraft program by considering the following criteria:

  • Total investment funds available in proportion to the anticipated cost of getting an aircraft certified and in service
  • A company’s in-house capability (in terms of numbers of engineers, technical staff, and customer support teams)
  • The past experience of the company and its senior leadership in developing aircraft
  • The caliber and past experience of key program partners
  • Whether key aircraft systems have been selected and are available for use
  • Whether the preliminary design review has been completed
  • Whether the design for the full-scale prototype has been completed
  • Whether the type certification process has been formally initiated with an appropriate regulator
  • Whether the company has achieved a first flight with a full-scale prototype
  • The number of hours logged in a flight test program
  • Whether type certification has been achieved
  • The number of orders and commitment received for the aircraft
  • Whether the company has adequate facilities to begin series production of the aircraft
Our Methodology

Hyundai has committed $1 .5 billion to the S-A1 program, as part of a much larger $52 billion bet on electric vehicles and "disruptive mobility technology." The company has no direct experience of aerospace technology but is in the process of significantly ramping up its engineering capability. According to Uber, the automobile manufacturer's long experience in lean manufacturing will allow it to build the planned eVTOL aircraft at a significantly lower cost than most rivals. 

However, as of January 2020, it had yet to define the design for the S-A1's propulsion system and it clearly has a lot of work to do to complete the design and build a full-scale prototype by 2023.

In October 2020, in a further sign of its long-term commitment to developing new mobility technology, Hyundai broke ground on a new Innovation Center in Singapore. Its Urban Air Mobility Division appears to be largely based in the U.S., where the new management team is still taking shape. Pamela Cohn recently assumed the position of chief operating officer, having joined the company in January as the lead for global strategy and operations. In April, Hyundai appointed Scott Drennan as executive vice president, having recruited him from helicopter maker Bell, where he was involved in the Nexus eVTOL program. However, in October Drennan announced via his LinkedIn profile that he had left the company to launch his own engineering company called Drennan Innovation. Cohn reports to Jaiwon Shin, who heads the new division.

Hyundai clearly has the financial strength to pursue its ambitions in air mobility. Its ambitious plans in air mobility will be an interesting test case for how an automotive group can leverage its engineering prowess in the field of aviation.

Investors

Total Amount Invested: $1.5b

Key Personnel

Dr Jaiwon Shin
Dr Jaiwon Shin

Vice President (VP)

Pamela Cohn
Pamela Cohn

Chief operating officer

Jangho Park