The Future of Advanced Air Mobility

Beyond Air Taxi: How eVTOLs Could Be a Lifesaver as Well as a Moneymaker

Whether it be a stroke, heart attack, or trauma from an accident, time is a key factor in saving lives. In fact, according to one study (see citation below), the chance of surviving cardiac arrest decreases by 24 percent for every minute an ambulance is delayed getting to the scene.

Obviously, the solution is to get ambulances to the scene faster. But with increasing traffic congestion in cities and with many rural areas lacking reliable emergency services, this is easier said than done. That’s where some developers of eVTOL aircraft feel they can make a real difference by providing a way for emergency medical service (EMS) crews to get where they can save lives in the shortest possible time, with more operational flexibility than current helicopters offer.

“The eVTOL aircraft have the potential to cut first response times in half and, in doing so, potentially save thousands of lives,” said Katerina Barilov, co-founder and head of business development at Jump Aero, a California-based start-up working to enable first responders to fly to the scene of an emergency as fast as possible.

Speaking at the recent Electric Aircraft Symposium organized by the CAFE Foundation and the Vertical Flight Society, Barilov said that with much of the industry focused on developing eVTOL technology for transporting people and goods, there is a risk of missing more immediate opportunities. “Jump Aero believes that rapid first response offers the highest rate of growth, the most immediate opportunities, and the fastest way to market for eVTOL newcomers,” she said.

To illustrate her point, Barilov noted that, unlike the current helicopter charter business, air ambulances face fewer challenges with regard to community acceptance. “In general, we’re OK with having our peace and quiet disrupted by ambulances and helicopters,” she said.

According to Barilov, people are willing to pay considerably more for life-saving measures than they are for traditional transportation, resulting in higher margins. The sector also has the benefit of not needing to build a new business model or even infrastructure. “Our plan is to simply plug into the existing EMS business and go,” explained Barilov.

Jump’s launch plans are entirely focused on the U.S. market, where medical insurance groups are used to covering the cost of helicopter transfers. In other countries, the business model for deploying eVTOL aircraft in EMS roles may well be different.

Of course, challenges exist, even in the U.S. For example, every location organizes its EMS system differently, with some locales operating at the state level and others providing the service at the county or city level. Such fragmentation requires companies like Jump Aero to build their business case to an array of customer types with their own unique rules and regulations—a process that takes time and money.   

There’s also competition, as Jump Aero is by no means the only company looking to carve out a share of the market. The likes of Kitty Hawk (with its Heaviside vehicle), Jaunt Air Mobility (with its planned Jambulance model), Volocopter (with the VoloCity), and Urban Aeronautics (with its CityHawk) are all eying the EMS market. In China, EHang has deployed its EH216 autonomous eVTOL to support Covid pandemic relief efforts. Even the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) is developing an open-source eVTOL concept for EMS use.

That said, Jump Aero is confident that its aircraft will be the fastest, safest, and most reliable way for EMS to arrive and deliver care at the scene of an emergency. Although the company is tight-lipped about its final design, Barilov confirmed that it will be a single-seat aircraft designed to safely fly a paramedic to and from the scene. Still to be resolved is whether the paramedic would need to be qualified to fly the vehicle, or whether it would be operated autonomously.

“First responders continuously tell us that the most effective way to save lives is to triage and treat a situation on-site,” she said. “That’s why our focus is on getting the paramedic to the scene as quickly as possible and not on transporting the patient back to a hospital.”

Jump Aero also confirmed that its aircraft will come fully equipped with all necessary medical devices and technology. And, with the ability to travel over 200 mph, the company said, its eVTOL will be able to arrive twice as quickly as an ambulance (in four minutes instead of eight) in urban areas and as much as 20 to 30 minutes faster in rural areas.

“With each of these minutes potentially representing a life saved, this is a perfect opportunity for eVTOL technology to quickly enter the market and start making a real difference today,” Barilov concluded. 

Citation: Zong, F.; Zeng, M.; Cao, Y.Liu, Y. Local Dynamic Path Planning for an Ambulance Based on Driving Risk and Attraction Field.Sustainability 2021,13, 3194.