The Future of Advanced Air Mobility

Helicopter Industry Is Gravitating Towards Advanced Air Mobility

Rotorcraft industry leaders addressing the Helicopter Investor conference last week in London expressed measured optimism over prospects for the emerging advanced air mobility sector. There was consensus that new eVTOL aircraft will start to be used for some current helicopter use cases, albeit most speakers expressed doubt that this will start happening from 2025, as many of the more bullish market entrants are insisting.

Lobo Leasing is one of a handful of lessors to have committed to adding eVTOL aircraft, having already made a down payment for Pipistrel’s planned Nuuva autonomous cargo vehicles. The UK-based group’s CEO Dan Roberts said that he is ready to make further payments to the Textron eAviation company with a view to leasing or reselling the Nuuvas to operators.

“There’s a lot of talk about it [AAM] and it’s a development play for now,” he commented. “Many investors want returns today and there is no short-term return from this. We need appraisers to be able to tell us what the new aircraft will be worth 30 years from now and that will be necessary to get investors backing eVTOLs.”

Olivier Piot, CEO of Nova Capital—which this week launched a €50 million ($54 million) private debt fund for light helicopters—said his company has no plans to invest in eVTOLs. However, he conceded that their arrival on the market could impact the residual values of existing rotorcraft.

One company that is investing in an AAM future is Bristow, which has provisional order agreements in place with seven manufacturers, including Electra, Beta Technologies, Elroy Air, Vertical Aerospace, Eve Air Mobility, Overair, and Lilium. The helicopter operator’s CEO, Chris Bradshaw, said it also has as-yet-unannounced deals agreed with other OEMs and major airlines, and suggested that early eVTOL use cases could be in regions such as South America and Africa and focused on remotely piloted cargo flights.

Overair's Butterfly eVTOL aircraft.
Overair's Butterfly eVTOL aircraft is one of several new designs being evaluated for a fleet modernization at helicopter operator Bristow. (Image: Overair)

“There will be a role for startups but also for mature operators like us,” he told the conference. “We have a dozen different AOCs and employ more than 800 pilots and about the same number of maintenance technicians. We also have experience of managing operations in unregulated airspace in places like Surinam, where there is nothing [in terms of infrastructure].”

Blade Air Mobility is also working on plans to bring eVTOLs into its network of on-demand operating partners. The U.S. company went public in 2021 and its president and general counsel, Melissa Tomkiel, said its main focus will be building air-taxi and medical services in existing markets such as the New York City metro area, the south of France, and India.

“We believe eVTOLs can address community noise concerns [about helicopters] and that will hopefully unlock new landing infrastructure,” she told conference attendees.

One of the highlights of the Helicopter Investor event was the unveiling of ambitious plans for a hybrid-powered eVTOL that would carry up to 40 passengers or 9,900 pounds of cargo. European startup Lyte Aviation said it expects to build a full-scale prototype of the tandem tiltwing SkyBus in the next 24 months and have it ready to enter service by 2030.