On The Radar
After a relatively slow start in the first half of January, the advanced air mobility (AAM) sector has resumed its wild ride in recent weeks, with eVTOL aircraft developers jostling for attention and fresh funding. To some observers, talk of billion-dollar mergers points to a trend that could see a small group of leading contenders pulling away from the unwieldy field of wannabes.
Arizona-based consulting firm SMG has taken the opportunity to update the AAM Reality Index (ARI) that it unveiled at the start of the year. The company committed to periodic updates as new information comes to light but seems determined to be selective in how many companies it chooses to rate.
This may be an attempt to nudge other companies to be more transparent about where their programs stand, rather than sticking to the tired mantra of “take my word for it, I’m a serial entrepreneur who made a small fortune from an app for ordering donuts and this is the freshest concept since the Wright Brothers discovered spruce wood and silk and before you know it the skies will be dark with our eVTOLs.” If greater candor results from this exercise then it is welcome and the approach taken by SMG certainly prompts questions as to how to assess new aircraft programs.
The company uses a proprietary formula to evaluate publicly available information about the programs, assessing five key elements: the funding a company has, the caliber of its leadership team, the technological readiness of each vehicle, progress achieved towards type certification, and readiness to begin full-scale production.
The updated ARI Index, revealed late on February 15, has two new entrants: the U.S. start-up Archer Aviation and its unnamed four-passenger design and Switzerland’s Dufour Aerospace with its Aero 3 model. Archer made news last week when it announced a $1.1 billion equity flotation through a merger with a special purpose acquisition company and also a provisional order for up to 200 aircraft from United Airlines. SMG approached Dufour for details after being attracted to its concept.
The ARI Index has been improved with a new field that highlights changes in ratings/rankings from earlier releases. Seven of the original 14 companies listed have changed their rating, and, with one exception, not in a good way.
The biggest corrections were for Embraer’s Eve Air Mobility subsidiary and Sabrewing. The former fell from a rating of 7.5 to 6.0 based on funding, technology readiness, certification progress, and production readiness, while the latter dipped by the same degree from 7.4 to 5.9 based on funding and technology readiness.
In SMG’s view, Bell’s Nexus 4EX program, about which the U.S. helicopter manufacturer has remained steadfastly tight-lipped, lost altitude over funding and technology readiness. Hyundai, Pipistrel, and Elroy Air all lost ground with regard to technology readiness.
On the other side of the SMG ledger, the UK’s Vertical Aerospace increased its rating slightly from 5.7 to 5.9 on the basis of a revised assessment for funding and technology readiness.