On The Radar
There are almost as many opinions about the potential size of the advanced air mobility market as there are eVTOL aircraft designs. They all seem to err on the bullish side and a new prognosis published by UK-based IDTechEx is no exception, with a headline projection that the market for air taxi applications alone will be worth $14.7 billion annually by 2041. That figure is markedly less than some recent projections by the likes of Deloitte and Roland Berger, but it is purely based on sales of aircraft, excluding all the myriad other revenue streams associated with the new sector.
According to IDTechEx technology analyst Dr. David Wyatt, it’s somewhat hard to determine base prices for aircraft as many of the eVTOL start-ups claim they will operate these themselves rather than selling them to existing commercial operators. For the report, titled Air Taxis: Electric Vertical Takeoff and Landing Aircraft 2021–2041, he and his colleagues worked on a unit price per aircraft of $1.5 million.
The report also provides a fascinating assessment of costs per passenger (without a profit margin) for average trip lengths ranging from 10 km (six miles) to 100 km (60 miles), starting at $20.30 and rising to $72.70. These numbers are far lower than equivalent costs for flights on existing helicopters and light private jets, revealing the potential that the new aircraft technology has to unlock previously untapped demand for air transportation. They are based on aircraft that can carry at least four passengers and fly at around 200 km/h (124 mph).
The IDTechEx research team determined that to achieve these somewhat jaw-dropping operating economics, each aircraft would be logging something like 2,000 flight hours per year. The figure seems in sync with projections from some eVTOL front runners, such as Joby at 2,500 hours per annum and its rival Archer at 1,825 (as per the SEC filings for their recently announced SPAC flotations).
The analysis shows a proportional breakdown of costs, including the upfront expense of buying the aircraft, vertiport infrastructure, electricity, battery replacement, pilots, vertiport operations, insurance, and maintenance. It makes assumptions such as the need to replace entire battery systems every six to 12 months.
The report provides an overview of some of the more well-developed new aircraft programs and how they might fit into this emerging marketplace. It mainly focuses on passenger-carrying applications while acknowledging the potential for others such as freight and emergency medical support. The authors also consider key enabling technologies, including batteries, electric motors, composite materials, and ground infrastructure.
The IDTechEx team argues that some of the envisaged air taxi services won’t deliver sufficiently clear benefits for the anticipated cost, compared with existing modes of transport. According to Wyatt, the market for trips of at least 40 to 50 km (24 to 31 miles) is likely to prove far more rewarding than services based on much shorter hops.
In his view, the early years for eVTOL air taxi operations, starting around 2024, will be fairly small-scale and experimental. “We see 2040 to 2050 as being the period when there will be a really big takeoff,” he told FutureFlight.
Wyatt believes that maybe six to 12 eVTOL aircraft stand to make the breakthrough into commercial viability. He feels the recent flurry of SPAC-backed merger-flotations have brought much-needed capital to the front runners but doesn’t discount the potential for some companies choosing to raise capital more gradually to make the grade, too, albeit with an anticipated advantage for those that are first to market. He also flagged what he sees as significant question marks regarding whether even the best-funded start-ups will be able to meet their ambitious projections for being able to get new aircraft certified in just two or three years from now.
The report was written by Dr. David Wyatt with IDTechEx senior technology analyst Luke Gear and principal analyst Dr. Richard Collins. It will be updated periodically and is priced from $5,995.