On The Radar
Search the Securities and Exchange Commission filings for any of the eVTOL aircraft developers that have chased capital injections via a Wall Street listing and you’ll find lengthy assessments of the multitudinous risks facing those racing toward the loudly self-promoting advanced air mobility (AAM) sector. But how many people read all the caveat-laden, backside-covering small print in the hope of getting an objective assessment of risk variables?
This week, the Swiss consulting firm Orbit Management Services is publishing its first annual AAM Risk Report based on input from almost 160 industry insiders and independent observers. These sources were interviewed between June and early August and have not been identified in order to allow them to comment candidly.
The 26-page report assesses multiple risk categories, including technological, economic, social, political, regulatory, and environmental. It also includes a useful glossary defining in some detail the various risk factors.
In a nutshell, the Orbit seeks to manage the feverish expectations regarding the anticipated launch of commercial air services in 2025, with a “not so fast” neutral assessment of AAM’s short-term prospects. “Passenger applications [i.e., air taxis] face pessimistic prospects due to concerns regarding technology and regulatory risks,” say the Orbit authors. “In contrast, logistics [i.e., freight] and enterprise applications [e.g., emergency medical services] show a more optimistic view, despite risks related to airspace integration, regulatory delays, and battery technology limitations.”
While prospects for logistics and enterprise application flights seem rosier, the feedback gathered by Orbit’s researchers still points to problems related to integrating the new aircraft into existing airspace and under-prepared ground infrastructure. The report also questions whether some of the envisaged eVTOL business models have been adequately mapped out.
But here may be the real kicker for the short-term view. “Less than one-third of experts believe that in two years main regulatory frameworks for AAM will be rolled out in the regions they operate in,” the report concluded. This suggests that two-thirds of the experts aren’t buying the notion that the FAA will get all its requirements in order in time to compete in the Great eVTOL Gold Rush in 2025 and that EASA and other international regulators will be willing or able to meet the impatient demands of the AAM start-ups.
However, for backers prepared to take a longer view, the outlook for 2033 seems considerably better to the Orbit analysts. Fully 83 percent of the experts surveyed say that, 10 years from now, logistics and enterprise use cases for AAM vehicles and technology will be “valuable assets, revolutionizing the service landscape across various industries.”
But what about eVTOL air taxis? Well, “in the longer term, the passenger application sector also shows an improved outlook, indicating increased opportunities and advancements.” That said, the report points to ongoing risks associated with factors such as skills shortages, policy instability, and “ecosystem dependencies.”