2023 has seen the race between companies to have the first eVTOL to receive certification, and ultimately carry the first ever passengers, intensify.
Commercial carriers, particularly ones based in the United States (US), such as United Airlines and American Airlines have already placed orders, and it seems the first eVTOL flights will likely transfer passengers from airports to the downtown area of major cities.
It is estimated that there could be as many as 400 eVTOL developers working on producing their first aircraft, with the United States and United Kingdom leading the field.
Undoubtably the number of eVTOL innovators will continue to be squeezed and the number of companies will fall as they reach the hurdles of certification and try to execute flying.
However, there are several frontrunner candidates that look likely to fly first.
These firms appear to have the financial backing and the infrastructure in place, or at least well-structured plans, to build and produce multiple eVTOL aircraft.
Here are the eVTOL innovators that leading the pack and most likely to fly passengers first:
Archer Aviation plans to launch its first commercial eVTOL flights in 2024, and you would be very brave to bet against this highly rated startup.
Archer’s flagship eVTOL is called Midnight and it will be capable of flying distances of up to 100 miles but is optimized to conduct back-to-back flights of 20 miles, with 12 minutes of charge time in between.
Archer has the backing of US carrier United Airlines, which in August 2022 paid $10 million of pre-delivery payments for 100 aircraft, of the 200 covered under a purchase agreement.
In January 2023 Archer took another huge leap forward when it announced the eVTOL developer would join forces with manufacturer Stellantis.
This was a significant development, giving Archer the means to mass produce the Midnight eVTOL at its facility in Covington in Georgia, US.
In June 2023 Archer also confirmed that former Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) boss, Billy Nolen, will join the company as its Chief Safety Officer (CSO).
Up to four passengers with luggage, plus a certified pilot, will be able to travel on board Midnight, which is powered by six independent battery packs, each supporting a pair of electric engines.
British eVTOL developer Vertical Aerospace is another highly sought-after contender to be among the first to be certified.
The company was founded in 2016 by Stephen Fitzpatrick, an established entrepreneur best known as the founder of the Ovo Group, an energy and technology group.
In July 2022, Vertical Aerospace announced that it has confirmed delivery slots for 50 eVTOL aircraft and the commitment of associated pre-delivery payments with American Airlines.
The deal was an extension on a conditional pre-order of up to 250 VX4s, Vertical’s eVTOL, with an additional 100 options in June 2021.
What makes Vertical Aerospace a winning prospect is the number of airlines and aviation companies that have confidence in the VVX4.
As well as American Airlines, customers include Virgin Atlantic, Avolon, Bristow, Marubeni, Iberojet and FLYINGGROUP, as well as Japan Airlines (JAL), Gol, Air Greenland, Gozen Holding and AirAsia, through Avolon’s VX4 placements.
The VX4 is projected to be capable of transporting a pilot and up to four passengers, traveling distances of over 100 miles, and achieving top speeds of over 200 miles per hour.
In March 2023, the UK Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) granted the first-ever eVTOL Design Organization Approval (DOA) to Vertical Aerospace, which means it can continue to progress with the certification.
Since 2015, Lilium has designed, built and tested five generations of technology demonstrators.
The German company’s most recent aircraft is called Phoenix 2 which completed the first full transition from hover to wing-borne flight in 2022.
Phoenix 2’s design is different to many of its competitors that tend to use a helicopter inspired design.
Instead, Phoenix 2 has more similarities with a jet plane, relying on Ducted Electric Vectored Thrust (DEVT) as the core technology.
This design could be highly significant when it comes to certification, something that Lilium is laser-focused on.
Lilium is pursuing concurrent certification of the 7-Seater Lilium Jet with the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) and the FAA.
The Munich-based aviation company is not short on orders either, with proposals to buy and agreements made with SAUDIA, Brazilian carrier Azul and helicopter maker Bristow.
Most recently in May 2023, Lilium announced the company has signed agreements with two private jet firms to supply its futuristic jet.
The German aerospace company confirmed a deal had been struck with Air-Dynamic SA, a Switzerland-based private jet and helicopter company, and Benelux-based business jet operator ASL Group.
Californian-based Joby Aviation is seen as one of the main frontrunners to eventually receive certification for its eVTOL with the company touting 2025 as the year it goes commercial.
The company is well backed and is furthest along the certification journey with the FAA.
Joby is also making headway in the UK and Japan, where a partnership with ANA will bring aerial ridesharing services to Japan.
In October 2022, Joby announced a deal worth up to $200 million with Delta Air Lines, and it counts Uber and Toyota as investors.
Joby Aviation also announced on April 25, 2023, that it will deliver its first two eVTOL aircraft to the US Air Force in early 2024, followed by a further seven.
This represents a $55 million contract extension with the US Department of Defense.
Joby boasts a strong balance sheet with $978 million in cash and short-term marketable securities.
The all-electric aircraft is powered by six rotors and can carry five people, including the pilot. It will offer a range of up to 240 kilometers (150 miles) on a single charge at speeds of up to 320 kilometers per hour (200 miles per hour).
Eve Air Mobility
Eve Air Mobility is a new independent company founded by Brazilian aircraft manufacturer Embraer.
Eve is hoping for certification and entry into service in 2026, so is somewhat behind the leading pack.
However, the company should not be excluded from the frontrunners in the industry, especially with Embraer’s experience behind it.
Eve expects to conclude the selection of main equipment suppliers in the first half of 2023 and start the assembly of it’s first full-scale eVTOL prototype during the second half of 2023, followed by the test campaign in 2024.
In 2022, United Airlines also announced a $15 million investment in Eve Air Mobility and a conditional purchase agreement for 200 eVTOLs plus 200 options.
In May 2023, Eve announced it had completed wind tunnel testing of its aircraft using a scale model of its eVTOL
Eve’s eVTOL carries four passengers plus the pilot, and when the autonomous flight is certified, it will take up to six passengers.
German aircraft manufacturer Volocopter could ruffle the air mobility feathers by being the first to receive certification from the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) for its aircraft VoloCity.
The company is aiming for certification in the second quarter of 2024, so it can carry the first commercial passengers at the Paris Olympics that year.
The aircraft is a two-seater, which means there is room for only passengers. However, Volocopter is also developing VoloRegion which will carry four passengers.
In October 2022, Volocopter and its partners, Atlantia, UrbanV, and airport operator Aeroporti di Roma, conducted the first crewed eVTOL test flights in Italian airspace.
During the event, which took place on October 6, 2022, a test pilot performed a five-minute demo flight with Volocopter’s eVTOL, during which it flew 40 meters above ground.
Volocopter is gearing up to go into full production mode, with the opening of the company’s main production facility in Bruchsal, in southwestern Germany in March 2023.
On May 31, 2023, Wisk Aero CEO, Bryan Yutko, announced that the Californian startup has become a fully owned subsidiary of Boeing.
While the startup will remain independent there is undoubtably much to be gained by having Boeing on board.
Boeing are no stranger to FAA certification, and this will surely enhance Wisk’s abilities to reach the commercial stage sooner.
Boeing had previously been one of two shareholders, the other being Advanced Air Mobility (AAM) startup Kittyhawk.
Although no details on a timeline have been officially confirmed, reports have suggested 2028 as a possible certification date.
According to Wisk its latest Generation 6 aircraft is the “world’s first all-electric, autonomous, four-seat eVTOL air taxi designed for passenger transport”.
All autonomous flights will be monitored from a ground control station by a Multi-Vehicle Supervisor (MVS).
Wisk’s aircraft is a fixed-wing platform, powered by 12 independent rotors (six on each wing). It can fly at altitudes of between 1500 and 5000 feet, traveling at speeds of up to 100 miles an hour (160km/h) with a range of 90 miles (with reserves)/144 kilometers.
In May 2023, Wisk and Japan Airlines a memorandum of understanding (MOU) that establishes a framework for collaboration between the two companies, as well as between the two companies and the Japanese Civil Aviation Bureau (JCAB), and other relevant Japanese Government agencies.
This will include careful consideration of regulatory requirements, safety measures, and how the community can benefit from advanced air mobility through the use of Wisk’s 6th Generation self-flying.
In its first quarter 2023 results, Chinese autonomous aerial vehicle developer, EHang, announced that the company had completed more than 90% of the compliance tests towards certification.
EHang said it “conducted a great number of laboratory tests, ground tests and flight tests at multiple professional aeronautical laboratories and test sites across China” under the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC) inspections.
With its momentum in full swing, it could mean that EHang gains certification in 2023, and becomes the first commercially operating eVTOL aircraft in the world.
According to EHang it has conducted thousands of safe operational trial flights and has multiple orders for its aircraft.
The EH216-S is a two-seater eVTOL with rotors on the end of eight arms and can travel at 130 mph.