When – and where – will the first eVTOLs enter service?

Joby Aviation eVTOL
Joby Aviation

For many years now the headlines have been full of stories about electric take-off and landing (eVTOL) aircraft, also widely known as flying taxis, urban air mobility vehicles or even flying cars. 

The technology appeared to be just around the corner for decades but was never accessible to the wider public. 

However, recent developments have shown that we may have finally reached the point where it is not only possible that these aircraft will soon be appearing in our skies, but inevitable. 

Scores of companies, both startups and those that are more well-established, have produced and tested prototypes of their vehicles and are inching closer to making the technology available to the general public. 

This begs the question: when and where will passengers be able to fly on the first eVTOLs?  

Many eVTOL companies have already conducted test or demonstrational flights, although almost all have been unmanned. Some have tested what they claim to be prototypes of their soon-to-be-mass-produced aircraft, while others have only flown demonstrators aimed at proving the technology.  

Of those that tested the prototypes, some have already begun the certification process: a necessary, yet complicated process of getting an approval from a flight regulations authority of an appropriate country. It is often considered to be the last major hurdle before an aircraft can be mass-produced and sold to operators.  

So, which of these aircraft will become the first to reach the consumer? 

First eVTOL 

Pretty much every major eVTOL manufacturer has already applied for certification in the United States, Europe, and Japan among other countries. This process went better for some than for others. 

Some of those yet to achieve certification, such as Brazil’s EVE, UK’s Vertical Aerospace and South Korea’s Jaunt Air Mobility, claim to be aiming to achieve certification by late 2025/early 2026. A number of other manufacturers have even set their sights on an early launch date. 

Germany-based Volocopter, which conducted the maiden flight of its VoloCity eVTOL in 2021, recently announced that it was planning to apply for type certificate in the US by the end of 2023, hoping to receive approval a year or two later. However, the company has already submitted applications to be certified in Europe, Japan and Singapore, with the goal of being certified by 2024 in at least some of these countries.  

Another manufacturer, the US-based Archer Aviation, recently announced that it was seeking to receive type certificate in the US by 2024. While the plan seems optimistic, the company was one of the first to perform a transition between vertical and horizontal flight on a prototype of its two-seat eVTOL called Maker. 

Joby Aviation is another company which applied for certification in the US, the United Kingdom, and Japan, among other countries. In mid-2022 it received a certificate to operate commercial aircraft from the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). However, its aircraft are not yet certified. While initial plans saw the company’s six-engine twin-seat eVTOL as being certified by the start of 2024, the process took longer than expected, and as of February 2023, only two of the five stages of type certification had been completed.  

UPDATE 15-05-2023, 11:00 (UTC +3): In an email to AeroTime Joby Aviation spokesperson Katie Pribyl said that the company is now on track to be certified in 2024. 

Numerous eVTOL companies have also applied for certification in China, with most aiming to launch cargo services first. However, there are several notable outliers.  

Internationally, EHang is likely the most recognized Chinese eVTOL brand. The company previously aimed to receive Chinese type certificate as soon as mid-2022 and while that failed to materialize, the process is ongoing.  

At least one other Chinese company, XPeng, also claims that it expects to receive a type certificate for its twin-seat eVTOL in 2024. 

First services 

Of course, simply producing or selling an eVTOL is not enough. eVTOLS rely on automated controls and require sprawling ground infrastructure, meaning that there is much more to their operation than simply buying them in bulk. 

Furthermore, appropriate legislation has to be adopted to allow such operations, a feat that time and time again has proven to be incredibly difficult to pull off quickly. 

So, where can we expect the first eVTOL service to be established?  

One company that marketed itself as seeking to become the first eVTOL airline was Joby, back when it expected to receive type certification in 2022.  

Now the company’s claims are more modest, aiming to start its first regular service in 2025 during the World Expo 2025 in Osaka, Japan. Some statements issued by the company seem to suggest that a regular service could be launched in the US the same year. 

For several years now, Archer Aviation has expected to receive a type certificate in the US in 2024 and has long claimed that it aims to launch its Urban Air Mobility network in Miami during the same year. However, the company’s latest announcements reveal that the date has been pushed to 2025.  

Volocopter, another eVTOL heavyweight, has also tied the start of its services in some countries to large events. Ever since starting its test campaign in 2021, the company has harbored plans to operate eVTOL services during the Paris 2024 Summer Olympics. The company has been performing tests and collaborating with the French government ever since, and its latest press releases claim the plan is on track. 

However, there is no indication that Volocopter’s services in Paris are expected to be regular and continue after the Olympics. So, this case is likely to be the first large-scale public test of the eVTOL concept. 

When it comes to the start of regular long-time services, Volocopter is also aiming for 2024, although this time in Singapore.  

In early 2022, the company announced the plan to start operating air taxi service in the Southeast Asian city-state. No further details have been released, and the company has not issued any official updates since the initial announcement. However, in an email to AeroTime, Volocopter confirmed that the plan to launch service in Singapore as early as 2024 is still on track. 

Volocopter also recently said that it was also considering Italy as another place to launch its first regular service in 2024, although that statement was phrased more as an estimate than a commitment. 

So, while available information suggests Volocopter could become the first operator of eVTOL services in France, Singapore or Italy in 2024, there is also one wildcard to consider: EHang. 

While the Chinese company did not announce any concrete plans for the start of its services, it appears to be the closest to getting its aircraft certified. This would allow it to overtake Volocopter and announce the first eVTOL service in the world.  

But which of the two companies will be the first to see their eVTOLs in operation? We will have to wait and see. 

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