Presently, the eVTOL industry resonates like a horse race. The question on everyone’s lips: Which companies will be in the leading pack to cross the fully certified finishing post?
An obvious thorough-bred leader is EHang who confidently states, it is to gain full certification from the CAAC later this year. Yet this is, initially, for China only. Outside of its own country the company faces potential political forces, especially in the U.S, where China is not deemed the favoured bauble on the Xmas tree.
Joby may be the next to gain full certification, perhaps, two years after EHang, where there is an opportunity to bag a treble from the U.S FAA, the UKs CAA and Europe’s EASA. Agreed, the FAA kicked itself in the foot and then tripped over its own shoelaces back in May, by modifying, “The regulatory approach to enabling powered-lift operations including the certification of powered-lift and the pilots who operate them…” Since, this decision has caused both ill-feeling and controversy within the industry.
On the other hand, EASA has shown stability, calmness and most recently, leadership, offering European eVTOL companies a more cohesive and smoother path to full certification.
And when you add the CAAs recent decision “to put in place the certification standards also used by the European Aviation Safety Agency, known as Special Conditions (SC)-VTOL, as the basis for UK certification for new eVTOL aircraft” helping British companies like Vertical Aerospace; leaving aside EASA’s mammoth 295 page proposal published a few weeks ago introducing a regulatory framework for the operation of air taxis in cities, EASA has become the regulator of choice.
This places U.S companies like Joby, Archer, Wisk, Beta Technologies and others in an awkward position. While Joby and Archer, for example, are full of bluster concerning the FAA ‘ruling modification’ stating it won’t affect their path to commercial operations in 2024 – a PR exercise to help ease any fears from their investors – there is now uncertainty. And why Joby announced last week its desire to work alongside the CAA for its aircraft design to be certified for use in the UK, leading CEO JoeBen Bevirt to say, “By working hand-in-hand on certification, the UK and the US are setting the stage for both countries to be early adopters of this important new technology” in the hope, this may smooth out any forseeable difficulties.
Yet, there is another eVTOL company quietly cantering up the inside track, primed to join the leaders: Volocopter. To call the German company “a dark horse of the eVTOL race” is, perhaps, pushing the realms of verisimilitude (check out dictionary.com). Yet, after researching and writing the series, ‘The Countdown Begins: Flying Taxis and the Paris Olympic Games’, what becomes apparent… Volocopter is potentially in second-position, even when the tic tac man offers favourable odds for a place.
Joby in Third Position?
Stand aside Joby. It may be third for you. For, often an illusion is created where those companies particularly adept at PR and social media, help you believe, they are the ones to be in the winner’s enclosure.
Founded in 2011, Volocopter has much going for it, especially come the Paris Olympics in two years time, when a European-based eVTOL is being pushed to be the star of the show and why EASA will bend over backwards to ensure full certification by then. For politics deems this. In fact, the company’s fully electric VoloCity with its two seats and 18 rotors, could become a major attraction of the Games. Just as, a year later, at the Osaka Expo, so will a Japanese-based flying taxi. Although, SkyDrive does seem an odd choice, at present.
In fact, there is so much determination to get Volocopter over the finishing line, some believe full certification may arrive as early as 2023, a year before Joby.
Presently, the German company is in the ascendancy. It is taking a leading role in the Cergy-Pontoise Airfield trials and in recent months has experienced a steady flow of positive news.
This includes a long-term public exhibition in Asia at the Aerospace Hub, ITE College Central, in Singapore’s Lion City, where the public can sign up for a free tour that includes a 3D VoloPort model and an opportunity to sit in an actual full-size VoloCity aircraft.
Christian Bauer, CCO of Volocopter, commented, “We hope to increase public awareness and education on this new form of mobility and the many ways it will benefit Singapore. This is the perfect time to showcase our VoloCity as our latest local market survey showed a significant uptick in the proportion of respondents who are excited to try an air taxi service.”
Meanwhile, Volocopter, following the footsteps of EHang, is eyeing the tourist market with Singapore remaining firmly in its sights. Within the Marina Bay area a proposed flight path over a 12 km route is expected to be ready for launch around early to mid-2024. If all goes to plan, Volocopter’s maiden commercial flight will take passengers from a take-off and landing area in Marina South to the Marina Reservoir and back, going over the Marina Barrage and the Benjamin Sheares Bridge at an altitude of between 100m and 150m.
The journey, which will also take in parts of Kallang Basin near Tanjong Rhu, may last around 15 minutes. Bauer said the proposed route is in “the final approval stage” and studies on the flight path have already been conducted. Bauer explained, ”While, Singapore does not have a congestion problem on the ground, you have around 20 million visitors per year who want to have excitement, an experience. We believe such a breathtaking sightseeing excursion would be a brilliant way to start off.” Another air taxi route around Sentosa island, again aimed at tourists, is next in the pipeline. Bauer has also mentioned Volocopter is in discussion with the authorities on the location of its first VoloPort, which is where the air taxi will take off from and land.
While the 2X pre-series model and VoloCity are the emblematic designs associated with Volocopter, the Bruchsal-based company has been developing a four-seat, fixed-wing, lift-plus-cruise model, to expand its offering to a market beyond inner-city trips called VoloConnect.
Compared to the two-seater VoloCity, designed for short intracity journeys with a range of 35km and a speed of 90 kmh, the VoloConnect has an extended distance and able to carry a bigger payload for longer urban and suburban journeys, targeting a range of 100km (60 miles), alongside a cruising speed of more than 250 km/h (155 mph). The first flight of a prototype occurred in May and lasted two minutes and 14 seconds.
Bauer has stated that fares for passengers are expected to start at about 40 percent of the cost of a helicopter. That could drop to around the price of a premium taxi within five years. “This makes it interesting for anyone who can afford a taxi to take a Volocopter instead,” he remarked, adding that the company’s service will be “very silent compared to a helicopter. You will not hear it at all.”
The company says, “Volocopter’s family of eVTOL aircraft will offer passengers (VoloCity and VoloConnect) and goods (VoloDrone) swift, secure, and emission-free connections to their destinations, supported by VoloIQ, the UAM ecosystem’s software platform that serves as its digital backbone for safe and efficient operations.”
Unfortunately, for investors seeking potential eVTOL stocks, Volocopter has not, yet, floated on the Stock Market, so there is no opportunity to invest in the company’s, potentially, very bright future.