February 24, 2021

Urban Air Mobility – Ready for Liftoff?

The passenger urban air mobility (UAM) industry will generate nearly $90 billion…
Tony Velocci
Tony Velocci is former Editor-in-Chief of Aviation Week & Space Technology magazine and Editorial Director, Aviation Week Group. He launched his Aviation Week career in 1989, first as senior business editor, and later became Northeast Bureau Chief, based in New York City. He was appointed chief editor in 2003 and retired from The McGraw-Hill Companies, Aviation Week’s parent company, at the end of 2012. He remains deeply engaged in the aerospace industry as a speaker, a consultant and writing for various publications. While at Aviation Week Velocci received various awards, including the distinguished McGraw-Hill Corporate Achievement Award for Editorial Excellence and the Royal Aeronautical Society's Aerospace Journalist of the Year award in multiple categories (2006 and 2002). As bureau chief and later chief editor, he led or co-chaired various international forums on innovation and competitiveness, Industry 4.0, cross-border collaboration, and co-chaired annual aerospace executive summits on critical challenges facing the industry. Velocci is a member of the Board of Directors of the National Aeronautic Association and a member of the Industry Advisory Board of Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University.

The passenger urban air mobility (UAM) industry will generate nearly $90 billion in annual revenues by 2050, according to Roland Berger, a European consulting firm. Between now and then, dozens of companies worldwide will compete in this rapidly developing market, begging the question of who’s best positioned to emerge as the dominant  player?

Setting aside the very real possibility that an innovative entrant could emerge and disrupt the playing field at any time, much as SpaceX did in the space-launch services business, Roland Berger recently developed the Advanced Air Mobility (AAM) Reality Index (ARI), a rating tool. It uses public information and expert knowledge to cut through the hype and assess the progress of the current leading competitors toward the delivery of a government-certified product at mass-production scale.

Five factors go into the ARI, including technology readiness, certification progress, readiness for full-scale production, team participants and funding. The latter is especially noteworthy, since financial resources—or the lack thereof—ultimately will determine which players will be able to go the distance.

Industry veterans estimate the cost of achieving certification and entering production at $1 billion to $1.5 billion. For companies whose business model includes operating vehicles and providing infrastructure, the cost may run as much as $4 billion.

Based on Roland Berger’s criteria, the pole position belongs to Guangzhou-based EHang, which expects to receive airworthiness certification for its two-seat, 16-rotor EH-216 from the Civil Aviation Administration of China this year.

Ranked second in Roland Berger’s list of market leaders is well-funded Joby Aviation. Its  six-propeller, five-seat tiltprop aircraft is outperforms China’s entrant, at least for the time being. The vehicle has a speed of 200 mph and a range of 150 miles, as demonstrated in hundreds of hours of flight testing.

Joby is currently preparing for large-scale production near Los Angeles under the watchful eye of Toyota, Joby’s largest investor. The company expects the FAA to grant certification in 2023, followed by the start of commercial aerial ride-sharing services later that year. Joby and Uber have agreed to integrate their ride-sharing services into each other’s booking apps to enable a seamless combination of ground and air travel.

Joby is the first eVTOL developer to provide a vehicle for flight testing under NASA’s Advanced Air Mobility National program, with the first

Joby Aviation

prototype set to fly in the near future in the initial developmental test. The event will provide early experience in operating the vehicle in a “vertiport,” a facility capable of handling UAM vehicles.

Rounding out the top three leaders, as defined by the Advanced Air Mobility Reality Index, is Beta Technologies in Burlington, VT. Its privately-funded Alia 250C is designed to be optionally piloted and it is sized to carry a pilot and five passengers. The aircraft has a top speed of 172 mph and has demonstrated a range of 150 mi. Beta expects to begin production for commercial use in 2024.

In related developments:

  • More automakers are moving into the UAM market to be among the first wave of air-taxi service providers. The most recent entrant is Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, which recently partnered with startup Archer. The Palo Alto, CA-based company plans to begin production of its eVTOL aircraft in 2023 and enter the commercial air taxi market in 2024.
  • General Motors has unveiled a prototype UAM aircraft, marking its entry into the aerial mobility space. The one-passenger-configured vehicle will be Cadillac-branded and will feature a four-rotor design powered by a 90-kWh battery
  • eVTOL developer Jaunt Air Mobility and Varon Vehicles, a pioneer in aerial mobility infrastructure, have partnered to begin building aerial mobility networks in Latin America.
  • A Los Angeles-led partnership recently embarked on a one-year program to begin laying the groundwork for a vertiport that will be integrated into the city’s overall transportation infrastructure, with financial support from the UAM division of Hyundai Motor Group.
  • Airbus Helicopters recently debuted Flightlab, an H-130 helicopter that will serve as an aerial testbed for technologies aimed at UAM vehicles in development. For example, Flightlab has undertaken flight trials in conjunction with French civil aviation regulators to better understand air vehicles’ noise propogation in urban areas.


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Read our blog post here highighting key tech trends for aerospace and defense in 2021.

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