Airport Innovation Spotlight: The future of eVTOL airport infrastructure
EVTOL (Electric Vertical Take-off and Landing) aircraft have been promising to revolutionise the future of urban air mobility for some time now, but the delivery of more ‘proof of concept’ models and successful test flights last year means that the time of the air taxi may be upon us sooner than we think.
In 2020, the size of the global EVTOL market was estimated to be almost $47 billion, but the next 5 years should see that value almost double to reach around $88 billion. A recent Morgan Stanley report went so far as to predict a $1.5 trillion market size by 2040.
What’s driving solid growth predictions like these is the combination of demonstrable improvements in EVTOL design alongside the dream of creating highly flexible ‘popup airports’ that can fit on relatively tiny pieces of flat space, from the rooftops of high-rise buildings to floating platforms on coastlines or even out at sea.
Currently though, this is more a case of idle fancy than tangible infrastructure. Mini eVTOL airports (or vertiports, as the emerging vernacular would have it) are still few and far between, looking more like test site facilities than viable commercial entities. One particular highlight this month is Hyundai’s announcement that it aims to open the ‘world’s smallest airport’ in Coventry, UK, by the end of 2021. The airport’s modular architecture design has eVTOLs in mind and includes a retractable landing platform 40 meters (131 ft) in diameter. While impressive looking, this might seem slightly premature, when the very earliest predictions for commercially certified eVTOL flights to go live are 2024-25, with 2028 seeming more realistic. Regardless, the willingness of a globally respected mobility player like Hyundai to build this airport is indicative of a wider trend of firmly accepting eVTOLs as a ‘when, not if’ addition to commericalised urban mobility, with ‘when’ deemed to be well within this decade.
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As for the Middle East’s role in pushing eVTOLs commercial future towards a firm reality, plenty of Saudi, Emirati, Kuwaiti and Bahraini investment entities are placing a good deal of faith and cash in promising startups as well as established MNCs’ latest models. Last year, Joby Aviation (one of the many key players in this emerging market) received $590 million from Saudi Arabia-based Jameel Investment Management Company (JIMCO). This month, Mubadala Capital was part of a $600 million common stock PIPE agreement for a merger between Archer Aviation with Atlas Crest. Archer Aviation produces an all-electric model eVTOL that United Airlines plans to use to carry up to four passengers at a time to and from its major hub airports.
While there’s still plenty of ‘wait and see’ sentiment attached to the long-term future of eVTOLs, the more small-scale reality of air taxi flights in very limited numbers may soon be upon us. Frost and Sullivan thinks that Dubai could see such flights taking place next year, and with 200 firms (including Boeing, Uber, Hyundai, Airbus and Toyota) pursuing the dream of eVTOL-based urban mobility, the wait appears to be almost over.
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