We first wrote about (and flew) drones last year. Say the word to most people and they will immediately think of keen hobbyists, their deployment in military circumstances or, maybe, the possibility of getting a parcel delivered easily at home. However, we argued in our work that the “holy grail” for the drone industry could lie in the transportation of people. While your author would be conceptually keen to use such a service, the reality has always seemed too hard to conceive. The good news: there is progress.
Joby Aviation, a US eVTOL (electric vertical take-off and landing) aircraft business based in Santa Cruz, has issued two significant press releases in the past month. The first saw it announce that it had received the required certification that allows it to start testing its first full production prototype, likely next year at a US military base. Joby’s pre-production prototypes have been in the air since 2019 and have flown over 30,000 miles. Subsequent to this news, Joby announced that it had submitted all required certification plans to the Federal Aviation Authority, specifying the tests, analyses and design reports required to demonstrate the safety of their vehicles. Commercial services are likely to begin in 2025, according to Joby, making it the first business in the US to do so.
Shareholders in Joby were rewarded with a 50% increase in its price over the past month, making the business worth over $6bn, despite the fact that the business has no revenue and will unlikely be profitable until at least the end of this decade. Other listed businesses received a similar uplift. Joby is far from being the only player seeking to exploit the eVTOL opportunity. Archer Aviation says its manufacturing facility should come on line in the middle of next year, while Electra Aero is hoping to have a prototype available in 2025.
The attraction for consumers (and presumably investors) is that eVTOL aircraft could absorb segments of the transport market that are currently too slow, inefficient, or alternatively too costly. Regional trains and flights might fall into the former category; expensive helicopters or jet charters into the latter. However, as ever, we caution about the importance of separating hype from reality. Beyond valuation levels for public investors, some plans just don’t look as if they will fly. One such story that caught our eye last week was an announcement from privately-owned Alef Aeronautics that its ‘flying car’ – priced at a mere $300,000 – had received approval for testing. Able to seat just two people and with an airborne range of 110 miles, demand is likely to prove niche for now, in our view.
On the topic of flying, your author will be on a plane (an Airbus A320, not an eVTOL) this Friday, heading away for an early summer vacation. The Future Trends Blog will return in late July.
Originally Posted July 13, 2023 – Taking off near you soon…
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