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eVTOL Leaders Continue to Accelerate Progress
  • 24 Dec 2023 06:21 AM
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eVTOL Leaders Continue to Accelerate Progress

By Dan Gettinger, Managing Editor
Vertiflite, Jan/Feb 2024

As 2023 was coming to a close, the leading electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) aircraft developers appeared to accelerate their efforts to bring their ambitious plans to fruition. Events such as the Dubai Airshow in November saw some eVTOL developers turn their attention to establishing relationships in the Middle East and beyond. Elsewhere, multiple eVTOL developers added to their roster of subsystems suppliers and conducted flight demonstrations with prototype aircraft, highlighting the potential benefits that eVTOL aircraft could bring to communities worldwide. The following represents a summary of recent activities by some of the leading developers of eVTOL aircraft. Additional updates are covered elsewhere in this issue.

Archer Aviation

On Oct. 11, Archer Aviation announced that it had secured $65M in financing to build its manufacturing facility in Covington, Georgia. The California-based developer closed agreements with Synovus Bank and Evans General Contractors LLC, adding to the company’s previously disclosed agreements with the state of Georgia and Stellantis, Archer’s manufacturing partner. In a press release, Archer said that construction is underway at the 350,000 ft2 (32,516 m2) facility; the company intends to complete the facility, which it says can produce up to 650 aircraft per year, in 2024.

On Oct. 16, Archer and the Abu Dhabi Investment Office (ADIO) partnered to advance efforts to introduce eVTOL aircraft in the United Arab Emirates. To make Abu Dhabi its international launch partner, Archer and ADIO are aiming to launch air taxi operations in the city in 2026. Additionally, ADIO will support Archer’s efforts to establish the eVTOL developer’s first international headquarters and manufacturing facility in Abu Dhabi’s Smart and Autonomous Vehicle Industry Cluster.

Meanwhile, on Nov. 9, Archer partnered with InterGlobe Enterprises, a travel and hospitality firm in India. Archer and InterGlobe are aiming to launch eVTOL services within Delhi in 2026, as well as work to identify business partners in India to operate Archer’s aircraft and finance and build vertiports elsewhere in India. A signing ceremony (see photo) at InterGlobe headquarters in New Delhi between Group Managing Director of InterGlobe, Rahul Bhatia (left), and Chief Commercial Officer of Archer Aviation, Nikhil Goel (right).

Archer announced at the Dubai Airshow on Nov. 16 that it had signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with Air Chateau International DWC LLC. The private aviation operator in the UAE placed a pre-delivery payment of $1M with Archer Aviation for an order consisting of up to 100 Archer Midnight eVTOL aircraft, worth around $500M. An additional $4M in pre-delivery payments was expected in the months following the signing. Air Chateau, which runs a heliport and lounge terminal at Dubai’s Al Maktoum International Airport, intends to operate the Midnight aircraft itself.

Beta Technologies

On Nov. 17, the Export-Import Bank of the United States (EXIM) announced the approval of a $169M loan to Beta Technologies. Beta intends to apply the loan towards expanding its manufacturing and production facility in Vermont. EXIM, an official credit agency tasked with financing and facilitating US exports, authorized the loan as part of its Make More in America initiative, which it launched following a February 2021 directive by President Biden to address weaknesses in the US supply chain. In a statement, EXIM highlighted Beta’s international growth potential and its existing ties to the Asia-Pacific region, including current and potential customers in New Zealand, India, Japan and Canada.

On Dec. 1, New York Governor Kathy Hochul announced Beta Technologies had committed to expanding its facility at Plattsburgh International Airport in upstate New York. The Burlington, Vermont-based eVTOL developer will begin a $41M expansion of its facility in Plattsburgh, creating 85 full-time jobs in the process. In exchange, Clinton County will award Beta a $20M grant from the Empire State Development’s Regional Economic and Community Assistance Program.

Beta intends to transform its Plattsburgh facility into a permanent flight test and aircraft delivery center, one that will be responsible for final flight testing and customer delivery. Since 2017, Beta has used its facility in Plattsburgh as a test site for the prototypes of its electric aircraft. “This expansion of BETA Technologies in Plattsburgh is exactly the kind of growth and innovation that’s supercharging New York’s economy for the 21st Century,” said Governor Hochul in a statement.

On Dec. 6, Beta announced that Air New Zealand had purchased a Beta Alia electric conventional takeoff and landing (eCTOL) aircraft. The purchase consists of a firm order of one aircraft with an option for another two, and rights to an additional 20 aircraft. Air New Zealand expects to take delivery of the Beta Alia in 2026, following which the airline intends to operate the aircraft as a cargo only service in partnership with New Zealand Post. The announcement represents Air New Zealand’s first aircraft purchase for its Mission Next Gen Aircraft program, a demonstrator program the airline revealed in December 2022. The illustration accompanying the announcement was the first concept artwork released for Beta’s CX300 eCTOL design. Notable are the lack of pylons ahead of the cockpit, as well as what appears to be a ventral fin or fins for additional directional stability.

EHang

On Sept. 29, EHang announced that it had delivered five EH216-S eVTOL aircraft to a tourism company in China’s Shenzhen province. The Shenzhen Boling Holding Group intends to use the aircraft to launch aerial sightseeing services, a collaboration with the Bao’an District government. Shenzhen Boling expects to launch regular flights using the aircraft from EHang’s Operation Demonstration Center in OH Bay in Bao’an District.

EHang has also been developing its global footprint. The company announced on Nov. 1 that it had inaugurated its first European UAM Center for uncrewed eVTOL aircraft, located inside the Lleida-Alguaire International Airport. EHang said the center represents the first-of-its-kind in Europe for uncrewed eVTOL aircraft, “setting a benchmark globally for the effective integration of eVTOL aircraft operation with airport infrastructure, air traffic management systems, operational procedures, and other information technologies.”

The company also exhibited its EH216 aircraft at Airtec in October (see “VFS Leads the Future of Air Mobility at Airtec,” Vertiflite, Jan/Feb 2024) and European Rotors in November, as well as demonstrations and exhibits in China, Thailand and Indonesia.

Eve Air Mobility

On Oct. 6, Embraer, the parent company of Eve Air Mobility, announced that it had received all necessary regulatory approvals to launch Nidec Aerospace, a joint venture between Embraer and Japan’s Nidec Corporation. The joint venture will develop an electric propulsion system for Eve and the broader aerospace industry. Eve and Nidec announced plans to collaborate at the 2023 Paris Airshow, one of several partnerships announced by Eve in Paris that also included BAE Systems and DUC Hélices Propellers (see “AAM Showcase at Paris Air Show,” Vertiflite, Sept/Oct 2023).

On Nov. 6, Eve announced that it would work with Garmin, Liebherr-Aerospace and Intergalactic on elements of its eVTOL aircraft. Garmin will supply its G3000 Integrated Flight Deck, providing a flight deck avionics package that is “tailored for the needs of eVTOL aircraft,” Eve said in a statement. Liebherr will develop electromechanical actuators (EMA) for the Eve aircraft’s fly-by-wire controls. Intergalactic will supply a thermal management system that will maintain a comfortable cabin temperature.

On Nov. 13, Eve agreed to supply its Urban Air Traffic Management (ATM) to Kookijar, a Swedish vertiport developer, for operations in Dubai. Kookijar and local partner Air Chateau are preparing a vertiport hub facility at Dubai’s Al Maktoum International Airport. The agreement marks Eve’s first customer in Dubai, its fifth vertiport customer and the 10th worldwide of Eve’s Urban ATM solution.

On Nov. 14, Eve and Hunch Mobility announced plans to bring advanced air mobility (AAM) services to Bengaluru, India. The two companies hope that Bengaluru, a city of 13 million in Karnataka state with perineal bad traffice, will serve as the launch city for an urban air mobility (UAM) ecosystem across India. The announcement follows a letter of intent signed between the two companies in which Hunch Mobility, a joint venture between India’s Hunch Ventures and Blade Air Mobility, agreed to purchase 200 Eve eVTOL aircraft.

On Nov. 28, Eve and Jeju Air Co. Ltd. revealed a concept of operations white paper for eVTOL flights on South Korea’s Jeju Island. The joint white paper includes an analysis of operational and commercial aspects of UAM services on Jeju Island. It represents the latest collaboration between Eve and its partners in South Korea; in September, Eve said it would provide its Urban ATM solution to the South Korean firm Moviation.

On Nov. 29, Eve said it had partnered with Saudi air carrier flynas to explore the possibility of launching eVTOL aircraft operations in Riyadh and Jeddah — the two largest cities in Saudi Arabia — in 2026.

On Dec. 1, Eve announced that it had partnered with the European wing of Flexjet, an Ohio-based aircraft lessor and services provider, to study the application of Eve’s Urban ATM solution. The two companies conducted a four-day simulation that involved applying Eve’s ATM solution to live helicopter flights conducted by Flexjet’s UK helicopter division. The study occurred at Flexjet’s Tactical Control Center at Farnborough Airport, and provided data that will inform the development of Eve’s ATM solution.

Joby Aviation

The California Governor’s Office of Business and Economic Development awarded Joby a $9.8M California Competes grant, the eVTOL developer announced on Nov. 17. The CalCompetes grant will provide financing assistance to aid Joby’s expansion of its facilities in Marina, California (see “Joby Delivers,” Vertiflite, Nov/Dec 2023), and support hiring efforts at its other offices in San Carlos and Santa Cruz. For its part, Joby committed to invest $41.3M to create 690 additional fulltime jobs in California by 2027.

Joby also flew its second pre-production prototype (N542BJ) in New York, New York, on November 12–14, as part of a demonstration with Volocopter for Mayor Eric Adams (see “Joby and Volocopter Fly in New York City,” Vertiflite, Jan/Feb 2024). The company called it “the first ever electric air taxi flight in the city and the first time Joby has flown in an urban setting.”

Lilium

On Oct. 18, Munich-based eVTOL developer Lilium announced that EMCJET has begun offering private sales of the Lilium Jet in the US. The Texas-based aircraft brokerage and management company committed to five Lilium Pioneer Edition Jet production slots for the US market and is expected to serve as the exclusive Lilium dealer in Texas through 2030 for private sales. According to The Verge, the Lilium Jet will retail at $10M apiece. ArcosJet DMCC will serve as the exclusive authorized dealer for private sales of the Lilium Jet in the United Arab Emirates, Israel and the Republic of Cyprus, Lilium announced on Oct. 31. Under the agreement, ArcosJet paid Lilium a commitment fee in return for exclusivity on private sales. The Dubai-based business aircraft brokerage is Lilium’s first reseller in the Middle East and fifth worldwide.

On Nov. 14, Lilium announced that it had partnered with Denso on scaling the production of the Lilium Jet’s electric engine. The Kariya, Japan-based automotive manufacturer will assist Lilium in developing equipment and tooling to accelerate production of the Lilium Jet engine and its subsystems. Denso previously worked with Honeywell Aerospace on electric motors for the Lilium Jet; Denso and Honeywell first partnered on motors for electric aircraft in 2019. Lilium began assembling its first Lilium Jet electric engine in September 2023.

On Nov. 24, Lilium and CITIC Offshore Helicopter Co. Ltd. (COHC) revealed a partnership to collaborate on eVTOL operations in China. Lilium will work with COHC, a helicopter port pilotage provider in China, to develop AAM services in the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area and beyond. In June 2023, Lilium announced plans to open a regional headquarters in the Boa’an District to focus on developing eVTOL services in the Greater Bay Area.

The European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) granted Lilium its Design Organization Approval, the Munich, Germany-based eVTOL developer announced on Nov. 27. The decision represents the culmination of a flight test program that began in 2017 and affirms that the company is authorized to hold a type certificate for eVTOL aircraft, according to Lilium. “We are setting the right rules for operations and taking care of the environmental elements including noise, while of course ensuring that high safety standards are met,” said Luc Tytgat, Acting Executive Director of EASA, in a statement.

On Dec. 4, Honeywell announced that Lilium had selected it to provide the thermal management system for the Lilium Jet. The Honeywell MicroVCS (Vapor Cycle System) will help cool the cabin and manage the aircraft’s electric battery temperatures. The news adds to Honeywell’s involvement in the Lilium Jet, which also features Honeywell’s Anthem Avionics, flight controls and Honeywell-DENSO electric motors. Honeywell is also providing a thermal management system for Archer Aviation’s Midnight eVTOL aircraft. On Dec. 6, Lilium announced that it had begun production of the Lilium Jet. The news followed the delivery of the first Lilium Jet fuselage (see photo) to the company’s final assembly line in Wessling, Germany. The shift from design to production phases of the first Lilium Jet marked a “watershed moment” for the company, according to a Lilium press release.

Overair

On Oct. 24, at the International Aerospace and Defense Exhibition (ADEX) in Seoul, South Korea, Overair announced that it had, together with its strategic partner Hanwha Systems, signed a series of letters of intent that would expand its presence in the Asia-Pacific region. Each of the agreements, Overair said in a press release, will leverage Hanwha Systems’ expertise and benefit from Hanwha’s systems and operational support.

The Santa Ana, California-based eVTOL developer signed a letter of intent with HeliKorea, an air transportation provider in South Korea, in which the latter committed to 20 Butterfly eVTOL aircraft. Overair, meanwhile, will provide HeliKorea with pilot and maintenance training. HeliKorea intends to use the aircraft for a range of operations, including passenger and cargo transport and firefighting.

Also at ADEX, Overair partnered with construction firm Daewoo E&C to jointly develop AAM networks in the East South Asia markets. The two companies will jointly pursue a range of activities, including developing concepts of operations and working with regulatory authorities. Daewoo E&C will primarily be responsible for working on establishing vertiports, while Overair will provide expertise in operations and aircraft integration.

Finally, Overair signed a memorandum of understanding at ADEX with the Korean National Police to explore the integration of AAM vehicles into the agency. Overair will work with the KNP’s Human Resources Development Institute to develop training programs that address topics such as pilot training and community education, among other issues.

On Nov. 16, Overair and Dallas Fort Worth International Airport (DFW) partnered to explore future vertiport development and eVTOL aircraft operations. Overair and DFW will conduct a feasibility assessment for eVTOL aircraft operations across North Texas and establish a working group to explore the integration of these aircraft at DFW. Additionally, Overair will study the demand for all-electric AAM services with the Dallas-Fort Worth metro area.

Also on Nov. 16, Overair and the nearby City of Arlington, Texas, signed an agreement to launch eVTOL aircraft operations at Arlington Municipal Airport. Overair and Arlington, which lies between Dallas and Fort Worth, will establish a working group to oversee the project. Additionally, Overair will establish a base of operations in North Central Texas that it says will bring jobs to residents. The agreement represents the first of its kind between a city in Texas and an eVTOL developer, according to Overair.

Supernal

On Oct. 16, Honeywell and Supernal, the Washington, DC-based AAM subsidiary of Hyundai Motor Group, announced a strategic collaboration to develop a ground control station to enable Supernal to conduct pilotless AAM operations. Honeywell will tailor its ground control station software solution, which allows operators on the ground to conduct beyond line-of-sight operations, to Supernal’s requirements. The software solution, Supernal said in a press release, could be scaled to manage “hundreds or even thousands of vehicles across a series of stations.”

Supernal and Korean Air announced on Oct. 17 that they had formed a strategic partnership to accelerate the development of an AAM ecosystem in South Korea. To that end, the two companies agreed to exchange technical data, jointly participate in workshops and study ways of effectivity testing the operation of Supernal’s eVTOL aircraft.

On Oct. 18, Supernal and Hyundai WIA partnered with the Italy-based Mecaer Aviation Group to design and manufacture landing gear systems for Supernal’s eVTOL aircraft. The agreement combines the talents of Hyundai WAI, a subsidiary of Hyundai Motor Group that specializes in mass manufacturing and precision machine tools, with that of Mecaer, which has experience in designing landing gear. The collaboration will streamline manufacturing by “incorporating state-of-the-art materials and efficient assembly technologies,” according to a Supernal press release.

Although Supernal has been using the shown aircraft configuration since it unveiled its eVTOL plans at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in January 2020, the company plans to reveal the actual production configuration in January at CES 2024.

Vertical Aerospace

On Oct. 26, Hanwha Aerospace of Korea announced that it had expanded its relationship with Vertical Aerospace. The two companies signed an agreement to collaborate on the design, testing and manufacture of a tilt and blade pitch control system for Vertical’s VX4. Vertical and Hanwha previously partnered on the development of electro-mechanical actuation for the VX4. The next Vertical VX4 prototype, which Vertical is currently in the process of assembling, will incorporate Hanwha’s technology.

Kansai Electric Power Co. (KEPCO) and Vertical Aerospace will establish a joint working group to study electric chargers and infrastructure standards in Japan, KEPCO announced in a press release on Nov. 15. KEPCO will work on developing DC fast chargers, while Vertical will coordinate the requirements for eVTOL aircraft. The two companies hope to apply knowledge gained from this relationship to the launch of eVTOL services at the 2025 World Expo in Osaka, as well as to future implementation projects in Japan and Asia.

On Dec. 5, Aviation Week reported that Vertical Aerospace has begun producing a second full-scale VX4 demonstrator. Piloted flight tests of the aircraft are expected to begin in spring 2024. Following an incident that damaged Vertical’s first VX4 demonstrator in August 2023, the eVTOL developer said that the second demonstrator would be “significantly more advanced” than its predecessor. Additionally, another demonstrator aircraft could take to the air in the latter half of 2024. The news followed Vertical’s announcement on Dec. 1 that it had appointed two new pilots to its flight test team.

Volocopter

On Nov. 2, Volocopter launched a flight test campaign at Tampa International Airport using a crewed Volocopter 2X. The flight tests involved aircraft downwash and outwash testing and an evaluation of the aircraft in local conditions. Local officials, including the mayor of Tampa and from the Florida Department of Transportation, attended the event. The flight tests came on the heels of Volocopter’s announcement in September that it would work with Bristow Group to develop passenger and cargo services for eVTOL aircraft in the US. Volocopter flew the 2X in New York City later in the month (see “Joby and Volocopter Fly in New York City,” Vertiflite, Jan/Feb 2024).

Wisk Aero

On Oct. 23, Wisk Aero announced that it conducted flight tests at Long Beach Airport (LGB), California. The flights occurred during Long Beach’s Festival of Flight celebrating the airport’s 100th anniversary and were the first of its kind to occur in Los Angeles County, the Boeing subsidiary said in a press release. The event provided the company an opportunity to evaluate its autonomous eVTOL aircraft in a real-world environment and to host local officials for a discussion on the future of AAM in the region. Wisk, which is headquartered in the San Francisco Bay Area, previously worked with the City of Long Beach and California State University, Long Beach, to study the opportunities for integrating eVTOL aircraft into the region and the economic effects of such actions.

On Dec. 4, Wisk said it successfully completed a trial program in New Zealand that sought to establish a means of safely integrating uncrewed aircraft into controlled airspace with other, piloted aircraft. The trial involved a series of flight tests between Nov. 17 and Dec. 1 that demonstrated the operation of an Insitu CT-220 fixed-wing drone under instrument flight rules (IFR). Wisk led the trial program and was joined by Insitu Pacific, another Boeing subsidiary, and the Civil Aviation Authority of New Zealand, as well as Airways New Zealand and Tāwhaki, an indigenous-led aerospace venture that provided the flight testing site. The trials were part of New Zealand’s Airspace Integration Trial Programme (AITP), a four-year initiative it launched in 2019.

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