The Future of Advanced Air Mobility

Avantto Says Its Operational Experience Makes Embraer's eVTOL Plans More Credible

Brazilian private aviation group Avantto made a strong statement about its intention to be on the frontlines in the much-anticipated urban air mobility (UAM) revolution with its recent order for 100 of the four-passenger eVTOL aircraft being developed by Embraer subsidiary Eve. Company CEO Rogerio Andrade sees the purchase as a natural move forward in a market where his firm has more than 20 years of experience.

Avantto’s main offering is fractional ownership through which companies and individuals get access to aircraft by buying shares in a mixed fleet of business jets and rotorcraft. The fleet includes helicopters and also Embraer Phenom 300 and 100 fixed-wing aircraft produced by the Brazilian manufacturer.

“This term 'eVTOL' is very pretty, but in reality, a helicopter is a VTOL, too," Andrade told FutureFlight. We are already operating this type of equipment in an urban area, with an intensity that no other operator or future operator of eVTOLs can manage.”

In fact, the agreement between Avantto and Eve is more than simply transactional. Avantto is bringing a lot of operational experience to the deal, which may eventually include a joint venture to operate the eVTOL vehicles.

Andrade describes São Paulo, where the 32 helicopters operated by Avantto are concentrated, as “helicopter-friendly.” Home to one of the world’s largest helicopter fleets, it has the most helipads of any city and has the only exclusive air traffic control for rotorcraft.

The city’s suitability as a UAM incubator is underscored by its selection in 2017 as the testbed for Voom, the joint Airbus-Uber experiment in shared-use helicopter transportation in which people pay for individual seats to ride alongside other travelers. The regulatory environment in Brazil would also seem to be favorable, with civil aviation authority ANAC having conferred extensively with fractional operators including Avantto before issuing the Part 91(k) regulations that cover this business model.

Beyond Brazil

Andrade sees potential in other Latin American cities such as Argentina’s capital, Buenos Aires, Bogota in Colombia, Santiago in Chile, and Lima in Peru. But outside of Mexico City, he said, “São Paulo and Rio [de Janeiro] are the two principal cities in Latin America with the potential to consume urban air mobility services.”

Andrade sees a possibility for eVTOL aircraft to be the basis for a true mass transportation market on a scale comparable to ground-based taxis. “It may take a bit less time or a bit more than the manufacturers project, but it will happen," he predicted. "It’s inevitable."

Avantto is financially committed to Eve’s UAM aspirations, having put money down for its 100-ship order. “It’s not just talk," Andrade said. "There is effectively a deposit made for the purchase of the eVTOLs. We are taking this very seriously. It isn’t an adventure. We believe.

“Deliveries start in 2026, which is when Eve will deliver its first eVTOLs," Andrade continued. "The 100 units should be delivered in the following three to four years, and this depends a lot on how quickly Eve can ramp up production."

Avantto currently outsources the maintenance of its rotorcraft and fixed-wing fleets, though its own people approve the condition of each aircraft before it returns to service. Andrade expects to take the same approach with the new eVTOLs, with the manufacturer expected to fully support the aircraft in its service centers. In this regard, Eve has an edge over rival start-ups that have no experience providing product and customer support in the aviation sector.

It is Avantto’s operational expertise that will help make UAM a reality, according to Andrade, and in this regard Eve’s approach differs from rivals such as Joby, which are insisting on going it alone in controlling every aspect of service delivery. “If you start an air operation, commercial or private, everything is already defined: the equipment, the ATC, the rules and regulations ready,” Andrade explained. “In the world of eVTOLs, we’ll need to participate in everything: the construction of the regulations, the construction of airspace control, and the construction of the equipment itself. Obviously, the manufacturer having operators alongside it makes it much easier, the development of the whole ecosystem.” 

Andrade’s initial plans for the eVTOLs align with the so-called "UAM ecosystem" outlined by Embraer. “I see this business as happening in two development stages," he said. "In the first stage, I see the eVTOLs following predefined routes. As things mature and progress, we will offer an on-demand service, where the person can go from point A to point B as they see fit.”

Timeshare eVTOLs

Eventually, that may include a fractional ownership option in addition to on-demand air taxi services. Avantto claims to operate the world’s largest helicopter fractional program, and he doesn’t see eVTOLs, with their limited range, replacing rotorcraft and private jets anytime soon.

The UAM dream envisages a day when the eVTOL aircraft could fly autonomously, or at least be remotely piloted by a qualified person on the ground. But to start with, the new aircraft will need pilots, and some question how enough of them will be recruited to support claims that thousands of eVTOLs could be in service over the next decade.

“They’ll be our employees, just like the pilots of the fractional aircraft are,” explained Andrade. “There will be big shortages of pilots once the eVTOLs start to operate. You can’t train a pilot overnight.”

So, the five years until the first delivery from Eve give Avantto time to prepare. “All the manufacturers say that it will be some years until there’s an ATC system and a database that will allow safe autonomous flight,” Andrade added. “We’ll be flying with pilots for many, many years.”

Another question to be resolved is how UAM consumers will access their flights and how the overall retail experience will be arranged. In the early years of the new movement, rideshare giant Uber invested heavily in developing its Elevate platform, which would have integrated air taxis into its car service application. But pressure on its balance sheet prompted it to sell Uber Elevate to eVTOL developer Joby.

Avantto is working on the development of an app to digitize the entire customer experience and integrate the air taxi service with onward last-mile connections on the ground. “Everything we’re developing now for our current clients, fractional and aircraft management, will serve as the basis for the technological platform for eVTOL clients, because the service is the same, and it will be done on an enormous scale.”

Reality Check

Andrade sees Embraer’s aviation expertise as putting Eve ahead in the crowded eVTOL field. “Why pick Embraer?" he said. "Not just because it’s a Brazilian firm, but because it’s certified so many aircraft. I’m a bit skeptical that these 200 [eVTOL] firms will manage to have their equipment approved. I’d say that very few will. At most, five; more likely, three or four.”

As to Avantto’s place in the complex UAM food chain, Andrade concluded that “in our favor is our experience—we have operated VTOL aircraft for many years in urban areas, so I think we’re starting out ahead.”

Avantto intends to contribute its expertise to Embraer’s UAM ambitions, with Eve being a strong advocate for the "it takes a village" mantra for building this new mode of transportation. But, at the same time, a lot of work needs to be done to solidify the theory behind the deal announced earlier this month.

“Our agreement with Eve is that we will effectively participate in the final development stage not only of the eVTOL but also of the air space control system, and we have talks on a joint venture to operate the eVTOLs. The idea is that we’ll have a closer partnership,” Andrade concluded, while at the same time admitting, “We don’t have a JV set up. It’s an expectation of both sides. Eventually, it may not work out, either on their side or on ours.”