On The Radar
The numbers are still mouthwatering, and it’s little wonder that so many people want a seat at the table for the anticipated urban air mobility feast. The transport consultant firm of Roland Berger has just provided a fresh taste of what could be served up by the sector in its latest report, predicting that 160,000 of what it calls “commercial passenger drones” will be in the air by 2050. The Europe-based group values the market at $90 billion in a paper entitled "The High-Flying Industry: Urban Air Mobility Takes Off."
Some have questioned whether this nascent sector will survive the fallout from the Covid-19 pandemic, and not without reason. But the latest headline figures from Roland Berger represent a 60 percent increase from its earlier market survey published in November 2018, which projected 100,000 eVTOL aircraft in service 30 years from now.
Despite the pandemic, the report says that a further $907 million was invested in the startup-led sector during the first six months of 2020. That’s more than 22 times the $40 million invested in 2016.
The report's authors, Manfred Hader and Stephan Baur, argue that the future is now. They point out that in China eVTOL pioneer EHang is already operating some of its 216 Autonomous Aerial Vehicles in a variety of roles on a trial basis. This is before the aircraft have even completed type certification with the Civil Aviation Administration of China and therefore exhibits a high degree of flexibility in allowing the company to demonstrate the case for this new mode of air transportation.
One of the more eye-catching claims in the report is that no fewer than 110 cities and regions worldwide are exploring the use of eVTOL aircraft. “It should not be long before air taxis become a natural part of the European cityscape,” the authors concluded, doubtless mindful of recently announced plans by authorities in France and Spain.
In a survey conducted by the company two years ago, 40 percent of respondents predicted that Dubai would be the first location for commercial urban air mobility services, with 30 percent predicting the U.S. would come first and 20 percent voting for China. In reality, no active plans have emerged out of Dubai.
The Roland Berger team identify three core uses for the new generation eVTOL aircraft: “city taxis, airport shuttles, and intercity jets.” And they say that a complex “ecosystem” of supporting infrastructure is on the way to get these services off the ground and that this will form a significant slice of the anticipated $90 billion pie.
“Going it alone is simply not an option for any of the players,” concluded Baur. “Partnerships across manufacturers, operators, and infrastructure providers are proving to be an important factor.”