It is time for the business aviation industry to get on board with electric. Early entry in the adoption curve will get us ahead of the game explains The ACA Sustainability & Innovation Group member Irena Deville:
It can be tempting to discount eVTOLs as a futuristic mode of transportation, a far-fetched dream, but in reality the eVTOL industry is making fast-paced progress that is likely to significantly impact business aviation within the next few years. That gives us an opportunity; understanding the technology itself, as well as how the aircraft will be operated, serviced and supported, could be a catalyst for huge growth potential within the industry. The first eVTOLs are expected to achieve type certification within the next three years, so now is very much the time to explore and seize these opportunities, ahead of the game.
There are numerous eVTOL concepts currently being developed, with different underlying technologies and aircraft architectures as well as wildly varying degrees of venture maturity. They range from concepts through to aircraft prototypes that have already completed significant numbers of test flights. What most of the more advanced players have in common, however, is that their fundraising efforts are underpinned by a business case that markets seat capacity to the public, within a high frequency-of-operations model at a significant scale. And while it makes sense to target that scale, in order ultimately to provide sustainable, time-saving and inexpensive air travel to the wider public, this only paints a picture of a mature market. It ignores the technology adoption curve, a bell curve model that describes how different people react to, adopt and accept new products and technologies.
Innovators (2.5 per cent) are the ones who love to try new things and don’t mind failure. Early adopters (13.5 per cent) are comfortable taking risks, but gather facts before diving in. The early majority (34 per cent) need solid evidence of any advantage, and the late majority (34 per cent) are not risk takers, they don’t want to go first. Then there are the laggards (16 per cent) who are generally resistant to change. We have the opportunity, as an industry, to be innovators.
At entry into service and with relatively low volumes of aircraft production, the purchase price of eVTOLs is likely to be comparable to that of a helicopter. Lower aircraft utilisation in the early stages of operations and immaturity of the support ecosystem is also likely to mean higher costs per flight hour. An innovator wanting to adopt eVTOL technology will therefore need a reasonable budget.
Now, eVTOLs may come with a hefty price tag, but they offer many of the advantages that business aviation users are attracted to. After all, who would not want to depart from a nearby vertiport and be shuttled quickly and in comfort to the airport where a private jet awaits? And since developing a new type of aircraft is an expensive business, eVTOL OEMs are likely to welcome cashflow opportunities by targeting wealthy innovators who can afford the higher price tag, if they are willing and able to produce an aircraft that appeals to such a customer group.
As a large, service oriented and geographically widespread industry, business aviation is already well placed to provide services to the eVTOL industry either as aircraft operators, ground handlers, maintenance or crew training providers. Once eVTOLs move into private ownership, they are likely to be operated and managed in a similar way that private jets are today. The synergies are there. Private flyers tend to have considerable funds and a desire to be at the forefront of innovation. They will jump onboard as entry into service approaches, long before the technology has been adopted by the public en masse.
So, while some may choose to sit back and see what happens on the eVTOL front, we should grasp the opportunity to work out how to service and support these types of new aircraft today; operators, service providers and brokers alike.