50 SKY SHADES - World aviation news

eVTOL economic mirages

Date: 29 Nov 2023 16:35 (UTC)
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To avoid wasting time in horrible traffic jams, the eVTOL flying machine is a pleasant and fast way to get around. What does AI (Artificial Intelligence) imply in a summary about eVTOLs? “They represent a promising leap forward in aviation technology, offering a blend of efficiency, safety, and environmental consciousness. While they haven’t fully taken flight yet, ongoing developments and negotiations with aviation authorities suggest that eVTOLs are poised for a transformative impact on how we move through the skies.” 

Now that we have presented some pleasantries, let’s get down to business! Let’s dot the i's and cross the t's.

The global market for eVTOL aircraft is estimated to be in the two-digit billions of dollars. How is ‘global market’ defined? Estimated, guesstimated, or assumed? Estimated based on what, astrology or beliefs? One would hope that it is based on available proven facts. Where are the realistic and clear explanations of qualified economists?

Advanced Urban Mobility (UAM) could become Urban Aerial Luxury and an inequality between those relatively few who can afford it and those who cannot.

Maybe the French are world leaders in the field. Nice Cote d’Azur airport has 14 helipads and a helicopter terminal including a VIP lounge. It is one of the busiest European airports for private and business jets. The Principality of Monaco is a nearby major international business and finance center that does not have an airport. Monaco Heliport has 8 helipads.  It has a terminal and four hangar facilities, an underground parking lot, and a drop-off area at the front of the terminal. The Vertiport developers of today can maybe learn something from it. Nice airport has about 20,000 helicopter movements annually of which 55% fly to Monaco. As for annoying rotor-blade noise, the flights between the two endpoints are 95+ percent over the Mediterranean waters. 

About 25+ helicopters are in commercial service in the Nice-Monaco region. The 7-minute helicopter ride between the two costs approximately $ 750 for 5 people, or 150 up to 195 p.p. Flights may leave as frequently as every 30 minutes. A train ride ex Nice-airport to Monaco costs about $ 5 and takes 25-30 minutes. A $ 22 bus ride takes about 45 minutes. A taxi ride of 30 minutes costs $ 99 or more depending on one’s negotiating skills. What will an eVTOL flight realistically cost and how does it compare?  Might the helicopters be replaced by 5-seater eVTOLS in the future? Nevertheless, pricewise a rail connection obviously beats all alternatives. 

eVTOL’s require a Vertiport which one normally doesn’t have in the backyard. Who could afford one anyway? There may not even be one present in the neighborhood. One still needs a ride to the nearest one.    

The eVTOL hype sounds like the ultimate innovation of the century. The idea of vertical flight has been around for hundreds of years. Leonardo da Vinci sketched his design in 1493. His profound and pioneering concept also known as the “aerial screw”, provided the basic principle for the design of modern helicopters. His spinning screw-like aerial carriage was a testimony of his innovative thinking and unrestrained mind more than five hundred years ago. He didn’t use electricity nor fuel; no carbon footprint. That the concept was man-powered may be one reason why it wasn’t realized; nonetheless, exemplary ingenuity.

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There is nothing new about vertical take-off and landing aircraft that don’t need a runway. Motorized VTOL aircraft with persons on board, in the form of primitive helicopters, first flew in 1907. Besides helicopters there are other hybrid aircraft with powered rotors such as cyclogyros and gyrodynes. And then there are tiltrotor aircraft and thrust-vectoring airplanes in the military service. 

The “e” in eVTOL is supposed to be the novelty that creates excitement. Electric motors are less complex and require less maintenance and have no carbon footprint. Great mechanical biddly-boo. But how is the electricity produced and at what cost? And what carbon footprint does that energy production have? The needed batteries are heavy and expensive. For commercial air transportation purposes, batteries need to be charged fast, yet quick charges and discharges put a heavy toll on a battery. 

To be financially viable, any aircraft used for commercial purposes needs to fly frequently. How does realistic eVTOL capacity utilization fit in the operation economics? A ground taxi operation needs a descent limousine of around $ 60,000 and a competent person with a driver’s license. The cost of an eVTOL for a minimum of 4-5 persons goes into the hundreds of thousands and needs a qualified pilot.  Bringing eVTOL to the mainstream market relies on a capital investment for the aircraft and the unit price per deployment for passenger use.



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