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Airport World exclusive: The progress and future of eVTOL avionics


Flying cars used to be the province of science fiction novels. But now, “flying cars” are real, with over 200 different models being designed and dozens of real prototypes flying today.

Except that it’s not so much a flying car as an actual aircraft: an electric vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) aircraft, to be exact. Sure, we already have helicopters, which technically qualify as VTOLs, but those are noisy and polluting.

Today, with green electric batteries, avionics manufacturers are pushing the envelope by developing small, energy-efficient one-to-four-passenger vehicles that can take off and land vertically without a long runway. In short, manufacturers are developing an “air taxi” that could theoretically replace your car one day.

Bildunterschrift Hauptfoto: Volocopter 2X takes flight at Gimpo Airport during MOLIT K-UAM Event, Republic of Korea ©MOLIT

And just as automobile manufacturers are exploring the possibilities of electric cars, which have now been commercially available for several years, the growing interest in VTOLs also centres on electrically powered VTOLs, or eVTOLs.

Getting eVTOLs off the ground, as it were, is a major priority in the future of avionics, and many experts believe the vehicles are only a couple years away from full-scale production. But since eVTOLs have vastly different regulatory expectations and safety requirements compared to traditional aircraft, the road hasn’t been particularly smooth.

Still, considering that the concept of an eVTOL didn’t hit the market until 2008, the innovation that’s taken place in less than 15 years has been staggering. Here’s the lowdown on eVTOL and where this amazing technology is headed.

Why eVTOL?

What are aircraft manufacturers hoping to accomplish with eVTOL? Well, the first goal is to reduce carbon emissions. The amount of CO2 emissions from commercial aircraft went up by more than 30% between 2013 and 2018. In just five years. So aviation is one of the top targets for reducing carbon emissions in general.

The second goal is to achieve urban air mobility (UAM). Urban air mobility means using highly automated, low-altitude eVTOLs to speed up urban travel and help ease the traffic burden on roads.

© Volocopter

The third goal is to make aircraft more financially accessible to the average person. Rather than paying hundreds or thousands of dollars for a commercial flight, individuals could theoretically use an eVTOL air taxi to take a couple-hundred-mile flight to a neighbouring state, or even to commute to work at just $3 per mile.

While that’s not exactly the most affordable option at around twice the cost of a typical Uber, it would certainly be much faster. Although some consider that kind of high-speed, short-distance flight a pipe dream, some believe it could become possible in just a few years.

Recent eVTOL Innovations

With so many great reasons to pursue eVTOL, and since electric cars have been commercially available since 1997, you might think that commercial-scale eVTOL production would be widespread by now. And it’s true that unmanned eVTOLs have been commercially available in the form of drones for quite some time. In 2015 alone, the FAA issued around 3,000 drone permits.

But so far, there haven’t been any mass-produced passenger eVTOL aircraft designs due to aviation certification issues:when it comes to manned eVTOLs – i.e., air taxis – the safety concerns have inhibited widespread development and adoption.

That doesn’t mean there hasn’t been any development in manned eVTOLs, though. In 2017, Airbus introduced an eVTOL design at the Paris Air Show, and in the same year, Boeing introduced another innovative eVTOL model.

In 2020, Joby Aviation entered the scene and would soon become the leading eVTOL developer. In the same year, Tetra Aviation won an award for a single-seat eVTOL design. Still, many of the most important advancements in funding and eVTOL research have all happened in 2021 and 2022.

Developments in 2021

The year 2021 saw major advancements in both the production and the regulatory aspects of eVTOL development. In terms of production, in mid 2021, Joby Aviation acquired $2 billion in funding to develop a remotely controlled electric air taxi prototype. This prototype had a range of more than 150 miles on a single charge and could seat up to five passengers.

In November of 2021, Volocopter in South Korea produced a flying taxi that performed the country’s first crewed eVTOL flight. Another major avionics startup, Kittyhawk, announced a plan to produce a fully automated eVTOL prototype.

As for developments on the regulatory side, the FAA initially announced intentions to base its eVTOL regulations strongly on regulatory requirements for small, general aviation aircraft. But the plans for increased automation in eVTOLs, plus the differences in hardware for vertical takeoff and landing compared to those of standard aircraft, mean that the FAA eVTOL regulations may not be enough.

Meanwhile, the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) has begun to develop a separate set of standards and regulations specific to eVTOL aircraft. Developing regulations specific to eVTOL is a step in the right direction and much-needed, since regulations are the primary factor holding up commercial-scale eVTOL aircraft production. The FAA took notice and is likewise adopting eVTOL specific certification guidelines.

In September, a promising SAE initiative known as the G-35 Committee formed to help develop standards specific to eVTOLs with the hope that these standards could become the basis of any future FAA and EASA regulations for these aircraft.

Representatives from the FAA, EASA, major avionics manufacturers, academics and many more are collaborating in an unprecedented cooperative effort to codify qualifications for different technologies involved in eVTOL development, including remote piloting and autonomous aircraft standards.

Developments in 2022

In early 2022, Jetson Aero made history with the first commercially available, single-seater eVTOL: the Jetson One. This eVTOL avoided much of the regulatory compliance headaches with the FAA and EASA because the 88-kilogramme personal flying vehicle is too lightweight to be considered an airplane by the FAA. Even so, the small, personal “flying vehicle” can fly up to altitudes of 5,000 feet and travel for up to 20 minutes on a single charge.

Although you can order one now, you may have to wait a while to get your personal flying vehicle, since all the available Jetson Ones have been preordered for 2022 and 2023.

We will most certainly see plenty more major developments throughout the rest of the year as not a week goes by without an eVTOL competitor making new announcements on pending developments.

Fierce competition is one of the biggest factors driving innovation in any technological development, and the eVOTL contest is already well underway.

Kittyhawk, Boeing, Lilium, Volocopter, Archer Aviation, Beta Technologies, Vertical Aerospace and many others have enough funding and technological capabilities to push eVTOL development to its limits. And several more discreet but even better funded multi-nationals are more secretive in their progress but aligned with major industrial manufacturers possessing proven mass-production capabilities.

On the regulatory side, Joby has already started the certification process with the FAA for an eVTOL design. As a result, experts believe the first FAA-certified piloted eVTOL will come out sometime in 2023. Certification for autonomous and unpiloted eVTOL will take a decade-plus  longer due to unique safety concerns for pilotless aircraft.

Challenges to the Future of eVTOL Avionics

What should you expect for eVTOL, given that FAA and EASA certifications are taking their sweet time catching up with the technological developments for these aircraft?

Well, to be fair, there are some unique challenges to a certification for eVTOL aircraft, particularly in the fully automated category. First, many people feel very uncomfortable and uncertain about the safety of unpiloted eVTOLs.

The main issue lies in eVTOL hardware designs compared to those of standard aircraft. If a standard airplane loses power mid-flight, chances are that a pilot or a well-programmed automated system can force the plane into a glide and bring it to safety because the large wings can generate some lift even if the engine isn’t functioning.

By contrast, most eVTOLs rely on small propellers, which can’t generate sufficient lift to bring the vehicle into a glide if the engine fails; this is something regular helicopters can accomplish via “auto-rotation”.

The second challenge is cost. Despite the optimistic prediction by manufacturers that eVTOL travel could cost just $3s per mile, industry analysts believe costs will be two to five times greater than that. The cost of the aircraft itself will likely also be prohibitive to widespread adoption for some time to come.

For instance, the Jetson One costs $92,000 and is exceptionally limited in its payload, range, and capability. Unless manufacturers can simplify their processes drastically and begin full-scale production, costs will likely remain high.

Also, certification costs drive the price up even more. Consider DO-178C, the extremely rigid software standard for critical systems in aviation. DO-178C increases software engineering costs by up to 40%. The costs could be even higher in autonomous eVTOLs, which would have to rely entirely on software for a safe flight.

The third challenge is that the FAA wants to use existing standards instead of developing new ones specific to eVTOL. Regulations for eVTOL would need to take into account battery management and safety, air traffic control, ground infrastructure for charging batteries and landing, plus many other factors that current standards simply don’t address. So eVTOL aircraft won’t reach full commercial production levels until there’s a proper system for certification and regulatory compliance.

Final Predictions

We already have eVTOL aircraft that are fully functional. Leading companies like Volocopter, Airbus and Joby have successfully tested and demonstrated eVTOL capabilities. Various experts in avionics acknowledge the innovation and possibilities of the technology, and industry leaders have already conducted many thousands of hours of test flights. So how far could eVTOL go in the next couple decades?

© Volocopter

Here are our thoughts: As far as autonomous eVTOLS are concerned, passenger-free, small-cargo eVTOLs are already a reality. They’re called drones. But longer-range and larger-payload autonomous drones are still a ways out, as are automated passenger eVTOLS.

We could begin to see several certified, one-to-four-person piloted eVTOL aircraft as early as next year, but full-scale production will likely take two to three years.

It may take five to eight years for commercial-sized passenger eVTOL aircraft to take to the skies, and up to ten years for a 150-plus passenger electric aircraft to hit the 500-mile range mark. And many experts agree that production of fully electric avionics systems will likely take a couple decades to reach the same scale as carbon-fuelled aircraft production.

On the automation side, certification and safety issues may prevent fully autonomous passenger eVTOLs from taking centre stage for up to 20 years.

In the end, avionics development is unpredictable. The unprecedented speed of development in eVTOL has astonished many experts and overturned many early predictions. So there’s really no certainty regarding how far eVTOL development could progress in the coming years.

What we do know is that there will be more innovation in the eVTOL space, and that’s going to be well worth the wait.

Vance Hilderman, aviation expert, author, and CEO of AFuzion


  1. Gary Vermaak 14th September 2022

    What are aircraft manufacturers hoping to accomplish with eVTOL? “Well, the first goal is to reduce carbon emissions. The amount of CO2 emissions from commercial aircraft went up by more than 30% between 2013 and 2018. In just five years. So aviation is one of the top targets for reducing carbon emissions in general.” – Really? Replacing just 26000 civilian helicopters of almost 500000 civilian aircraft? The real wins are commercial and private aeroplanes, not VTOLs.

    Achieve urban air mobility (UAM)? In the article it states that “Urban air mobility means using highly automated, low-altitude eVTOLs to speed up urban travel and help ease the traffic burden on roads”. Actually we have had cargo UAM since 1939 (US Mail, Philadelphia) and passenger UAM since 1953 (New York Airways). UAM is a mid-mile transport option like trains and buses, and is not a mass transit option option like buses and trains so eVTOL aircraft will complement, not compete, with electric buses and trains to get people out of their autoniomous electric private cars, taxis or ubers.

    Make aircraft more financially accessible to the average person”? “Rather than paying hundreds or thousands of dollars for a commercial flight, individuals could theoretically use an eVTOL air taxi to take a couple-hundred-mile flight to a neighbouring state, or even to commute to work at just $3 per mile.” For urban routes a Robinson R44 can already do that with a pilot and 3 pax, while an eVTOL will never be efficient or as cheap as an eCTOL for regional trips. The Tecnam P2012 CTOL costs about $400 per hour to operate with 9 pax flying at a 352 mph cruising speed.

  2. vance Hilderman 19th September 2022

    Gary – thanks for the humor. Enjoy your Abacus and your coal-fired power plants.

    The rest of us are moving on the future (really, a Robinson or Tecnam for Urban Air Mobility? For a minute I thought you were serious 😉

  3. Very informative and well described post it was. Thanks for sharing it with us. Many people will get helpful from this one.


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