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Are flying taxis finally here?

by Investoradar
view from inside a eVTOL

Introduction

Flying taxis, also technically known as eVTOL (electric vertical takeoff and landing) aircraft, use electric power to hover, take off, and land vertically. Using more advanced batteries and electric motors, the new technology allows an aircraft to land like a helicopter and cruise like a plane quietly. eVTOL is able to drastically reduce noise, emissions, and cost compared to traditional helicopters. This rise in technology leads to a possible adoption for urban air mobility which is flying taxis. The thesis behind urban air mobility is to solve the congestion in urban traffic networks but is it actually useful and efficient? Blade and Joby Aviation are two companies trying to build the infrastructure for the eVTOL industry. Blade is developing an urban air mobility platform while Joby Aviation is developing eVTOL for urban air mobility platforms.

Blade

Blade (BLDE) is an urban mobility platform that allows customers to book a flight through its mobile app. Unlike the old urban mobility platform which is costly, inefficient, and has no service, Blade is able to provide a flight from Manhattan-JFK for $195 with integrated service which is actually cheaper than calling an Uber black. And unlike before you can book the flight 20 minutes before takeoff which significantly increases efficiency and flexibility for customers. Blade is currently operating already with smaller and more efficient helicopters and will soon transit to eVTOL once it is available. The company currently offers short-distance flights, airport to city flights, and flights for organ movement in the US and only airport to city flights in India. Blade estimates that traffic in the US increases 50% in rush hour and in India, the traffic increases 95%. Its JFK to Manhattan flight only costs 32 minutes in total yet driving costs 90–150 minutes with potential traffic delay. Blade’s platform also tries to make the whole flying experience a lot more enjoyable and efficient for customers. It offers easy to use mobile app for booking, scheduling, communication, and tracking. It also provides private terminals and lounges for passenger management, baggage handling, and better security. The platform currently has 200,000 users and is growing quickly.

Joby Aviation

Joby Aviation (JOBY) is one of the leading companies that focuses on delivering the best eVTOL for urban air mobility. The company is not in operation yet and it is planned to operate as a commercial passenger aircraft beginning in 2024. The company makes an all-electric aircraft that is 100 times quite than a traditional helicopter with zero transmission. Their innovative aircraft is able to travel 150+ miles on only one single charge carrying four passengers at one time. The energy per consumption per trip is also much lower than a traditional helicopter. The recent partnership with Toyota enables Joby Aviation to increase its capacity to manufacture and also have a deeper understanding of automation. The company is loved by investors and recently went public through a SPAC with backing by Linkedin founder and famous venture capitalist Reid Hoffman.

Final Thoughts

I think eVTOL and urban air mobility are certainly an innovation in the right direction. It is faster, greener, cheaper, more efficient and the whole platform is integrated seamlessly. With current technology improving rapidly, I believe Joby Aviation is able to deliver its eVTOL and start operating in 2024 as promised. However, I think that urban air mobility has a lot of restrictions that limit its scalability. It is undoubtedly very useful for certain routes but in general, it is actually not that practical. In most urban areas there are not enough spaces for taking off and landing, this limits the number of flights that the platform is able to offer each day. And it is harder to expand it to other places and countries as most cities do not have the infrastructure for take-off and landing. Also, even with the price down compared to the traditional helicopters, it is still expensive and unaffordable for most people. In remote areas, eVTOL is unable to operate as it currently does not have to capability to fly from city to rural area and back. I think eVTOL and commercial urban mobility will remain in a niche market for the time being until we see a further breakthrough in technology. It works well in specific areas but in most places, it is unable to operate therefore I believe we still won’t see flying taxis all around the sky just yet.

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