NEXA Advisors of McLean, VA, recently published the groundbreaking study, Urban Air Mobility: Economics and Global Markets, just released a fleet forecast for UAM aircraft. Between 2020 and 2040, NEXA forecasts a global market for more than 41,500 aircraft in multiple configurations and using battery-only, hybrid turbine-electric, and hydrogen-powered energy sources. The firm believes that the greatest demand will be for air taxi services, with almost 20,000 aircraft forecasted, followed by business aviation users. The medevac category, which will revolutionize emergency services globally, will support deliveries of more than 4,900 aircraft during the forecast period.
NEXA assumes an estimated passenger demand for UAM flights of more than 1 billion passenger flights within the twenty-year forecast. Another key assumption is that sufficient vehicles are manufactured to satisfy this demand. NEXA predicts load factors of between 50 and 70 percent, which means for a 2-seat vehicle, approximately one paying passenger per flight.
The NEXA study identified more than UAM 300 aircraft programs (as of October 20, 2019), many of them start-ups, that are competing to develop vehicles or to provide the components with which to design the most efficient electric, hybrid or hydrogen-powered design. Since there is a challenging pathway to certification, NEXA suggests that perhaps just a few companies or consortia will emerge victors over the next two decades.
NEXA predicts that the introduction of the first low volume production eVTOLs will occur over the next few years. They will be piloted, although widespread flight testing using automated or pilot-assisted flight platforms will also continue. Companies ranging from independent startups to aviation giants have begun to get their eVTOL prototypes off the ground, into testing, and entering the certification process.
NEXA found that only five companies/projects are incorporating hydrogen fuel cell designs, despite the fact that a dozen countries around the world are investing in supporting infrastructure, including China. Other observations include:
- Designs that have a smaller number of rotors face significantly more challenging certification due to failure modes.
- Some 50+ projects, classified as sporting/racing or personal, involve designs that will carry a single passenger.
Here is the list of countries with at least three active 2+ passenger eVTOL programs:
According to the NEXA forecast, eVTOL prototypes still aren’t commercially feasible.
“Uber laid out their Air Vehicle Requirements for eVTOL aircraft operating on the Elevate network, and the 2019 technology doesn’t quite cut it,” according to Michael Dyment, NEXCA’s Managing Partner. “Uber’s requirements on the range, reserves, noise, and payload have not yet been attained, but the technology put into the prototypes is consistently improving. This challenge should be perceived as a great opportunity for vehicle manufacturers. Every design breakthrough makes the barrier to UAM operations more feasible.”
The NEXA Urban Air Mobility: Economics and Global Markets study examined infrastructure needs, investment opportunities, early UAM users, the UAM and UTM supply chain, overcoming obstacles, and other pertinent issues. Data is provided in both a 100-page written report as well as an interactive web portal into ArcGIS maps for each of the 74 cities studied. The firm is currently leveraging big data to examine commuters’ movements, with an eye to first UAM passenger routes.
NEXA provides one of the first forecasts of UAM aircraft demand over the next two decades. The next five years will determine if the programs are viable and if sufficient quantities can be produced to meet the forecasted passenger demand.