Are You Really Ready for the eVTOL Revolution?
In May 2023, United Airlines and eVTOL-maker Archer announced plans to launch an "air taxi" service based in Chicago's O'Hare International Airport. United passengers will be able to disembark at O'Hare and then take an electric vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) air-taxi to the city center .
There are a lot of things you can say about this, many of them eminently serious (we'll get to a few below), not least that it cuts an hour's journey to just 10 minutes. But let's just take a moment to acknowledge how cool it is.
For years, people who were disappointed that the twenty-first century wasn't as cool as sci-fi had led them to expect it would be, would say ask rhetorically, "Where are my flying cars?" To them Chicago can now say, "Sir, Madam — your air taxi awaits you."
People will choose Chicago over other destinations and United over other airlines, just for the experience of taking the air taxi. Little wonder that between now and 2035, the market for eVTOL aircraft will grow to be worth US$23 billion .
So, what do airlines have to do now, to get in on the ground floor of the eVTOL revolution?
Find the right business model for your company
Probably the most eye-catching use of eVTOLs is the one United and O'Hare have already latched on to: the air-taxi. Light, easy to fly, perfect for short trips and small groups — for instance, a family or perhaps some conference attendees — eVTOL aircraft will make great, short-hop air taxis.
In a recent survey, a massive 95% of passengers said airlines still had work to do to improve their customer experience . What better way to put the wow factor back into air travel than taking the trip from the airport into town in your own chauffeured flying limo?
But this is just one of many possible eVTOL business models. Others include:
- Emergency services: flying as the crow does, eVTOL aircraft help medics and other emergency professionals skip over queues and traffic jams to be on-scene faster.
- Last-mile delivery: get e-commerce packages to their destination faster and, with the right electricity supplier, with lower greenhouse gas emissions.
- Urban transport: the taxi service that starts out as exclusive to the airport can, once experience and acceptance grow, be integrated into the entire urban transport network.
- High-value cargo delivery: whether it's diamonds, truffles, emergency medical supplies or something else, some cargo is faster and safer delivered by air.
- Search and rescue with disaster relief: find victims of disasters, and get emergency supplies to them faster and safer than you could with road vehicles.
Nor is this a case of 'pick one'. Early entrants into the airport taxi model, for instance,— if they choose the right approach and the right systems early on — will have a head start over their competitors when it's time to develop other, more sophisticated, use cases.
These are the barriers eVTOL operators must overcome
These new vehicles are essentially small electrical helicopters. Operating a low-altitude helicopter service is different in important ways to operating a standard airline.
This is particularly the case, as the FAA and other regulators are still developing safety and operational standards for eVTOL aircraft. This presents operators trying to keep up with regulatory requirements with a moving target.
Challenges of setting up a successful eVTOL business include:
- Safety: operating multiple eVTOL aircraft at low altitude in urban areas presents a far greater safety challenge for route planners and traffic controllers.
- Booking: matching passengers, or cargo, to aircraft in a way that maximizes resource utilization and optimizes customer experience is vital to business success.
- Staff vetting: checking qualifications, flying hours and other important staff safety and compliance requirements, even as rules are developed, will be vital.
- Fleet management: whether it's optimizing maintenance, tracking utilization rates or something else, effective fleet management is crucial to business success.
- Loyalty management: how you can capture loyalty end-to-end, across the traditional and eVTOL journey segments, in a way that rewards and incentives repeat custom?
The stakes here are extremely high. This is most obvious with safety. Mix up routes or lose oversight of the craft in the area, in a low-altitude urban environment, and you court disaster.
Less obvious, but no less real, is the risk to consumer acceptance, revenue, and brand equity, if an airline adds eVTOL craft to its services without first laying the groundwork for success.
Take the simple air taxi model. Imagine that our passengers, excited at their first air-taxi ride, disembark from their commercial airliner and make their way to the eVTOL take off pad.
Only, when they get there, there's been a mix up. Their air taxi is due for maintenance and can't fly. After a delay, they're given a new eVTOL. But then it turns out that their pilot isn't safety-qualified for the new vehicle. This leads to another delay and uncertainty, while staff work out what to do.
Very quickly, what was supposed to be exciting and thrilling turns into a cause of frustration and, for the person who chose the experience, embarrassment. Multiply this experience many times, and your new eVTOL business is a drag on your brand and your business.
How then, can airlines and other players getting into the air-taxi, and other eVTOL businesses, avoid these pitfalls and get things right from the start.
The answer is to find the right partner, fast
To hit the ground running, and get your eVTOL venture right from the start, you need the right partner, with the right experience and the right technology.
Working with a market-leading software provider, that specializes in operations management for commercial and non-commercial air passenger and cargo services can:
- Draw on technology and best practices developed for both commercial airlines and operations, for instance in mining or oil and gas, that use large, low-altitude helicopter fleets.
- Access state-of-the-art platforms to manage the eVTOL fleet, taking in maintenance, availability, safety and other vital aspects of fleet management.
- Implement market-leading booking technology that ensures the right eVTOL aircraft is always serviced, ready and where it needs to be for the passengers or cargo.
- Use technology to manage staff — ensuring that everything from flying hours to relevant qualifications are tracked for compliance and that staffing levels always meet business needs.
Even this undersells what the right partner can do for you, as you move into the eVTOL market. The right technology provider will also integrate these new systems with each other and with your existing platforms.
For instance, your partner should be able to help you run your loyalty scheme and your booking system across both normal and eVTOL flights. This maximises the customer incentive to book your eVTOL service whenever they fly with you.
Working with a specialist software provider to the air-travel sector also gives you the opportunity to build travel-specific retail and other modules into your eVTOL-management platforms. In a single pane of glass, your staff have everything they need to optimize the customer experience and maximize upsell and cross-sell across the whole journey.
IBS Software is a leading SaaS solutions provider to the travel industry globally, managing mission-critical operations for customers in the aviation sector. These include both major airlines and operators of low-altitude, frequent-trip helicopter fleets. Find out how IBS Software can help you develop the best practices and implement the technologies you need to make your eVTOL investments a success.