One of the most interesting and challenging markets in the drone industry is the eVTOL (electric vertical take-off and landing) market. It's not only the regulatory differences that set it apart from other use cases in the ecosystem but also how to balance the line between autonomy and manual operations with drone pilots due to these strict regulations from international civil aviation authorities.
We had the opportunity to speak with Juliana Carolina Kiraly Thomaz Rodrigues, the Head of Business Development of Europe at Eve Air Mobility, during Amsterdam Drone Week, who gave us an overview of the company and its strategy alongside the current state of the eVTOL market.
For those unfamiliar with Eve Air Mobility, they’re a derivative company of Embraer, which is the third largest commercial jet manufacturer in the world. They have experience certifying and manufacturing different types of aircraft with more than 50 years of experience in different industries like commercial aviation, defence and executive aviation.
Several years ago, Embraer began looking into urban air mobility and saw the potential the advanced air mobility market could bring to them, which is why they decided to begin investing. Eventually, they decided to throw their own hat into the mix by creating Eve Air Mobility based in Brazil and the United States with employees around the world.
While some eVTOL companies like Volocopter are focusing on the societal acceptance of passenger-carrying drones or air taxis through demonstrations at events like the Paris Olympics, Eve Air Mobility is approaching the market from a different perspective.
Their team is developing an eVTOL that can carry four passengers and a pilot. The eVTOL can be used in different industries for different use cases. They are currently working with 26 customers located all over the world who are interested in building the infrastructure needed to get eVTOLs up and running.
One example of a use case would be tourism. Here, eVTOLs offer a competitive advantage over helicopters in terms of carbon emissions and noise pollution for urban routes. In addition, because eVTOLs can fly above traffic in congested areas, they can be used to replace airport shuttle use cases. Juliana told us about her home city of São Paulo, Brazil, where it can take 2 to 3 hours to get to the international airport. For an eVTOL, this could be as little as a 15-minute flight.
In other words, eVTOLs, or air taxis, can save us a lot of time as a means of transport connecting one area to another, which might be difficult to reach with ground transport for a variety of reasons, such as traffic, geography, natural disasters, etc. The eVTOL can also be used as a means of transport between two geographical locations that are difficult to reach via traditional transportation methods, which might be difficult to reach with ground transport for a variety of reasons, such as traffic, geography, natural disasters, etc.
Norway is a good example of one of Eve Air Mobility's current customers who need eVTOLs to support their current transportation system as the country's geography means that many cities are cut off, forcing people to travel by car or ferry to get to doctor's appointments, school or work. It can sometimes take more than 2 hours in one direction, which is why the government is interested in building a network of eVTOLs to help increase accessibility and cut the travel time to a 15 or 20-minute flight.
Rather than building whole new hospital networks in these smaller regions, where the need may not be great enough to justify it from a government perspective, this helps to save time for people living in these remote or inaccessible regions to reach the existing hospital infrastructure. In addition, eVTOLs could be used to transport people as well as cargo or for medical purposes.
The government already funds some PSO (public service obligation) flights, which means the project is subsidised and more accessible to the communities that need it. It's not hard to imagine similar scenarios or use cases that could have similar benefits to the medical ones in Norway today.
Currently, there are many people outside the drone industry ecosystem who assume that air taxis will only benefit the ultra-wealthy as they travel the world. This may be true for some services, but Eve is focusing on more than just high-net-worth individuals. Its ultimate goal is to integrate with existing transport systems such as trains, buses, metros and roads. Of course, Juliana acknowledges that eVTOLs will never completely replace traditional transport systems, but they can provide an additional option when planning a trip.
An example would be someone who wants to get from point A to point B, regardless of where they are geographically located. Suppose again that this route is so far away that several modes of transport must be used to complete the journey.
A person might decide to take a bus to a vertiport, then take an eVTOL to the vertiport near point B before using a bus to reach their destination. By cutting out a car, ferry, train or plane, the eVTOL presents itself during this journey as a faster alternative. This might be more expensive than a train or car, but the time saved might be great enough to make it an acceptable alternative, which is the vision Eve has for their future operations.
This makes sense for people who need to meet at short notice in another location that isn't easily accessible. London would be a good example, as traffic and public transport are often not acceptable alternatives for last-minute meetings with clients, forcing meetings to be postponed and business opportunities to be missed. Eve is focusing on developing both eVTOLs as a technology and the transport services that will be important in operating these vehicles, such as training and maintenance.
Because of how new eVTOL operations are (almost exclusively in the stages of research, development and trials), it means the entire infrastructure for this industry needs to be built or determined. Juliana explained that Eve is also working on urban air traffic management systems that will also be important to enable the scalability of these operations long-term, which is why they’re working with partners who care about certifying, delivering and supporting the locations where these aircraft will take off and land.
These infrastructure partners include municipalities and their governments, which is needed when working to achieve the wide-scale acceptance of drones in our communities. Juliana told us, “it's a totally new product, a totally new type of transportation, and we needed to have people willing to fly in these vehicles.”
They hope to launch their services in 2026, which means they have a lot of work in front of them in the next few years to achieve this.
Autonomous advanced air mobility is technologically possible today, and from a business point of view, it makes sense. Juliana explained that as soon as you can remove the pilot from the cockpit, you can reduce the operational cost and then add more seats to the cabin. Currently, Eve can only support four passengers and one pilot, so with an autonomous eVTOL, it means they will be able to add an additional two seats and reduce the cost of tickets.
The point where many are being held back is actually due to the regulations requiring a pilot in the vehicle at all times for safety reasons alongside public acceptance. Many people are likely to be hesitant about riding in an air taxi that doesn’t have a driver or the option to operate it manually.
Amsterdam Drone Week 2023 offered an amazing opportunity to get inspiration for the future of advanced air mobility (AAM). There were many discussions about the developments in terms of regulations as well as technologies. So, it’s not a matter of if it is going to happen, but when. That is why the team at Eve was so confident about making the decision to create a market entry date for their services in 2026.
Juliana closed our interview by saying,
“There's a lot of things going on. So, a lot of events, a lot of sports events that I think that will help on public acceptance and to talk more about eVTOL operations, urban air mobility, advanced air mobility in general. So, I think that this is the main message here. That's not a matter of if, but a matter of when. And, we already have some dates in place.”
Eve Air Mobility, founded in 2017, is in the field of urban air mobility (UAM). Born out of Embraer-X, an internal accelerator at Embraer, one of the world's leading aircraft manufacturers, Eve was envisioned to revolutionize the way people commute and travel in cities around the globe. Leveraging the agile nature of a startup with over half a century of Embraer's aerospace expertise, Eve’s primary goal is to enhance the quality of life in our communities by making travel not just efficient and safe, but also enjoyable and sustainable.
Eve's values are underpinned by a human-centred design approach, with the aim to connect people more effectively and seamlessly. Their mission is to transform the taxing ordeal of ground traffic congestion into a smooth, swift aerial commute accessible to everyone. The core principles guiding Eve’s team are a focus on true urban mobility, democratizing the benefits of air mobility, and a commitment to transforming aviation into a greener industry.
Eve is in the development stage of an advanced electric vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) aircraft. The eVTOL features a lift and cruise configuration, which enhances safety, efficiency, reliability and certifiability while also reducing operating and maintenance costs. This technology is at the heart of Eve's plan to provide an alternative to traditional ground transportation, aiming to alleviate traffic congestion and democratize air mobility.
As of today, Eve has made significant strides in its eVTOL testing phase and is progressing toward critical program milestones. The company is currently working on the selection of main equipment suppliers and finalizing the definition of its aircraft systems architecture, with a view to developing a mature aircraft for certification and entry into service in 2026.
As of May 10, 2022, Eve has been listed on the New York Stock Exchange, where its shares of common stock and public warrants trade under the tickers “EVEX” and “EVEXW”.
Juliana Carolina Kiraly Thomaz Rodrigues is an accomplished aeronautical engineer with over a decade of experience in the aeronautical industry. After graduating from the Universidade de São Paulo in 2010, she went on to work on Urban Air Mobility (UAM) development.
Juliana began her professional journey at Embraer, where she served in various roles, building a diverse and impressive portfolio over the course of nearly 6 years. As a Customer Support Engineer, she led product development and service revision, managing interactions with the Aeronautical Authorities and working on performance software for takeoff and landing analysis.
She later became a Flight Operations Consultant at Azul Linhas Aéreas Brasileiras, where she led onsite support, helped improve operational efficiency, developed cockpit software and conducted new airport operation analysis.
Currently, she serves as the Head of Business Development in Europe for Eve Air Mobility, a company founded by Embraer dedicated to advancing the UAM ecosystem. She leads the sales strategy for Eve's eVTOL and services in Europe, secures partnerships throughout the UAM ecosystem, and supports future operations.
Juliana Carolina Kiraly Thomaz Rodrigues stands out as a major player in the drone and urban air mobility ecosystem, leveraging both her technical expertise and strategic expertise to reshape the landscape of aviation in Europe.
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