For more than two decades, investors around the world have been placing large bets on novel air mobility vehicles. Vast sums have gushed into the dream of creating multi-modal transportation networks that include the third dimension to relieve overstressed ground-based infrastructure networks.

That is the futuristic promise. But turning the fantastic designs into certificated reality is proving difficult, and costly. We take an in-depth look at the top players in the Americas, Asia-Pacific and Europe, as they pursue different paths toward regulatory approval and commercialisation of their vehicles.

Congested cities, broad expanses of water, and national aerospace aspirations make the Asia-Pacific a key region for electric vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) aircraft. Although the region has lagged behind the West in the development of commercial airliners, it has big aerospace ambitions. Prestige and highly jobs are the main motivator for the continent’s governments to take a closer look at the sector.


Moreover, traffic-choked cities such as Bangkok, Jakarta and Manila offer prime use markets for eVTOL aircraft. They can also offer an ‘island-hopping’ role, across the sprawling archipelagos of Indonesia and the Philippines, or China’s Pearl River Delta.

Arguably the best known eVTOL firm in the region – if not the world – is China’s EHang. Its two-seat, fully autonomous EH216-S started flying passengers in “commercial demonstrations” last December.

EHang EH216

Source: Yonhap/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

EHang’s fully autonomous, two-seat EH216-S has performed commercial demonstrations

The EH216-S has secured its type certificate from the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC), making EHang the world’s first air taxi developer to be blessed by a major civil aviation regulator. Its early application has been sightseeing operations – thereby preparing the public for an eventual roll-out in the country’s big cities.

Local governments are working together with industry stakeholders to commercialise the aircraft, says Alan Lim, a director at Alton Aviation Consultancy.

“These efforts include both financial and policy perspectives – with individual cities such as Hefei and Qingdao engaging in funding and partnerships with EHang, as well as regulatory co-ordination to allow for flights between Shenzhen and Zhuhai,” he says.

A salient fact about the rise of the eVTOL sector in China is that EHang and the CAAC view autonomy – and not human pilots – as a critical safety feature. While individual eVTOL aircraft will have the autonomy to conduct emergency landings and other measures as required, ultimately the entire network will be controlled by a central command system.

From the Chinese perspective, it would be dangerous to mix autonomous and piloted eVTOL assets in the same airspace.

Autonomy, though, comes at the expense of flexibility, with eVTOL models – for the time being at least – largely restricted to routings previously flown by drones, which also map out diversion points in the event of an emergency.

Other Chinese eVTOL hopefuls include Xpeng, which has flown its developmental X2 and plans for a series of “modular flying cars”, and Geely, which has tested its five-seat, tiltrotor Aerofugia AE200. Tech giant Tencent also owns a 23.4% stake in Germany’s Lilium.

Elsewhere in Asia, South Korea aims to launch urban air mobility operations in 2025, and has kicked off the K-UAM Grand Challenge, in which companies such as EHang, Hanwha, Hyundai and Vertical Aerospace will demonstrate eVTOL operations and safety.

South Korea’s Hanwha sees opportunities as a systems provider for eVTOL aircraft, having signed a deal with Vertical at last year’s Paris air show to produce core parts for the UK company’s VX4.

Hyundai unit Supernal revealed its proposed S-A2 eVTOL in January. The piloted, four-passenger, V-tail aircraft features a distributed electric propulsion system driving eight tiltrotors. The company sees its path to global success through the US market, where it has locations in Washington DC and California.

In March, Japanese eVTOL firm SkyDrive started production of its SkyDrive SD-05 model with car maker Suzuki, and hopes to operate its product at the Expo 2025 in Osaka. Suzuki’s partners include Thales for flight controls, Avidyne for avionics, and Toray for the aircraft’s body and rotor frames.


Indonesian firm Vela is conducting windtunnel tests with its Alpha lift-and-cruise eVTOL design, which features eight electric motors for vertical lift and a single pusher-propeller for forward flight. The company will develop two variants: a hybrid version with a range of 270nm (500km) planned to operate between cities, and a fully electric version with a range of 54nm.

Following certification in Indonesia, Vela will seek Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) approval next, to tap into sales opportunities in the USA.

“Given the complexities and novelty of this sector, we will likely see a very measured approach by both Asia-Pacific and other OEMs around the globe, along with their respective regulators, in the entry-into-service and certification of their individual eVTOL aircraft,” says Lim.

This ‘crawl-walk-run’ approach will lead to a gradual ramp up in operations in 2026/2027 when the aircraft are certificated.

In the USA, several California-based companies are racing each other to get their vehicles off the ground and certificated.

Joby New York

Source: Joby Aviation

Joby is likely to be the first US-based eVTOL company to certificate its aircraft

Frontrunners Joby Aviation and Archer Aviation are moving fast, while Boeing-backed Wisk Aero is taking a more long-term approach, having chosen to jump straight to autonomous flight with its Gen 6 vehicle. However, unlike in China, the FAA is likely to approve piloted vehicles first.

But instead of first operating flights at home, the US firms appear increasingly likely to launch passenger service in a region more eager to embrace advanced air mobility projects, like the Middle East.

“They have been spending a lot of time in the region, generating deals and opportunities,” says Andres Sheppard, a senior equity analyst at Cantor Fitzgerald.

While Archer has chosen Abu Dhabi, Joby is focusing on operating in Dubai. Both companies see the region as “pivotal” to their commercialisation efforts. But they are racing against time. They can afford to burn cash for only so long, and less complex airspace appears to offer the fastest route to generating revenue.

Analyst Sergio Cecutta of SMG Consulting agrees with that assessment. A year ago, he says, the industry speculated which US city could be the first with an air taxi service. “I don’t think anybody is talking about that anymore,” he says.

Joby is likely to become the first US-based eVTOL company to certificate its aircraft. The company has a major lead on flight-testing, having amassed thousands of hours of flight time, including a demonstration in downtown Manhattan.

Archer has been conducting hover tests of its Midnight aircraft over the past several months, but by late April had yet to transition to forward flight – a major milestone in any tiltrotor aircraft’s development programme.

It could have the faster path to generating revenue, aiming to sell aircraft directly to operators, in addition to developing its own air taxi service. And, Archer may ultimately boast the industry’s most robust production capacity, through its partnership with automotive giant Stellantis.

In March, the FAA issued its final airworthiness criteria for Joby’s eVTOL aircraft, marking a milestone for the company and paving the way for other US developers, including Vermont’s Beta Technologies.

Beta recently transitioned a full-scale prototype of its Alia-250 design from hover to wing-borne forward flight – and back to hover – with a pilot onboard. The major technical achievement is distinct from a tiltrotor transition, as Beta’s craft is configured with four lift propellers and one aft-mounted pusher propeller for forward flight.

It will take the FAA longer to assess Wisk’s autonomous, uncrewed approach. Wisk too has also logged thousands of flight hours and is currently testing relatively mature technologies. It is assembling a full-scale protoype and may pursue a certification strategy starting in New Zealand.


Embraer-supported Eve Air Mobility is also taking a more measured approach, building the industry’s largest tentative orderbook while spending heavily on developing its piloted, four-passenger eVTOL aircraft. Eve plans to launch a flight-test programme this year.

Rounding out the second wave of eVTOL developers in the USA are Supernal and Southern California’s Overair.


Source: Supernal

Other developers in the USA include Supernal

Sheppard calls the air taxi business model “a no-brainer” – once it is up and running. Whether Archer or Joby can afford major certification delays is another question, however. Joby, for example, has the highest cash burn, but also the highest balance, with more than $1 billion in liquidity.

“Obviously, that’s not infinite,” Sheppard says. Should certification be pushed into 2027 or beyond, both developers could experience a cash crunch.

When the first air taxi services do launch in the USA, downtown-to-airport routes in New York and Los Angeles will be the most likely. South Florida could be another proving ground for eVTOL types.

Manufacturers have targeted limited air taxi service ahead of the 2028 Summer Olympics, also in Los Angeles, but seamlessly moving between an Uber, bus, subway or taxi into an eVTOL aircraft is unlikely, Cecutta believes.

For now, the industry remains speculative.

“The reality is that no American eVTOL OEM has achieved certification, so it’s still a ‘show me’ story,” Sheppard says.

European companies Lilium and Vertical – the two highest-profile eVTOL developers after Volocopter – are both facing similar challenges: flight and finances.

Although the companies are developing wildly different aircraft pitched at different parts of the market – Lilium with its Lilium Jet and Vertical the VX4 – both need to achieve flight-test success this year if the financial stresses are to ease.

The two firms are at different stages of aircraft development: Lilium has yet to fly a full-scale prototype, while Vertical has already flown – and written off – its initial VX4.

VX4 hover

Source: Vertical Aerospace

Vertical’s initial VX4 was written off after an accident during an uncrewed test flight

That accident, during uncrewed testing last August, forced the UK company to suspend flights while it investigated the causes and implemented changes on the next test aircraft. It says the incident was triggered by the failure of a propeller blade.

Second-generation versions of the propellers, plus an in-house-developed battery pack and other improvements – around 70% of the components are new – have since been incorporated on the next prototype. Crewed flight testing is scheduled, and a sister aircraft is expected to follow by year-end.

Vertical has ambitious plans for its prototype this year, including several public flight demonstrations, notably at July’s Farnborough air show.

In Germany, meanwhile, assembly of Lilium’s first production-conforming prototype is well underway. While the initial aircraft will be used solely for ground tests, a second fuselage, MSN002, was inducted in late May. That prototype will be used for flight testing beginning towards the end of this year.

By the end of 2024, Lilium expects to have three prototypes assembled or in assembly, with three more examples to follow next year. In all, it is targeting 800-1,000h of flight testing in pursuit of European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) certification.

Lilium is maintaining a mid-2026 certification goal – slighty ahead of Vertical’s target at the end of that year.

Lilium hangar

Source: Lilium

Lilium has so far flown scaled versionsof its Lilium Jet at a test site in Spain

But development and testing activity costs money: Lilium expects to burn through €340-360 million ($369-391 million) in 2024, while Vertical will spend a relatively modest £70 million ($90 million).

With little revenue coming through the door, successful fundraising is crucial.

In 2023, Lilium raised €292 million, and in addition to banking some pre-delivery payments from customers, hopes to end 2024 with about two-thirds of that liquidity on its balance sheet.

The company in mid-May announced that it is in discussions with the French government regarding potential production opportunities in the country, linked to state subsidies and loan guarantees. Loans from Germany and Bavaria may also be forthcoming.

Vertical also needs to raise more cash. In January, founder Stephen Fitzpatrick agreed to inject up to $50 million of his own money into Vertical, “extending [the] cash runway” into the second quarter of 2025.

As of mid-March, the company held approximately £52 million. In a regulatory filing it said it “will require additional financing” to make it to commercialisation.

If Europe’s leading lights lack the deep pockets and flight-test progress of their counterparts across the Atlantic, they can at least benefit from a significantly clearer regulatory environment.

EASA is leading on the topic – it first published its initial SC-VTOL airworthiness requirements in 2019 and has more recently set out a comprehensive set of operating rules in the form of Part-IAM (Innovative Aerial Mobility), which has been adopted into EU law.


Further consultation around acceptable means of compliance and other guidance materials continues, helping to give industry a clear understanding of the regulatory framework ahead of service entry.

Contrast that with the USA where the FAA is agreeing means of compliance with individual manufacturers, and offering little in the way of external visibility even on fundamental safety issues or common industry-wide topics. EVTOL aircraft in the USA will also be certificated under the agency’s ‘Powered Lift’ category, with a knock-on impact on issues like pilot training.

Vertical is under the jurisdiction of the newly-independent UK Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), which has largely followed EASA’s lead on eVTOL regulation, notably around airworthiness requirements. On operating rules, the CAA says it is developing a framework that is better suited to the UK.

“Early clarity on how these aircraft will operate is of enormous benefit to manufacturers, customers and investors,” says Trevor Woods, Vertical’s director of regulatory affairs. “We look forward to continuing to work closely with the CAA, EASA, the FAA and other key regulators as we certify and get these aircraft into commercial service in the coming years.”

This article has been edited to correct Lilium’s certification target.