Will Air Taxis be tiny or huge by 2030?
Meet Daniel Wiegand, CEO of the German air taxi startup, Lilium.He is on a mission to bring the benefits of vertical takeoff and landing to the masses.
And Meet Pedro, a helicopter pilot whose world is soon to be disrupted by Daniel.
In this article, I predict how huge air taxis will be by 2030 on a scale of 1 to 10 based on looking at:
- The technology needed
- The companies making it happen
- What's to love
- jobs that will be hired.
Air Taxis will be huge if the three major technology challenges are solved.
Vertical takeoff vehicle
Today a loud engine and noisy rotor blades power the vertical takeoff of Pedro's helicopter. Daniel takes advantage of the progress made in motor and battery technology in the last decade - much of it driven by Elon Musk's Tesla.
To enable vertical takeoff, Daniel's plane has 36 individual electric motors.
They are quiet - for two reasons - the rotors have a much lower tip speed ratio than a helicopter and the engine is made of quiet electric motors rather than a noisy combustion engine.
Vertiports are the places where people board Daniel's air taxis. The building of enough of them by 2030 maybe solved. Because helicopters are so noisy, there's few places for Pedro to take off from in city centres. In contrast, because air taxis, are much quieter, vertiports will be dotted around a city, on top of offices, in parking lots, and on the water. A priority for Daniel at the moment is to get at least one vertiport per city around New York .
Whilst by 2030, there'll be enough vertiports for Inter City travel, Inner City air taxi travel from one part of a city to another will still be limited because there won't be that many city centre sites across a city approved and built (probably).
Book a seat
The technology needed for passengers to book a seat on Daniel's air taxis does not require any major innovation and is "Solved".
Today booking Pedro's helicopter can be done via an app.. ... for example via Uber from Manhattan to JFK. To book an air taxi with Daniel, it's the same process. You open the Air Taxi app, choose a time of departure, pay and then follow the map to the nearby vertiport.
Air taxis will be huge if there are unicorns - startup companies that have a valuation of more than a billion dollars and when there's plenty of big established companies - such as United.
Daniel's company, Lilium is already a unicorn valued at more than $3bn. It has top notch investors including my former boss at Skype, Niklas Zennstrom. Daniel's passion for flying pre-dated him founding Lilium. He starting gliding aged 14 and had a pilot licence before he could drive legally.
Joby is another air taxi company that is a unicorn - worth more than $7 billion. The Joby plane has 6 rotors which swivel to enable both vertical takeoff and then cruising.
It's Chairman is JoeBen Bevirt, a serial entrepreneur whose inventions include the the Joby GorillaPod camera stand used by so many YouTubers. In 2020, Joby took over Uber Elevate, Uber's air taxi business and got a $75m investment.
Volocopter, based in Germany, is on its way to becoming a unicorn.
It has a very different design: a wingless multicopter built for nimble inner city flying with a range of 20 miles. And it has permits for inner city test flights in Singapore.
There’s plenty of multinational companies that are active.
Airlines are placing orders. This includes United who are buying one billion dollars worth of air taxis for the startup Archer Aviation.
Manufacturing partnerships are happening to build the planes including one agreed between Archer and Stellantis - the owners of Chrysler and Fiat.
For air taxis to be huge travellers will be showing similar 5 star levels of love that people give to Uber today.
Saving time on certain journey will be huge and get 5 stars. Today's option is to drive or take ages to getting to a heliport. By 2030, a customer of Daniel - meeting her girlfriend for dinner - saves A LOT of time.
She books the air taxi on her phone climbs the stairs to the vertiport on top of her building walks straight onto her plane that three others are ridesharing.
Takes off vertically... and quietly... flies for 7 minutes with her looking down on the traffic below ... that she sees is moving very slowly... because it's rush hour. As she lands at the vertiport she can't believe how beautiful it is with the sun setting on the horizon. After a quick walk to the restaurant, she's sitting down to dinner. A journey that would have taken more than an hour by road, took her less than 30 minutes
Daniel's air taxi earns 4 stars for being good for the environment and sustainable. Pedro's helicopter is fast, it's a fossil fuel gas guzzler. By being electric, air taxis generate less greenhouse gases. Particularly when the electricity used to charge them comes from renewable sources.
Safety scores 4 stars. Although, helicopters like Pedro's have a good safety record they feel unsafe because there's only one rotor and no wings. To be allowed to fly, Daniel has to meet the same strict standards set by air regulators such as the US Federal Aviation Authority for commercial aircraft. To meet these, air taxis like Daniel's have redundancy built in by having multiple rotors. Most have wings for emergency landing, and some will even have parachutes for the whole plane...
and eventually they will avoid human error entirely by being fully auto piloted
It scores 3 stars for being affordable. Helicopters like Pedro's are unaffordable for most. Daniel's prices his flights equivalent to a premium Uber journey. His maintenance costs are low due to the electric air taxis not needing an engine and because they do a lot of quick trips per day. But building out the vertiport infrastructure will be costly. From the point of view of the amount of love travellers will be giving by 2030, it's at the higher end of the scale.
If air taxis are going to be huge there will be lots of jobs hired and fired.
Helicopter pilots like Pedro will one day be fired.
On the hired side, Daniel's Lilium team has 112 job vacancies listed on LinkedIn.
They are across multiple job functions including: in aircraft engineering, production, operations, finance, legal and HR. It's well worth looking at LinkedIn if you're interested in getting a job in the air taxi sector.
Helping you make good career decisions is a big reason why I'm doing this Life in 2030 channel. Jobs in fast growing new sectors like air taxis are exciting and more secure than in older sectors.
Jobs in the air taxi industry are all around the world. Daniel's vacancies are not only in Germany but also in Bangalore and Washington DC Joby and Archer are headquartered in the US. Volocopter is in Germany and there's the air taxi startup eHang headquartered in China and Wisk has operations in New Zealand.
You could set up some job alerts for these companies. It's easy to do on LinkedIn and click to have a look at my 'Finding great jobs for life in 2030' video. Because there's plenty of jobs being hired and fired, from a Jobs point of view, air taxis is at the Huge end of the scale.