Asia is in a favorable position to lead the advancement of air mobility.

Several initiatives across Australia, New Zealand, South Korea, China, Japan, Singapore, Indonesia, and India are gearing up the Asia-Pacific region to become a leading hub for advanced air mobility (AAM) services. Companies developing eVTOL aircraft, like Embraer’s spin-off Eve Air Mobility and Supernal, are collaborating with regional partners to develop air taxi and other public service applications. They aim to launch these services in the latter half of this decade, frequently with significant assistance from the government.

The companies are promoting the fully electric aircraft as a groundbreaking solution to address the aviation industry’s need to reduce carbon emissions and to ease traffic congestion in urban areas. In certain situations, hybrid-electric vehicles, which can carry up to four passengers for a maximum of 100 miles on a single charge, might offer a longer range and higher payload capacity compared to eVTOLs.

Consultants at Singapore-based Alton Aviation suggest that Singapore is strategically positioned to become an early adopter of eVTOL aircraft. They frequently monitor opportunities in the AAM sector and report that Singaporean officials have collaborated with a number of firms, including Eve, in addition to Germany’s Volocopter and the European aerospace giant Airbus, which is preparing to flight test its four-passenger CityAirbus NextGen aircraft. Alan Lim, the director of Alton, believes that the developing AAM market in Southeast Asia has potential in nearby countries like Malaysia, Thailand, and Vietnam.

The most well-known competitors in the market of electric vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) vehicles are Silicon Valley startups Joby and Archer. They have assured their investors that they are still on track to complete the type certification process of their eVTOL vehicles by the end of this year, which will allow for commercial flights to begin in 2025. Last year, there were concerns that the process would take longer, but the FAA is still working to improve its criteria while introducing new requirements like flight diversion energy reserves, which has thrown some fresh curveballs.

Last October, EHang, a company listed on Wall Street and based in Guangzhou, China, set a new world record for eVTOL by receiving a type certificate for its two-seat EH216-S vehicle from the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC). It’s worth noting that the aircraft will be fully autonomous, which is not yet permitted by Western regulators for passenger-carrying operations, making the certification all the more remarkable.

Despite being an amazing feat, the Civil Aviation Administration of China’s (CAAC) permission only allowed for restricted first flight operations under careful observation. EHang is still pursuing the production and airworthiness certificates required to advance to series production. There is no doubt that EHang’s quick path to certification was influenced by the Chinese government’s strong support for AAM efforts. This is part of a larger national strategy to boost the People’s Republic’s low-altitude economy. However, the startup has also taken responsibility for its own fate. They made use of the flexibility provided by the CAAC to carry out numerous hours of flight testing.

Joshua Ng, the director of Alton, stated in an interview with AIN that although autonomous flights would eventually be the most effective way to advance AAM development, he expects a gradual rollout in China with EHang and other local start-ups such as AutoFlight and TCab Tech. The initial phase will involve limited certification, so we should not expect hundreds of vehicles to start operating, and there could be restricted operations until the market expands. He explained this step-by-step approach in the context of a centralized state like China as a crawl-walk-run approach.

Although many eVTOL pioneers consider type certification as their main objective, specialists at Alton emphasize the need to intensify efforts in 2024 to create the complex infrastructure required for the successful implementation of AAM flights. This year’s endeavors will include the development of innovative air traffic control procedures and ground infrastructure, such as vertiports and electric battery recharging stations. “There isn’t any standardization at the moment when it comes to creating the entire ecosystem, and businesses need to realize that the journey doesn’t end with certification,” Ng commented.

In October, a significant agreement was established between Supernal and Korean Air. The objective of this agreement was to focus on trial operations, market requirements, and supporting infrastructure.

Overair, another company headquartered in California, aims to launch its aircraft in 2028 with sponsorship from Hanwha Systems, a Korean industrial conglomerate. The aircraft will carry five passengers. Overair started a project with regional partners on Jeju Island, located 50 miles off the Korean peninsula, last year. Their objective is to increase and decarbonize their transportation offerings.

Eve Air Mobility and Hunch Mobility, a joint venture between Blade Air Mobility and Hunch Ventures, have formed a partnership to provide eVTOL air services to cities across India, starting in Bangalore. The joint venture plans to certify its four-passenger eVTOL by 2026. Eve Air Mobility has already established AAM agreements in South Korea and is in the process of expanding its flight schedule to include Singapore, Tokyo, Manila, and Melbourne, by partnering with Ascent, a ridesharing booking platform based in Singapore.

Boeing is focusing on its subsidiary Wisk Aero to tap into the AAM market. Wisk Aero aims to deliver and fly a fully autonomous eVTOL aircraft without a pilot, similar to EHang.

Textron is involved in the developing electric aviation industry through its eAviation subsidiary. This subsidiary, along with its Slovenia-based Pipistrel subsidiary, is working on additional concepts for electric aircraft. Meanwhile, the U.S. helicopter division Bell is leading the development of the Nexus eVTOL vehicle.

Several eVTOL start-ups have turned to established aerospace groups to develop critical systems for their aircraft. Honeywell’s AAM team has been working as a propulsion and avionics partner for many such initiatives. GKN Aerospace is also gaining recognition in the industry due to its expertise in composite aerostructures.

Daedalean, a Swiss start-up that specializes in developing flight automation and autonomy, will be one of the participants in the AAM delegation at the Singapore Airshow in 2024. The company remains committed to leveraging the power of AI and machine learning in its operations. Notably, Honeywell was one of the company’s initial investors.