Will autonomous eVTOL get airborn anytime soon ?

Will autonomous eVTOL get airborn anytime soon ?

With Boeing latest additional investment in Wisk of 450 million USD, we have seen within the last 2 years an increase of investments in the booming eVTOL industry of over 5 billion USD for just the Top15 out of approx. 600 projects, despite COVID, despite political and trade agreement issues around the world, despite many things other industries has and still suffers from. The faith seems strong in eVTOL.

Jumping over the pilot

A few eVTOL projects like Wisk and Chinese eHANG seems to focus on going directly to autonomous eVTOL’s, jumping over the step of first having a pilot onboard like many other eVTOL's developers have chosen.

And it makes sense seen from a business perspective. No pilot onboard equals:

  • Saving the pilot salary
  • Room for another paying passenger

At Copenhagen Helicopter we also believe the future is for autonomous flights, just like the future is for autonomous driving. But when will that future be ?

Challenges ahead

Flying autonomous can be done today, the military has done it for years, even some civilians does it like Zipline in Rwanda, Africa. For civilian usage especially over congested city areas and congested airspace among many other aircrafts, some technical challenges needs to be solved before that future is here, and those challenges will be solved.

But one thing is flying cargo, cargo can often be replaced should something go wrong, another thing is flying human beings.

Will the customer trust the technology to safely transport that very same person without any pilot onboard ?

Flying with passengers is like nothing else. We are not talking about a failure like if the TV screen goes blank, or the smartphones screen cracks, or if the car gets a flat tire, or even if the future autonomous car computer fails to drive and comes to a complete stop along the highway. If that happens, no one is hurt.

That is why aviation has always been build on redundancy, so if something or some one fails, there is another backup system or person or procedure to take over the task. Why flying is so much safer than any other type of transportation. And it needs to be.

EASA society survey

In the 2021 society survey made for EASA, a major important topic for the public was: Safety concerns. Are they safe to fly in and having them flown overhead with the public on the ground ?

Feeling safe builds to a high degree on trust. If you do not trust something or someone, you do not feel that it or he/she is safe to be around, especially when it comes to being transported, one is essential giving over control of ones very own life to something or someone else.

Fear of Flight

At Copenhagen Helicopter we have through years of operational experience, met many passengers with some level of Fear of Flight.

Approx. 1/3 of the public has more or less a fear of flight and 16% even too afraid to fly at all, even in todays piloted and very safe airliners.

The pilot is THE primary contact with the passenger and contributor in small aircrafts, to make the passenger feel safe onboard.

Higher level, Higher standard of business

For autonomous flights to succeed, everyone needs to up their game - the manufactures, the legislators, the operators - to achieve an even higher level of safety, than the high level of safety aviation offers today, when someday the redundancy in the pilot is taken out of the equation, so enough trust can be formed with the customers to literally hand over the control of their very own life in an aircraft that has no pilot as a backup.

The business model of autonomous flights can never accept a failure in the trust needed between any of the mentioned parties (manufacture, legislator, operator) or the adaption of such a new and novel business case as autonomous flight could be doomed before it even had the chance to lift off.

So the unanswered question remains; Will the public in any nearby future trust an autonomous eVTOL flying overhead, let alone boarding one, before piloted eVTOL’s has been on the market for at least a significant amount of years, gaining operational experience from eVTOL’s, monitoring them onboard during flight, being the safety backup in case of flawed technology or flawed design ?

Autonomous flights in the long-term future

For these reasons and previous operational experiences at Copenhagen Helicopter, we do not see that business model of autonomous eVTOL’s as viable to begin with, not for the first couple of decades, at least not in EU and possible neither in the US.

Time has to pass, generations has to come and go, history of piloted eVTOL has to write their part of the story, write some of the first chapters of the ongoing development and success of eVTOL and AAM, before;

  1. Remote-piloted eVTOL will be accepted
  2. When remote-piloted eVTOL has written its chapter(s), fully autonomous flight will be accepted in the wide public.

In that perspective, at Copenhagen Helicopter we see Boeings investment at best as a very long-term commitment to the eVTOL / AAM industry, which if that is the case underline even further the prospects of the developing and booming industry together, that has just started its journey of great prosperity.

Is your community ready for Air Mobility ?

The eVTOL (electric Vertical TakeOff and Landing) world is evolving with a fast pace, much faster than we thought less than 2 years ago, especially because several developers had been developing out of the public view until recently.

eVTOL has also developed into much more than it initially visioned.

There has been and are R&D on some 600 different eVTOL designs and Billions of USD has been and are being invested in this new industry. At Copenhagen Helicopter we recognize in a not too distant future our business plan goes electric.

We estimate that of all these some 600 projects, just a few handful will qualify all the way to final certification and production in the EU and/or US, the worlds two major aviation authorities.

Some of this R&D has shown that even with current battery storage technology, a 5-seater eVTOL can fly up to +150 miles on one charge, well beyond what was intended for the services in UAM (Urban Air Mobility).


So UAM is no longer alone, lately RAM (Regional Air Mobility) was added to cover distances further than just the Urban section. Both UAM and RAM are now enclosed by AAM (Advanced Air Mobility), which also includes many other services incl. unmanned drones.

Longer distances opens up for a lot more potential business and services for the public, connecting city, towns, capitals, islands, remote/rural areas a lot better with each other where there is a need permanently or periodically, than possible with land based modes of transportation. And at nearly no cost or pollution for needed infrastructure between departure and arrival points, because eVTOL's needs no roads, rails, tunnels, bridges, expropriation of land etc., making it much better environmentally and humanly.

There is simply no shorter or quicker way from A to B than the straight line done by air.

The path to success

The wing born eVTOL designs meet the three main issues head-on, that kept helicopters to date from being widely accepted by the general public.

  1. Noise (we can not emphasize enough the importance of this topic)
  2. Pollution
  3. Cost per Passenger per Distance

In the near future with scale, ours and others numbers looks like it can approach for example train ticket costs on some routes, if none in comparison has any subsidies applied.


Safety has always and will always be a major part of aviation, why flying has always been one of the safest form of transportation.

With DEP (Distributed Electric Propulsion) introduced in many eVTOL designs, safety is increased significantly over current helicopter designs, because in contrast to helicopter designs, a good eVTOL design has several electric engines distributed directly where propulsion is needed on the aircraft and no shafts and gearboxes to maintain, making a good eVTOL design highly redundant should an engine or component fail.

Relying on critical parts like in a helicopter design, is a major reason why helicopters are costly to operate, because of high maintenance cost of such potential critical components.

Public survey

EASA published an interesting Social Acceptance survey in 2021 what we can expect the European public will think of eVTOL, UAM/RAM/AAM, when it's rolled-out.

It is worth noticing that despite the public have not yet seen nor heard an eVTOL in operation, out of 599 people asked from the Öresund Region, 80% was rather to very positive and 41% was rather to very likely to try out UAM/AAM services.

We will go into details of this survey in a later article.


Infrastructure has just started to be thought of, but only few places. We notice this risk to be a future lagger for the successful roll-out of eVTOL and Air Mobility.

In many places it needs to shift to a higher gear and catch up with current infrastructure plannings so it can be included in the short- and long term plannings most places has already rolled-out, because the first eVTOL's will be in operation already in this decade.

Having ongoing talks with different people incl. city developers, it seems like many miss the ability to think in 3D mobility-wise, they seem to and maybe for historic reasons only think in 2D, i.e. land/sea based transportation on short distances.

eVTOL part of MaaS

Many city developers, planners and politicians need to become open-minded for the inclusion of Air Mobility, so shared mobility can become both land, sea and air-based, making a true multi-choice democratized MaaS in all three X-Y-Z axes. Or their city, country and communities development could loose over others that already recognize this.

We don't believe its bad intentions but merely lack of knowledge of these upcoming possibilities, why we have created this source of non-political non-biased free information in Air Mobility (eVTOL.dk), relevant to Denmark and The Öresunds Region.

We don't see eVTOL in the US and EU going autonomous from the beginning. To get certified, it will for several years be with pilots onboard like in an airplane or helicopter.

Aviation is conservative especially in regards of safety matters. It likes to gather data, a lot of data, first from known, simplified trusted setups, before it step-by-step open up for more and more like remote-monitored eVTOL to maybe one day autonomous in the future.

We might see other countries go with autonomous very early if not from the start, but that is outside the EU and the US.