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Private aviation: the future’s bright, the future’s eVTOL. Or is it?



It’s fair to say that private aviation has a bit of an image problem.

Private jets are often (rightly or wrongly) seen as the preserve of the dark suited, sunglasses wearing elite and the embodiment of an ever-increasing socio-economic divide between the “haves” and the “have nots”. It is therefore unsurprising that the sector attracts vociferous protests from both environmental and social campaigners. Last year’s disruptive attacks on a private jet in Ibiza and on static business aircraft display at Geneva airport, coupled with frequent “Ban Private Jets” protests at industry events, have further raised the temperature.

Were the 0.04 per cent of global emissions generated by the private aviation sector driven by a more accessible product, the industry might not be such an obvious target for criticism. Private aviation often provides much needed emergency humanitarian and medical aid to otherwise inaccessible areas and is at the forefront of the aviation sector’s “Jet Zero” strategy to achieve net zero by 2050. The sector also leads the way in the development and adoption of sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) and alternative power sources. Indeed, the world’s first 100 per cent SAF trans-Atlantic flight was not completed by Virgin’s much hyped Flight 100, but by a Gulfstream G600 between Savannah and Farnborough.

Whilst SAF development and mass production will undoubtedly assist in transforming the industry, the UK Government’s recent “UK Future of Flight Action Plan” focuses on both drones and electric Vertical Take-Off and Landing (eVTOL) vehicles, or “flying taxis” as crucial to creating safe, clean and cost-efficient methods of connecting people and transporting goods in the future.

What is an eVTOL aircraft?

For those of us old enough to remember, the images of George Jetson flitting around his sky- high city in a flying car are not as fanciful as they might once have seemed. An eVTOL aircraft is a fully electric transportation vehicle, which takes off vertically and is expected to be greener, quieter and cheaper than a helicopter. Whilst crewed initially, increasing automation will in some cases ultimately lead to pilotless flight.

As well as transporting passengers and cargo, they could also provide essential public services such as medical transport, military and emergency service capabilities and environmental monitoring. 

In the UK, it is hoped that eVTOL aircraft could both reduce urban congestion and improve connectivity in remote areas (such as the Scottish highlands and islands). Such areas currently find themselves cut off from the existing transport grid due to aging infrastructure and a lack of sustainable, affordable transport solutions and where levels of capital required to construct large scale traditional infrastructure are not cost effective. 

EVOTL vehicles like the Joby Aviation 5 seat [1] or the Vertical Aerospace VX4 [2] electric aircraft are designed to deliver fast, quiet, emission free journeys of around 100 miles at up to 200mph with only a landing pad needed at the end of each journey. PWC estimate that the socio-economic benefit for the UK of eVTOL vehicles could be between £1 and £2 billion annually by 2040 [3]. 

Global picture and finance

EVTOL vehicle development is not just crucial to the UK. Volocopter plans to demonstrate its flying taxis to the world at the 2024 Paris Olympics. Meanwhile, globally, hundreds of companies have entered the eVTOL market.

The emergence of this market has not gone unnoticed by those ultra high net worth (UHNW) and high net worth (HNW) investors keen to be at the forefront of a holistic transformation of aviation into a more sustainable and attractive industry. Despite the substantial development costs and “cash burn” required by a stringent nascent regulatory certification process, eVTOL companies appear largely well funded, with several major manufacturers now successfully listed.

Investment not only comes from entrepreneurs and existing industry participants, but also from state subsidies, export-import institutions and by impending pre-delivery payments on the first aircraft. Most larger manufacturers boast conditional order books in the $billions from commercial airlines, national governments and ministries, increasing the pressure on them to complete certification processes promptly and deliver a viable product.

Most manufacturers will initially choose to operate their own aircraft, rather than to sell to third party operators. Therefore current financing structures are largely equity based or (whilst inevitably secured by mortgages over the vehicles themselves) are corporate finance style debt structures, invested in (and taking risk on) the design of the vehicle and the viability of the individual developer and their business model. Most appetising to investors are therefore likely to be those first mover manufacturers steadily progressing towards certification with a solid order book.

As the market matures, more asset or lease based financing models may emerge based on the lifetime value and liquidity of the eVTOL vehicles. Operating companies and third-party suppliers to the new industry may also attract significant financing once the sector achieves mass-market appeal.

Concerns and barriers

Concerns around safety, noise and privacy of eVTOL vehicles remain understandably paramount and the industry approach is to integrate the necessary infrastructure into existing frameworks and regulatory systems. This process is well underway, but the challenge of creating and integrating a comprehensive set of regulations and approvals for an entirely new type of vehicle into a long-established existing system should not be underestimated. As part of its Action Plan, the UK Government is working with the CAA and industry participants to overcome these obstacles. The first vertiport is targeted by the end of 2024, initial piloted cargo and passenger operations by 2026, routine commercial operations at scale in nationwide networks by 2028. Projections indicate that vertiport numbers will increase from 20 by 2027/28 to 80 by 2029/30.

EVTOL vehicles are undoubtedly coming (Joby’s S4 Air taxi 2.0 has completed the third stage of FAA certification, and Volocopter now holds pilot training approval), and current levels of investment show a strong market appetite for cleaner, greener aviation. There remains, however, quite a large elephant in Mr Jetson’s high altitude living room.

In order to be truly accessible and as environmentally friendly as possible, future electric aircraft ideally need to be capable of replacing regional private and commercial jets by flying further than 100 miles and carrying more passengers. That capability is currently constrained by limits in battery technology.

The quest to improve battery performance continues feverishly, but batteries are not expected to be able solely to power a commercial sized aircraft such as an Airbus A320 or a Boeing 737 on a 500 mile journey until around 2050. In practice that range is likely to be reduced by the need to carry additional power for unforeseen events (such as bad weather or diversions).

Until that time and until projected mass transportation levels are reached, the “flying taxi” will likely remain the preserve of the affluent, competing most directly with the existing helicopter market. But will an UHNW actually aspire to fly in these new machines?

Whilst the desire to be amongst the first owners of a flying car may be inherent for some UHNWs, slick marketing presentations featuring leather clad celebrities flying glossy black eVTOL aircraft are designed to exude luxury and appeal to the wealthy. As well as promoting the green, quiet, and flexible attributes of the aircraft, developers also highlight comfortable, spacious and flexible interiors, with some manufacturers specifically targeting the HNW market. Lillium, which expects initial deliveries in 2025/26, aspires to low volume production for the luxury market with its “spacious cabin arrangement … designed for private flights with luxurious club seating [4]”.

So, is the future bright, is the future eVTOL?

The future is almost certainly, partly eVTOL. Such large scale investment into its development will almost certainly lead to some aircraft obtaining certification and hitting the market in the near future. However, despite manufacturers’ assertions that they will ultimately cost the same as a ground based ride share, this is unlikely to be the case on day one. Nor will they imminently provide a wholesale replacement for fossil fuel powered private aircraft.

But surely with the levels of engineering, money and determination being invested into products such as eVTOL, SAF, drones, hybrid and alternative aviation power sources, the hope for a clean, green, quiet, safe, sustainable and accessible future for business aviation still glows bright.

[1] Joby Aviation | Joby

[2] Meet the VX4 · Vertical Aerospace (

[3] Advanced Air Mobility - UK Economic Impact Study - PwC UK

[4] Lilium Jet - The First Electric VTOL (eVTOL) Jet - Lilium

This publication is a general summary of the law. It should not replace legal advice tailored to your specific circumstances.

© Farrer & Co LLP, May 2024

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Bethan Waters


Bethan helps both borrowers and lenders with their financing requirements. Her practice varies from advising banks and companies with their asset and structured financing requirements, to helping charities, trusts and institutions raise finance secured on real estate or other assets. Bethan also assists private and investment banks, individuals and families with their lending and borrowing needs and has particular expertise in aviation and art finance.

Bethan helps both borrowers and lenders with their financing requirements. Her practice varies from advising banks and companies with their asset and structured financing requirements, to helping charities, trusts and institutions raise finance secured on real estate or other assets. Bethan also assists private and investment banks, individuals and families with their lending and borrowing needs and has particular expertise in aviation and art finance.

Email Bethan +44 (0)20 3375 7135
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