AAM Spotlight: Johann Bordais, Eve Air Mobility CEO

Eve Air Mobility CEO Johann Bordais
Credit: Eve Air Mobility

Johann Bordais, previously head of Embraer Services and Support, became the new CEO of air-taxi spinoff Eve Air Mobility during the summer. Marking his 100th day on the job, Bordais recently sat down with the AAM Report to discuss his vision for the company. A partial transcript follows:

AAM Report: What were your main priorities in your first 100 days as Eve CEO?

Bordais: I came to Eve with a mandate that included three main priorities. The first was to make sure we select all the suppliers we need so we can guarantee certification by 2026. Right now we have about 75% of the suppliers selected, more or less, and we hope by year-end we’ll have the rest locked in.

The second priority is to raise more money. We were able to get about $400 million from the SPAC [special purpose acquisition company] and the IPO [initial public offering], and we also had the loan from the BNDES [Brazilian Development Bank]. So, we’re going to need to raise about $200-250 million more to get to 2026, and we’re going on a roadshow next year to get all the cash we need for certification.

My third mandate is converting our 3,000 aircraft sold through letters of intent (LOI) into firm orders. Now, what I like about our backlog—besides the fact that it’s worth about $8.6 billion—is the variety of the operators. It encompasses all of the different segments we’re targeting: helicopter companies, airlines, executive jets, etc. So we have sold plenty of aircraft, and really, we don’t need to sign more LOIs now. What we need to do is start converting these orders into firm contracts. 

As you head into 2024, what are your main goals for the coming year?

We’re focused on one major goal: finishing the full-scale prototype. We’ve started the prototype, it’s being built up now, and we think we’ll have it finished soon. Once it’s ready, we’re going to spend most of the first half of next year showing it off to the world and starting our ground testing. And then by the end of 2024, we’ll have it flying.

So the first prototype will be finished by the first quarter of 2024, and then we’ll have the conforming prototype in 2025. There will be five conforming prototypes, so six total including the one we’re building now. So the one we’re building right now is not conforming, it will not have a cabin and it’s going to be remote, but it’s going to be full-scale. It’s going to be very close to what is going to be the definite dimensions and proportions of how the conforming aircraft will look. 

The aircraft is being designed with a 100-km range, which is lower than some of your competitors. Does the business case still make sense?

The business case is a bit of a chicken-and-egg situation. You have to start somewhere. Is it going to be the best business case ever at entry-into-service? No, of course not, but that will improve over time. But given the technology we now have available, we think 100 km is probably the best you can do.

I understand some of the others are promising to go farther, but I have strong doubts. I’ve been asking my engineering team this question almost every day for the last 100 days. Can we do more? Can we go farther? And the answer is no. This is the best we can deliver with the technology available today.

We also think it’s important to be realistic about our timelines. That’s why we’re not fighting to be first to market. I actually don’t care about being first. I don’t want us to be the first one—I want us to be the right one. 

What is your vision for entry-into-service?

I think we have to be realistic. There are not going to be 50,000 eVTOLs flying around in the next 10 years. It’s going to be much less, so we have to set our expectations straight. We’ll be mainly using the current infrastructure—maybe there will be a few vertiports or dedicated facilities—but by and large, what we’re delivering into the market is going to be manageable within the current system.

There is so much that needs to happen before 2026, in terms of building out the ecosystem. So, it’s not going to be possible to launch in 20 cities in the first year. We’re going to be starting with four or five cities, trying to make those work first and proving there is a business case, and then replicating it down the road in other markets.

What will it take to scale-up operations?

Eventually, when we think about scaling up, we believe these vehicles should be autonomous, but it’s going to take time to get there. Were we to go straight to autonomy, it would take us way past our 2026 deadline. But also, taking the pilot out allows us to go from four passengers to six, which will greatly improve the economics. When operators are eventually operating hundreds of these vehicles, they will need to automate and optimize a lot of their activities in the air and on the ground, and we  think that’s going to be key to scaling. 

Is there anything that keeps you up at night? What do you see as the biggest risk to this plan?

The biggest risk I see is people underestimating what it really takes to have a successful entry-into-service. It’s not just about delivering the airplane. You have to be able to operate them in a way that makes business sense. That means having all the pieces in place on Day One—the operators, the airspace, the infrastructure, the electrical power.

The time to start making this happen is now. That’s why we are physically going to these markets, going county by county and city by city, bringing all the stakeholders around the table and explaining to them our roadmap to entry-into-service. And as you have those conversations, you realize how much work there is to get the approvals and start laying the groundwork in each market. So the math says if we’re going to start in 2026, we need to be in these cities having those discussions with our partners now.

The reality is certification is going to happen. It’s a matter of when, not if. When it comes to manufacturing the aircraft and customer support, that doesn’t worry me one bit either, because we have the full support and backing of Embraer. But what keeps me awake at night is wondering whether all the stakeholders in these communities will all be ready from Day One to make this service a success.

Ben Goldstein

Based in Boston, Ben covers advanced air mobility and is managing editor of Aviation Week Network’s AAM Report.