Supernal CEO plots a less direct course to an eVTOL future

Why the route to widespread urban air mobility could be a scenic one — and very expensive.

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Release Date
February 23, 2024
Supernal CEO plots a less direct course to an eVTOL future

Five years ago, Jaiwon Shin was leading the Aeronautics Research Mission Directorate at NASA when Hyundai Motor Group (HMG) lured him away to lead its newly established urban air mobility division — what is now called Supernal. UAM was one of many aeronautics research initiatives that Shin oversaw while at NASA, and he had become a familiar on-stage presence at the Uber Elevate summits that launched the investment boom in electric vertical take-off and landing aircraft. Hyundai announced Shin’s hiring in September 2019; less than four months later, the automotive company had joined the Uber Elevate initiative as an official partner.

Shin is still the CEO of Supernal, but Uber has long since divested its Elevate program to Joby Aviation. And just as the broader landscape of the eVTOL industry has evolved, so too has Shin’s view of the potential market. He remains optimistic that UAM will someday be as ubiquitous as Uber once envisioned, and that there will be an inflection point at which the market will rapidly take off. But he also thinks it will take a while to get there — and that some tenets of the Elevate vision may not apply along the way.

Related: The daunting economics of taking an air taxi to work

“I’ll give you one quick example,” Shin said during an interview with The Air Current at the Singapore Airshow this week. When Uber unveiled its seminal Elevate white paper in 2016, he said, “they were so sensitive about the price point. And it’s interesting. For Uber’s business model that is very important for ground transportation. But when you think about the initial market [for eVTOLs] I don’t think the price point is a big factor.”

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