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The air taxi market prepares to take flight

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Twelve years ago, Joby Aviation consisted of a team of seven engineers working out of founder JoeBen Bevirt’s ranch in the Santa Cruz mountains. Today, the startup has swelled to 800 people and a $6.6 billion valuation, ranking itself as the highest-valued electric vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) company in the industry.

As in any disruptive industry, the forecast may be cloudier than the rosy picture painted by passionate founders and investors.

It’s not the only air taxi company to reach unicorn status. The field is now dotted with new or soon-to-be publicly traded companies courtesy of mergers and special purpose acquisition companies. Partnerships with major automakers and airlines are on the rise, and CEOs have promised commercialization as early as 2024.

As in any disruptive industry, the forecast may be cloudier than the rosy picture painted by passionate founders and investors. A quick peek at comments and posts on LinkedIn reveals squabbles among industry insiders and analysts about when this emerging technology will truly take off and which companies will come out ahead.

Other disagreements have higher stakes. Wisk Aero filed a lawsuit against Archer Aviation alleging trade secret misappropriation. Meanwhile, valuations for companies that have no revenue yet to speak of — and may not for the foreseeable future — are skyrocketing.

Electric air mobility is gaining elevation. But there’s going to be some turbulence ahead.

Big goals and bigger expenses

Taking an eVTOL from design through to manufacturing and certification will likely cost about $1 billion, Mark Moore, then-head of Uber Elevate, estimated in April 2020 during a conference held by the Air Force’s Agility Prime program.

That means in some sense, the companies that will come out on top will likely be the ones that have managed to raise enough money to pay for all the expenses associated with engineering, certification, manufacturing and infrastructure.

“The startups that have successfully raised or that will be able to raise significant amounts of capital to get them through the certification process … that’s the number one thing that’s going to separate the strong from the weak,” Asad Hussain, a senior analyst in mobility technology at PitchBook, told TechCrunch. “There’s over 100 startups in the space. Not all of them are going to be able to do that.”

Just consider some of the expenses accrued by the biggest eVTOLs last year: Joby Aviation spent a whopping $108 million on research and development, a $30 million increase from 2019. Archer spent $21 million in R&D in 2020, according to regulatory filings. Meanwhile, Joby’s net loss last year was $114.2 million and Archer’s was $24.8 million, though, of course, neither company has brought a product to market yet. Operating expenses will likely only continue to grow into the future as companies enter into manufacturing and deployment phases.

What that means for the future of the industry is likely two things: more SPAC deals and more acquisitions.

Mobility companies, including those working on electrified transport, are often pre-revenue and have capitally intensive business models — a combination that can make it difficult to find buyers in a traditional IPO. SPACs have become increasingly popular as a shorter, less expensive path to becoming a public company. SPACs have also historically received less scrutiny than IPOs. Should the U.S. Securities Exchange Commission start to take a closer look at SPAC mergers in the future, it may impair the ability of other air taxi companies to go public this way, Hussain said.

That means market consolidation is nearly guaranteed, as smaller companies may find it more advantageous to sell than continue to raise more capital. It’s already begun: At the end of April, eVTOL developer Astro Aerospace announced the acquisition of Horizon Aircraft.

Horizon cited “greater access to capital” as one of the many benefits of the transaction, and other companies will likely find the buy or sell route to be the most beneficial on the road to commercialization. And just last week, British eVTOL Vertical Aerospace, which has an order for 150 aircraft from Virgin Atlantic, said it would go public via a merger with Broadstone Acquisition Corp. at an equity value of around $2.2 billion.

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Source: https://techcrunch.com/2021/06/11/the-air-taxi-market-prepares-to-take-flight/

Aerospace

Airbus to deliver three more H145 helicopters to SAF Group

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Aviation and aerospace firm SAF Group has ordered three additional H145 helicopters for emergency medical services (EMS) in France.

SAF will base the three more five-bladed aircraft in Grenoble, Valence, and Montpellier.

Airbus unveiled the multimission H145 light twin-engine helicopter at Heli-Expo 2019 and upgraded the aircraft by adding an advanced five-bladed rotor.

The upgrade increases the useful load of the helicopter by 150kg.

The new bearingless main rotor design will also ease maintenance operations, thereby improving the serviceability and reliability of the H145.

SAF ordered three H145s in 2018 and 2020.

Airbus delivered the first of this aircraft recently and is set to be deployed for EMS missions in Belgium.

SAF CEO Tristan Serretta said: “Introducing six new H145s in France and Belgium in just 12 months is in line with our strategy to increase the capacity of the growing number of EMS services that place their trust in us.

“This increase of our positioning is made possible by the level of performance and the versatility of this successful helicopter. SAF is determined to help demonstrate, together with the heads of emergency services, that having the right performance and at the right cost is key to saving lives.”

SAF operates 55 Airbus helicopters, including a Super Puma, H135s and H125s.

The new H145s are expected to strengthen the company’s capability to deliver EMS missions.

There are currently more than 1,470 H145 family helicopters in service worldwide, including 470 helicopters of the H145 family for the EMS mission.

Airbus Helicopters CEO Bruno Even said: “The H145 is an ideal platform for EMS with the largest cabin in its class and unbeatable payload, it is capable of undertaking the most demanding missions. We are happy that the five-bladed H145 is gaining momentum in France and playing a key role in the modernisation of the EMS fleet in the country.”

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Source: https://www.aerospace-technology.com/news/airbus-saf-group-h145-order/

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Aerospace

Airbus to deliver three more H145 helicopters to SAF Group

Published

on

Aviation and aerospace firm SAF Group has ordered three additional H145 helicopters for emergency medical services (EMS) in France.

SAF will base the three more five-bladed aircraft in Grenoble, Valence, and Montpellier.

Airbus unveiled the multimission H145 light twin-engine helicopter at Heli-Expo 2019 and upgraded the aircraft by adding an advanced five-bladed rotor.

The upgrade increases the useful load of the helicopter by 150kg.

The new bearingless main rotor design will also ease maintenance operations, thereby improving the serviceability and reliability of the H145.

SAF ordered three H145s in 2018 and 2020.

Airbus delivered the first of this aircraft recently and is set to be deployed for EMS missions in Belgium.

SAF CEO Tristan Serretta said: “Introducing six new H145s in France and Belgium in just 12 months is in line with our strategy to increase the capacity of the growing number of EMS services that place their trust in us.

“This increase of our positioning is made possible by the level of performance and the versatility of this successful helicopter. SAF is determined to help demonstrate, together with the heads of emergency services, that having the right performance and at the right cost is key to saving lives.”

SAF operates 55 Airbus helicopters, including a Super Puma, H135s and H125s.

The new H145s are expected to strengthen the company’s capability to deliver EMS missions.

There are currently more than 1,470 H145 family helicopters in service worldwide, including 470 helicopters of the H145 family for the EMS mission.

Airbus Helicopters CEO Bruno Even said: “The H145 is an ideal platform for EMS with the largest cabin in its class and unbeatable payload, it is capable of undertaking the most demanding missions. We are happy that the five-bladed H145 is gaining momentum in France and playing a key role in the modernisation of the EMS fleet in the country.”

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Source: https://www.aerospace-technology.com/news/airbus-saf-group-h145-order/

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Aerospace

Live coverage: SpaceX set to launch GPS satellite Thursday for U.S. Space Force

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Live coverage of the countdown and launch of a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida with the U.S. Space Force’s GPS 3 SV05 navigation satellite. Text updates will appear automatically below. Follow us on Twitter.

SpaceX webcast

SpaceX’s live video webcast begins around 15 minutes prior to launch, and will be available on this page.

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Source: https://spaceflightnow.com/2021/06/17/falcon-9-gps-3-sv05-mission-status-center/

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Aerospace

Lawmakers question Space Force technology investments

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Smith: “While it is encouraging to see an increase in research and development across the portfolio, much of the request is for systems that have been called ‘big juicy targets'”

WASHINGTON — U.S. Space Force technology investments was one of the topics discussed June 16 at a hearing of the House Armed Services Committee, which held a three-hour session to review the Department of the Air Force budget request. 

Chairman Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.) noted that this is the first year the Space Force has “control of its own budget process” and raised some concerns about the proposal.

Testifying at the hearing were Acting Secretary of the Air Force John Roth, Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. C.Q. Brown and Space Force Chief of Space Operations Gen. John Raymond.

The Biden administration is seeking $17.4 billion for the Space Force in fiscal year 2022 — more than a $2 billion increase compared to 2021. The Pentagon says more money is needed to counter offensive weapons developed by China and Russia to destroy or disable U.S. satellites.

Smith said his committee agrees that the Space Force has to invest in new capabilities to defend U.S. satellites. But he is concerned that the budget funds mostly legacy programs and not enough cutting-edge technologies.

“While it is encouraging to see an increase in research and development across the portfolio, much of the request is for systems that have been called ‘big juicy targets,’” Smith said.

Similar comments were made last month by Rep. Jim Cooper (D-Tenn.), chairman of the HASC strategic forces subcommittee. Cooper questioned why billions of dollars in the Space Force budget are for satellites that the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. John Hyten criticized for being too big and expensive, making them attractive targets for enemies.

Smith also warned that lawmakers will not support spending that grows bureaucracies. “A  goal of Congress in standing up the Space Force was to maintain a lean and agile force,” he said. “However, it appears in this budget request we are being asked to authorize new commands, centers, and organizations within Space Force that are counter to that initial vision.”

Following Smith’s statements, Raymond said he agreed that current U.S. satellites are hard to defend and that the Space Force wants to move in a different direction. 

“We have to shift to a new architecture, we have to modernize our forces,” Raymond said. “The capabilities that we have in space today are exquisite. They’re the world’s best, they’re expensive, but they’re not defendable.”

Smith pressed Raymond to point at what items in this year’s budget show that there is a shift in priorities. Raymond did not name specific items. He said the plan is to transition to a “more diversified architecture that has resiliency built into it and not bolted on as an afterthought.”

In a diversified architecture, the U.S. would rely on military, commercial and allied nations’ satellites, for example. 

“We can leverage a burgeoning commercial industry,” he said. “The other thing that we need to do is o leverage our international partners to a greater extent.”

Raymond said one of the priorities for the Space Force is to support growing military demands for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) data. The Air Force relies on large spy aircraft to monitor the battlefield but those platforms are vulnerable to air-defense missiles. He said the Space Force plans to invest in space-based ISR.

The Space Force and theAir Force are working to develop small radar satellites to track moving objects on the ground. The project had been classified but Raymond pushed to disclose its existence to allow more participation from the commercial space industry.

Committee members also asked Raymond about Space Force efforts to speed up the acquistion of new technology. 

“We’re working that really hard, we have to go faster,” said Raymond. “With the help of this committee we set up a Space Rapid Capabilities Office, they’re just two years old and they are already delivering at speed.”

The Space Force’s main acquisition organization, the Space and Missile System Center, has been reorganized and is moving faster, said Raymond. As an example, he noted that a surveillance satellite that flew to orbit June 13 was developed and launched in less than a year.

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Source: https://spacenews.com/lawmakers-question-space-force-technology-investments/

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