Chinese aircraft developer eVTOL appoints US leadership

AutoFlight has appointed a new U.S.-based management team to oversee its plans to bring the Prosperity I eVTOL four-seat aircraft into service in 2026. The Chinese company this week named Eviation Aircraft founder and former CEO, Omer Bar-Yohay, as its president. He also appointed former Joby Aviation business development manager Chad Cashin as chief commercial officer.

At a new U.S. base at Napa County Airport in California, AutoFlight will expand the flight envelope of the current version of the Prosperity model as it strives to freeze the design by the end of 2022. The subsidiary The company’s expanded American will now work alongside the design. organization it established earlier this year in Augsburg, Germany, and its manufacturing center near Shanghai.

Bar-Yohay is a friend of advanced air mobility investor Lukasz Gadowski, whose Team Global group led a $100 million funding round for AutoFlight in November 2021. The Germany-based tech entrepreneur has also invested in rival eVTOL developers Volocopter and Archer.

According to Bar-Yohay, AutoFlight’s decision to appoint US-based management reflected the need to pursue FAA type certification to access a major market for eVTOL aircraft, as well as the desire to have a greater corporate gravity outside of China. “This company is a black swan that no one paid attention to,” he said. FutureFlight. “In the past I was a big critic of eVTOLs, and I still am because it’s a big challenge and it won’t work if they’re just green, quiet and safe. They have to make economic sense and it also means lower production costs.Vehicles must hit all of these markers and not just be a new version of a helicopter.

According to the new leader of AutoFlight, the company will be much more competitive on production costs than its Western rivals and already has “hundreds” of employees in China focused on the manufacturing process. He argued that the Prosperity I will also cost significantly less to operate due to its “simplicity of design, avoiding complex electromechanical devices like wings or tilting rotors”.

Another competitive differentiator, according to Bar-Yohay, is the degree of vertical integration at AutoFlight, which he says will own nearly every part and system on the plane except for its avionics suite. “The more you own, the more control you have over your destiny over costs,” he said.

The company has previously indicated that the base price of the Prosperity I could be as low as $150,000, which is well below the price of most Western-made eVTOL designs. He says flights on the plane, which has a range of 250 kilometers (155 miles), could not cost more than current ground taxi services.

The first Prosperity I test flights in the United States are expected to take place at the end of the first quarter of 2023, at which time the company also aims to submit its application for initial type certification to EASA in Europe in order to obtain airworthiness approval in 2025. AutoFlight intends to increase prototype production to expedite test and development work at its three sites, including China’s Jiangsu province, where the first proof-of-aircraft concept began flying in October 2021.

In June, AutoFlight released a video showing off a new design with what it says is an improved lift and cruise configuration, optimized lift propellers, and improved hover and cruise performance. It is one of the few companies, including Joby and EHang, to have achieved complete transitions from vertical to horizontal flight with a full-scale eVTOL aircraft. The company claims to have carried out more than 100 such flights so far this year.

Meanwhile, there are signs that AutoFlight’s business model could evolve into one more focused on engagement with existing commercial aircraft operators. In a February 2022 interview, Founder and CEO Tian Yu said FutureFlight that traditional general aviation operators are “too small” to achieve the scale he envisions and that major airlines will only have a peripheral interest in eVTOL aircraft, which he says will will never have the reach to integrate into their networks.

“We will now be talking to operators with large fleets, including Part 135 or charter operators,” Bar-Yohay said. Although he now “buys” the vision of the urban air mobility (UAM) market, he indicated that he does not expect the sector to grow as soon and as quickly as some rivals from eVTOL have suggested this in their aggressive speeches to investors. Public.

“How UAM will gradually unfold around current helicopter services and hub-and-spoke operations [to and from airports and other locations], but then the question is who takes the scale to a different level,” he commented. “Maybe it could be an Uber-like player, creating a bubble for high-volume operations. It could start with a few hundred planes in the early years, and the toolbox is certainly full of the tools needed to build the system.

Chad Cashin (left) is Chief Commercial Officer of AutoFlight, which is now led by Omer Bar-Yohay as President. (Picture: Autoflight)

Chad Cashin, who now leads AutoFlight’s business efforts, joined Joby nearly three years ago when the company acquired Uber’s Elevate division. This division had attempted to establish a platform for on-demand eVTOL air taxi services.

Bar-Yohay co-founded Eviation Aircraft in 2015 with Aviv Tzidon and left the company in February 2022 after a disagreement with its main shareholder, Clermont Group. Eviation completed a long-awaited first flight last week with its Alice electric fixed-wing aircraft, which is now expected to be ready to start regional airline operations in 2027. It said it still expects that Eviation succeeds and remains a shareholder of the company.

AutoFlight, which also has plans for a family of cargo drones, is about to complete another funding round, which Tian Yu said would aim to raise another $200 million. Bar-Yohay indicated that further fundraising may well be needed as the company nears being ready to begin mass production of the Prosperity I and, in his view, the source of that funding may well be determined. by the markets that are most receptive to air travel and where it can find suitable partners.

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