✈️ AIRBORNE: 🌱REBORN XXXIV
Airborne: Reborn / Volume XXXIV / June 4th 2021
This week we’ve news of a trans-Atlantic eVTOL partnership, an electric flying bus from the Big Apple, a whole host of hydrogen projects announced in France and someone’s billion-dollar-dilemma is getting constantly more complicated by that pesky obsession people seem to have developed for keeping the planet alive...
Meanwhile Bill and Ursula back clean tech demonstrators with a cool new billion, there’s SAF for freight, for Australia and for offsetting, Canadians prefer hybrids and Hungarians talk straight about sustainability strategy.
Lava melts a Chinese drone in Iceland whilst a competitor’s fleet eyes up opportunities in Ukrainian agriculture. There’s fresh oil money for a Saudi UAV inspector’s expansion, one fewer company called Kittyhawk and organ ‘n’ cash deliveries in Ohio.
Satellite subsidies are causing friction on Earth, next-gen GPS for Europe moved a step closer, SPAC accounting caused SPCE confusion and a solar-electric upper stage is headed to the moon.
Also - King Airs fly themselves now and we’ll be riding sustainable sonic booms before the decade is out.
With all that and more - it's Airborne: Reborn XXXIV.
Charles Osborne - Founder
Sam Chandra - Asia-Pacific Lead, Aviation
Embraer X’s Urban Air Mobility (UAM) spin-out Eve announced a launch partnership with US/UK helicopter operator Halo / Directional Aviation who have ordered 200 aircraft with deliveries to start in 2026 (via Eve, Inceptive Mind).
The newest EVA (Electric Vertical Aircraft) concept on the block comes from Kelekona. No it’s not an airship, but an Electric Vertical Takeoff and Landing (eVTOL) air ‘bus’ with a 3D printed composite/aluminium lifting body and swappable battery packs. The team (seemingly of five engineers and researchers) are based in NYC. The aircraft has a 40 passenger / 4.5 tonne cargo capacity and 530km range (via New Atlas):
This AWS case study provided a glimpse of Joby’s tech stack - they’re using some of the very same Amazon Web Services (like EC2 and S3) that we do at Osinto - even for resource intensive Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD) simulations (via Amazon).
In other Joby news - they’re partnering with REEF Technology (owners of parking garages) and Neighbourhood Property Group (a real estate acquisition company) on vertiport infrastructure, and are keen to emphasise just how quiet their aircraft is when hovering (via Joby):
Archer have filed a motion to dismiss Wisk’s allegations of stealing trade secrets, and are countersuing the Boeing joint-venture, in the latest chapter of electric aviation’s (to date) most high profile lawsuit (via ATI).
Sustainable aviation technology is now shaping perhaps this decade’s highest stakes decision in the air transportation industry - Boeing’s “multibillion-dollar dilemma over how to rebuild sales in its core airliner business” - specifically in the single-aisle segment. With new propulsion technologies (at the scale / range relevant) looking set to be ready in the early 2030s, and increasing competition from Airbus and China’s COMAC - timing their next offering right will be a challenge, and beating a hydrogen-powered Airbus in an increasingly climate-conscious market mightn’t be easy (via KFGO).
Meanwhile NASA are picking up Seattle’s slack - launching the Sustainable Flight National Partnership (SFNP) to develop a single-aisle hybrid electric airliner by the early 2030’s. Does this mark a next-gen divergence in the big aviation duopoly we wonder - European hydrogen vs American hybrid-electric? Time will tell… (via FlightGlobal).
🌍 ROAD TO NET-ZERO 🌲
Qatar Group CEO Akbar Al Baker meanwhile has been making it clear that the major aircraft manufacturers must offer more sustainable options, and invest more in climate friendly innovations (via Simple Flying).
🅷 HYDROGEN ₂
The ‘H2 Hub Airport’ initiative led by Groupe ADP (Paris Airports Group) in partnership with Airbus and Air France-KLM selected 11 winning consortia in their call for projects to build and enable the hydrogen airport value chain. They covered three themes; hydrogen storage and logistics, use cases in airports & aeronautics and the hydrogen circular economy (via Groupe ADP).
Bill Gates’ Breakthrough Energy are collaborating with the European Commission on a range of net-zero projects through The Catalyst Program. The wide-ranging public-private partnership will look at a “a new approach to fuelling planes”, SAF, ‘green hydrogen’ and leverage capital from the European Investment Bank to mobilise $1 billion of capital “between 2022-26 to build large-scale, commercial demonstration projects for clean technologies” (via EC, LinkedIn):
🌱 SUSTAINABLE AVIATION FUEL 🛢
SkyNRG have become the first biofuel supplier certified to provide offsetting credit with use of their fuel. The Dutch SAF supplier has been approved under ICAO’s global carbon management system for aviation - known as ‘Corsia’, or the Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation (via Argus).
Best Global Logistics and Fast Forward Freight have joined Air France KLM Martinair Cargo’s SAF program, whereby freight forwarders can opt-in to have a portion of their flights powered by SAF (via Air Cargo News).
🔋 BATTERY-ELECTRIC ⚡️
✈️ OTHER SUSTAINABLE AVIATION NEWS 🌱
Vancouver based ‘decentralised aviation’ company Kinetic Air announced they will operate VoltAero’s petrol-electric hybrid Cassio. The yet-to-see-the-light-of-day Cassio can interestingly be run in full-electric, full-combustion or hybrid mode. Type certification is anticipated by end of 2023 (via New Atlas).
👩💻 AIRSPACE 🗺
Airspace Link announced a $10m Series A led by Altos Ventures and joined by Thales, Indicator Ventures, 2048 Ventures, Ludlow Ventures, Matchstick Ventures, Techstars and Detroit Venture Partners. They also teamed up with Workhorse Group and VyrtX to support the “First U.S. Multimodal Autonomous Systems Delivery of Organs in Ohio” this week (via Cision, TechCrunch):
Airwayz have been awarded a contract by Israel’s state-owned Ayalon Highways to quickly investigate and respond to missile damage to civilian structures and infrastructure. Airwayz will deploy both their Unmanned Traffic Management (UTM) platform and provide the UAS services themselves (via Intelligent Aerospace).
🚁 DRONE DELIVERY 📦
🚜 AGRICULTURE 🚁
China’s XAG (who beat DJI into second place in the lucrative Chinese agricultural UAV spraying market) are pushing hard to dominate in Ukraine. Partnering with UA Drone and Agro-Region they’re setting out a vision for ‘autonomous farms’ in the agrarian nation that shares a similar climate to Kansas and boasts 42 million hectares of agricultural land (via sUAS News):
🔍 INSPECTION 📏
Saudi Arabia’s FalconViz received another $500k of funding from Wa’ed Ventures (the entrepreneurship arm of oil giant Saudi Aramco) to fund expansion domestically and overseas. The company seem to be carving a particular niche in surveying heritage assets (via Arab News).
The European Space Agency finalised contracts worth €1.47 billion with Thales Alenia Space and Airbus Defense & Space for their next gen Gallelio global positioning constellation, after incumbent first-gen suppliers OHB System had their legal protest dismissed (via Inside GNSS).
🚀 LAUNCH 🌎
Some numbers out of the SpaceX camp - Musk confirms initial Super Heavy boosters will now have 29 Raptor engines with a targeted final number of 32 and a thrust of over 7,500 tonnes 🤯. They are now producing one raptor every two days, that’s already enough to outfit 6 boosters and 30 starships a year (via Teslarati):
The US Air Force are putting aside $47.9 million to explore using SpaceX’s Starship to deliver 100 tonnes of cargo anywhere in the world within an hour - they call it “Rocket Cargo” (via Ars Technica).
NASA awarded a Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) grant to ExoTerra Resource for development of an upper stage capable of delivering 150kg to cis lunar orbits / 180kg to Geostationary Earth Orbit (GEO). They’re working with Virgin Orbit on the vehicle, which will be powered by solar electric propulsion (via SpaceRef).
A former Virgin Orbit employee and her husband are eyeing up the hypersonic global transportation market with Venus Aerospace. The Houston-based space plane company have already secured $3 million in seed funding from Prime Movers Lab (via Business Standard).
⭐️ MEGA CONSTELLATIONS ⛓
Is India the new satellite broadband battleground? With 75% of the rural population without high speed internet and Amazon’s Project Kuiper said to be prepping launch of their service there, it could well be so (via ETNOW News).
After a visit from Elon Musk, Germany will start subsidising the purchase of the hardware necessary to receive satellite internet (such as Starlink) to the tune of €500 per household. About equal to the up-front payment SpaceX take for their kit, funnily enough (via Advance Television).
🛰 SPACE INFRASTRUCTURE 🌉
China will be sending three astronauts, sorry - taikonauts - to their very own space station aboard a Shenzhou-12 spacecraft sometime in June. The core module - ‘Tianhe’ - has been orbiting for a month now and was met by cargo mission ‘Tianzhou-2’ on Saturday, in preparation for the manned visit (via The Hindu).
🌔 SPACE TOURISM 🏝
Big week for the original space tourism company Virgin Galactic (SPCE). They started on Saturday by flying VSS Unity to an altitude of 89km, the very first time from Spaceport America in New Mexico (via Phys.org):
Meanwhile the company’s stock (NYSE: SPCE) price continues a run of volatility that sees the graph seemingly continue to try and mimic a Spaceship Two flightpath…
The company was forced to restate 2020 incomes as a result of new SEC guidance, which led to an investor filing a lawsuit on Friday after shares dropped 9% on May 3rd. However SPCE is up almost 40% in the last 30 days, and sits some 55% higher than the day of the price drop (via VIA News, Yahoo! Finance).
Merlin Labs - an autonomous aircraft start-up operating out of Mojave Air & Space Port - emerged from stealth last week. They’ve bagged a $21.5m Series A round led by First Round Capital and GV (formerly Google Ventures) and including Floodgate, Harpoon, WTI, Ben Ling, Box Group, Shrug Capital and Howard Morgan. Of the recent autonomy startups to make a splash (think Reliable Robotics and XWing) Merlin Labs seem to be flying the largest and most complex aircraft (for now). The venerable King Air comes with the significant additional complexity of being twin-engined, and is a workhorse of public and private operators the world over. Aviation solutions provider Dynamic Aviation have penned a ‘partnership’ agreement to operate some 55 of the autonomous aircraft (via TechCrunch):
Dassault Aviation, the European Gliding Development Association (AEDEVV) and ISAE Group have been developing an electric glider since 2014, their project will soon enter the industrial phase. Dassault say “…the ambition of this glider is to be able to carry out complete instruction flights autonomously” (via Intrado):
🌎 IN OTHER NEWS 🛠
Air Asia suggested they are looking at electric and hydrogen powered planes, reported a tripling in revenue for their Teleport delivery app and indicated they are to enter the drone delivery market. Billionaire founder Tony Fernandes explains the new thrusts:
“We saw the crisis as an opportunity to use the downtime in flying caused by the pandemic to leverage the strength of our database of over 60 million customers and to focus on developing new non airline revenue streams in the key areas of e-commerce, fintech and logistics” (via The Malaysian Reserve).
Aaaaand the supersonic race isn’t over just yet. United Airlines announced an order for 15 of Boom Supersonic’s Overture airliners (subject to the aircraft meeting a slew of United’s requirements) with an option on 35 more. Coming two weeks after competitor Aerion closed its doors Boom have a markedly different strategy with no intention of engineering the sonic boom away - they’re betting on the over-water market (via Boom, The Verge):