Electra’s acquisition of air taxi rival Airflow driven by common culture, approach
By Paul Brinkmann|June 16, 2022
Combined company under Electra name plans to fly technology demonstrator by end of 2022
The consolidation of two U.S.-based companies developing air taxis was driven in large part by a mutual faith in an unusual design and a shared culture of learning by flying.
Electra.aero, the Virginia company founded and led by John Langford formerly of Aurora Flight Sciences, closed its acquisition of Airflow.aero of California on June 2. Langford runs the combined company under the Electra name as CEO, and Airflow’s CEO Marc Ausman is now chief product officer.
Most air taxi developers, including industry leader Joby Aviation of California which raised $1.6 billion when it went public in 2021, have focused on vertical takeoff and landing designs. In contrast, Electra and Airflow were separately pursuing winged designs requiring short runways.
“Both Marc’s team and my team really knew the electric aircraft space, and we were not talking hypothetically — we have built them and flown them,” Langford said. “We kept coming up with the answer that the extremely short takeoff and landing was the more economical solution, and has the clearest path to commercial operations.”
He said this approach was more economical in large part because the designs, with their similarity to conventional winged aircraft, could be type certified under FAA’s existing Part 23 regulations for small airplanes.
To shorten the takeoff, the combined company augments lift by blowing air across the wings with electric rotors. Electra aims to achieve takeoff in as little as 90 meters with this method. A generator that burns sustainable aviation fuel would charge the batteries for longer flights.
Electra calls this approach hybrid eSTOL, for electric ultra-short takeoff and landing, whereas much of the industry has been focused on eVTOL, for electric vertical takeoff and landing.
“We are now putting our 150-kilowatt system into a manned two-seat technology demonstrator, and we intend to fly that before the end of this year,” Langford said. “We think that’s very important because most people have never seen a blown-lift airplane fly. Our goal is to get a nine-seat version type certified as quickly as possible. We hope that that can be in late 2027.” The aircraft would be flown by an onboard pilot.
The combined company has letters of intent to order 800 aircraft, which the company says is “beyond break-even for commercial development.”
Electra’s leaders have been pioneers in the field of automated flight.
Langford in 1989 founded Aurora Flight Sciences, an uncrewed aerial vehicle company acquired by Boeing in 2017.
Ausman worked at Acubed, the Silicon Valley arm of Airbus, where he was chief strategist for development of Vahana, an experimental self-piloted eVTOL. Vahana flew about 130 test flights before Airbus ended the program. Airbus said the aircraft proved such flight in an electric vehicle was possible, but it began to pursue another design for commercial introduction.
To date, consolidations in the nascent AAM industry have been rare. In April, Rhode Island-based Textron, owner of such brands as Beechcraft and Cessna, closed on an acquisition of Slovenia-based small electric plane company Pipistrel.
“There’s an amazing variety of ideas and technology being developed, but to succeed you must be able to scale up, and that’s a long-term game,” Langford said. “We’ll see soon if we’re a trendsetter or just an outlier” by acquiring a competitor, “but I think there’s way too many players in this space right now for the long haul. You will see an evolution in the space soon.”
He added: “We are seeing a classic sort of gold rush market, people rushing in — so you will see that shake out at some point.”
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