Air plans expansion after first test flights

June hover tests with Air One prototype kick off preparations for production, early sales

The completion of a series of hover tests in June have prompted Israel-based advanced air mobility company Air to begin implementing plans to expand and prepare for mass production, as the company seeks FAA certification for its Air One electric aircraft. 

This expansion will begin in the United States, where the company plans to build its two-seat plane and focus early sales, CEO Rani Plaut told me in a phone interview. 

Air hopes to obtain FAA type certification of its partly autonomous electric vertical takeoff and landing craft by the end of 2024, Plaut said. Propelled by eight all-electric motors, the Air One is designed to fly up to an hour, or a distance of up to 177 kilometers.

“We’ll be trying to shorten the time frame [to certification] by flying multiple prototypes at the same time,” he said. 

Plaut said that Air currently has 31 employees but that “the team will probably be closer to 85 next year as we start to operate in the U.S.”

The company published a blog post Monday that announced the completion of weeks of hover tests with the remotely piloted prototype over fields in the Megiddo region in northern Israel, permitted under an airworthiness certification from Israel’s Civil Aviation Authority.

The flights were the culmination of development and ground testing that begin in 2019. Plaut said FAA told him then that five years to certification would represent a “mild” or conservative estimate. 

Unlike other AAM companies that intend to sell their aircraft to companies or to hire their own pilot cadres to conduct flights, Air is targeting private ownership of its aircraft. Air already has about 150 pre-orders, each with a $1,000 down payment. The company is targeting a base price of $150,000 for the initial sales. 

“We are looking for something which is more like the car experience,” he said. “So it’s your thing, you’re driving it on a daily basis.”

To accomplish that, Air intends to outfit the aircraft with software that will allow piloting with very little training, though owners would still need to obtain some kind of pilot license.

“We expect the license to be somewhere between a sports pilot and private pilot, meaning somewhere between 20 to 40 hours, which you have today when you fly a light sport aircraft,” Plaut said. 

He added that those handful of hours should be sufficient because the Air One’s onboard software would assist the pilot. “If I put you in a small helicopter simulator, you will crash 50 times out of the first 50, but I’ll bet that you will land on the first time with our aircraft on a rooftop OK. And this is because a lot of things are being done by the software.”

Owners would determine where to take off, land and park their aircraft, Plaut said. He added that this would most likely be on their own private property, similar to owners of helicopters and general aviation aircraft.

Plaut said he tells staff that if a customer is asking too many questions about where they can land or charge the aircraft, they are not a good fit for Air.

“Think about the first Teslas — there was very, very thin infrastructure for charging, but when demand and usage grew, the infrastructure grew accordingly,” he said. 

The company unveiled a different full-scale Air One prototype at the Kentucky Derby in May and has since displayed it at the aircraft retail outlet Aeroauto Aeromall in Palm Beach County, Florida. Aeroauto says it is establishing the world’s first dealerships for AAM vehicles. Air also intends to display the model in July at the 2022 EAA AirVenture Oshkosh Air Show in Wisconsin. 

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Air is displaying a second prototype of its Air One aircraft in Florida. Credit: Air

Air plans expansion after first test flights