Revolution.Aero Uplift: 2020 vision — in hindsight
Challenging will be the task for historians who have to document the year that was 2020 – especially those points which made it seem to be 45 months long. But as far as industry resilience goes, the aerospace sector and its innovative arms – battery technology, autonomy, medical drone deliveries – have emerged near the top.
Contrary to the catastrophic cut in activity seen by airlines, innovation in aviation technology, particularly urban and advanced air mobility, has flourished this year. Sustainability was a key theme, with hydrogen fuel becoming one of the most discussed means of alternative power.
It has also been a great year to raise capital, with top investors in the space telling us that the best investment opportunities are birthed in a downturn. A recent Special Purpose Acquisition Company (SPAC) led by Kenn Ricci, founder of Directional Aviation – one of the most successful business aviation investors, is a perfect example of this. Ricci is launching Zanite Acquisition Corporation, which will focus on advanced air mobility, sustainable aviation and other emerging technologies.
In January, Joby Aviation raised $590m in a Series C venture round, led by Toyota Motor Corporation – which pooled $394m – and made it one of the largest eVTOL companies by amount invested.
And in March, just as the world started to go into lockdown, Munich-based manufacturer Lilium concluded an internal funding round worth more than $240m. The round was led by Tencent, with participation from other existing investors including Atomico, Freigeist and LGT.
With much excitement around partnerships and mergers, one thing is for sure: things can only look up from here.
Meanwhile, here are Revolution.Aero’s top five stories from 2020:
Joby Aviation acquires Uber Elevate
First conceptualised in late 2016, Uber’s aerial ridesharing ecosystem Uber Elevate aimed to bring commercial air taxi operations to some cities around the world by 2023. However, Joby Aviation, one of its eVTOL manufacturer partners, recently acquired the entire programme.
Uber Technologies, Inc also agreed to invest a further $75m in Joby as part of an expanded partnership between the two companies. The new $75M brings Uber’s all-time total investment in Joby to $125m and Joby’s total funding, including previous rounds, to $820m. The transaction is expected to close early in the first quarter of 2021.
Joby aims to operate a transportation service using the all-electric VTOL it has spent the past decade developing. The vehicle has a range of up to 150 miles and a top speed of 200 mph.
Blade to go public via SPAC at $825m
Helicopter operator Blade is the latest company to go public via a merger with the SPAC or blank check company Experience Investment Corp. Through the merger, Blade will be valued at $825m – a significant amount higher than its 2018 valuation of $140m. The company will also rebrand as Blade Urban Air Mobility.
Blade CEO Rob Wiesenthal said on Bloomberg Markets: The Close: “The $125m will go to purchase infrastructure, such as heliports, landing zones, that will not only be used today – where we can enjoy better economics – but also can be used for eVTOL in the future.
“We’ve been building infrastructure and technology, from consumer to cockpit, over the past six years. We have done it under an asset light model using conventional helicopters so that at some point, a modest 2025, we’ll be able to use this entire stack to swap out helicopters for eVTOL,” he added.
NASA Wisk-y business
It is impossible to know now which organisations will feature in the history of Advanced Air Mobility (AAM) when it is written in 50 years. But there are two which will be more than footnotes whatever happens. One is Uber, which encouraged many when it announced Elevate. The other is NASA, which announced a partnership with Wisk as part of its national campaign to further AAM.
“We are developing an AAM proving ground to collect standardised data from many industry partners to support certification and ensure partners will integrate into air traffic management systems of today and tomorrow,” Davis Hackenberg, advanced air mobility mission manager, NASA told Revolution.Aero.
One small step for man, a ‘decade leap forward’ for Canada
Neil Armstrong would be proud. Or maybe Ryan Gosling would be – since he played him in the powerful moon landing movie First Man. Either way, those who favour the advancement of air mobility in Canada are no doubt on top of the moon.
A group of some 20 partners across aviation, government bodies, academic institutions and finance came together to form a consortium. The Canadian Advanced Air Mobility Consortium (CAAM), co-founded by Canadian Air Mobility and the National Research Council, will focus its efforts on bringing commercial operations in the AAM sector to Canada.
SPAC to the Future
We have, in aggregate, executed over 20 transactions within or ancillary to the cannabis sector,” said the IPO prospectus for Stable Road Acquisition. The Special Purpose Acquisition Company (SPAC) made a compelling argument for why the cannabis sector needed investment.
Some 12 months later, it changed its mind. Stable Road is now buying space company Momentus Inc – a company focused on getting high in a different way.
There are several SPACs now looking into the aviation revolution, either through electric-powered vehicles, connectivity, freight-tech companies or space exploration. With deals expected soon. Or they could look at cannabis.
Thank you to all speakers and sponsors who attended Revolution.Aero Global 2020, from the 8th-10th December. If you would like to watch the on-demand sessions, please click below:
Bye Aerospace on leading the electric revolution
The Personal Take-Off
Hyundai’s role in creating the future of mobility
BAE Systems: Energy Management
UK Department for Transport
Investing in the fourth aviation revolution
Why electric flight is the future