Revolution.Aero Uplift: Faradair plans to spark the multi-use regional air revolution
Genetics, heirlooms and aviation are some of the things passed down the generations of a family. For hybrid electric regional mobility start-up Faradair’s founder, Neil Cloughley, a passion for advanced air mobility (AAM) is one of the others.
Neil’s father, Trevor Cloughley ran an Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV) company responsible for the world’s first combat UAV in the late 1980s. Fast forward to 2014 when Neil founded Faradair – weeks after Zunum Aero – with the intention of bringing its Bio Electric Hybrid Aircraft (BEHA) to service by 2026.
Having spent 15 years in commercial aviation, Cloughley sought to address the regional air mobility market, which in 2014 was not being satisfied by the existing framework. Faradair hopes to build a model to tackle high costs of operation, noise pollution and increase sustainability.
“By 2014, we were still having to rely on coaches, trains and cars to do journeys that were two hours in length. There was no option to fly. Considering we have been flying for 100 years – why is that the case?
“If air is to be used as a service for everybody, then we’ve got to start using smaller airfields which are closer to people’s towns.”
Popular journeys such as London to Manchester could cost passengers £25 ($34) per seat. But getting regional commuters where they want to go will not be all. Faradair recently announced a consortium with industry partners magniX, Honeywell, Nova Systems and Cambridge Consultants to bring 300 of its BEHA to market by 2030.
Cloughley says Faradair takes its inspiration from Elon Musk’s SpaceX model. “He had to design his own hardware – the Falcon 9 – to enable the business model. In the same sense, the BEHA is the enabler of our model.”
300 BEHA by 2030
Of the 300 aircraft, 150 will be built in firefighting configuration, 75 as quick change (passenger to cargo) aircraft, deployed at general aviation airfields globally and 50 as pure freighters. The final 25 aircraft will be used in border and fisheries patrol and drug interdiction.
Faradair will either dry lease these aircraft to existing partners or operate the aircraft themselves – under air operator’s certificate (AOC) and start providing services directly to organisations and regions.
What was initially conceptualised as a six-to-eight seat aircraft will be capable of carrying 18 passengers or three LD3 cargo containers – which can hold water for firefighting.
Its aim is to be quiet enough to fly cargo trips into smaller airports during the night, with the advantage of changing configuration in 15 minutes from cargo to passenger.
There is a dual benefit to the multi-use capacity of the aircraft, says Cloughley. First, the aircraft’s ability to do multiple trip types in one day justifies its costs of operation. And second – more importantly – is the endurance to weather an inevitable downturn.
“We are targeting the firefighting, regional air mobility, regional air cargo and the government special mission markets. By having those four sectors covered by the same asset, we have got the ability to ride through many of these cycles,” he said.
Faradair is equipping itself with industry partners to further strengthen its position. Cloughley said: “magniX has got the most capable engine for the size that we need. We would have two 750 horsepower, 560kW motors in the back of the aircraft. This is then combined with electric motor technology in the landing gear.”
The BEHA will remain hybrid-electric until such point that a better fully electric technology is found. “The battery technology is lagging. We’re not getting the power density that we need to be able to do all-electric passenger flights over a meaningful distance,” he said.
When the time comes, the BEHA will be able to swap out the existing power generation part – the turbine – and swap in a hydrogen fuel cell or ammonia fuel cell without needing re-certification.
“Electric motors give instantaneous torque. We could be having 30,000 hour-inspections. Most engines have it at 3,000 hours. That instantly means saving on maintenance cost.”
Seed round – SFC Capital
Honeywell, magniX, Cambridge Consultants and Nova Systems
Funding in the UK
Cloughley believes funding in the UK, where the company is based, is holding the aerospace innovation industry back. Understandably, the allocation of funding is won by established names in the sector, leaving high-risk investment for new technologies underrealised.
Arguably the biggest competitor to the aerospace innovation industry in the UK is the rail industry. “This is the market that we are up against. If we could convince the government to take just £1bn of the £6.4bn [spent on rail in 2017-18] pot and spend every year in aerospace innovation development, it will transform this industry,” said Cloughley.
With the numbers Faradair is currently crunching, it is looking at a $600 per hour operating cost (at most) with eight hours of usage per day. But Cloughley believes it will be looking at “several billion in revenue by the end of 2030”.
Some of the biggest upsides for regional air mobility are the certification process, existing pilot training and network infrastructure. However, the cost of the asset and operating costs are two reasons why this market is not dominating.
As for next steps, Faradair is looking to expand into several foreign markets in the future. It is also in the process of its next round of funding, which should be complete by the second quarter of 2021.
“We will be going into the US at some point. Australia is a key market as well – for wildfires as well as regional mobility. Then you look at countries like India and China or even Europe, where there is a growing affluent population and huge opportunity to have more air transport for people.”
Why it is too early to write-off jet aviation
Dean Donovan, DiamondStream Partners, Neil Cloughley, Faradair, Kevin Noertker, Ampaire, Eric Bartsch, VerdeGo Aero