Revolution.Aero Uplift: Blueberry sky
François Gautier is a deal guy. He started at Airbus in 1988 and rose to senior positions – including working at the regional joint venture ATR – before launching commercial aircraft and helicopter broker Blueberry Aviation in 2003. Gautier has been involved in buying and selling hundreds of aircraft.
You would not expect him to be worrying about VTOL. But he is. Monaco-based Blueberry and Swiss OEM, Dufour Aerospace have just announced their own partnership, which will see Blueberry acquire 100 Aero2 and 100 Aero3 eVTOLs from Dufour.
“Our announcement reflects a true commitment with Dufour Aerospace. As all other eVTOL commitments our order is subject to various conditions being fulfilled over the next few years, in particular, in relation to certification,” Gautier tells Revolution.Aero. “We will work hand-in-hand during this process to ensure all the steps are reached.”
Gautier also believes the leasing is going to be key. “As for commercial aircraft and helicopters markets, the availability of leasing solutions will be critical for Dufour buyers. While equity is available for such innovative products, we will need to convince the financing community, in particular banks, to invest or fund Dufour product acquisition by lessors and operators at attractive financing conditions,” says Gautier.
“Our mission will be to educate and reassure financiers that there is long- term residual value in Dufour products while they gradually gain confidence with launching customers and certification,” he says.
The Aero2 (pictured) is an electric-hybrid, remotely piloted aircraft with a payload of 40kg and a range of 400km (216nm). It can be used for surveillance and mapping, cargo delivery, search and rescue (SAR) and firefighting.
The Aero3 is pilot-operated, has a maximum take-off weight of 2800kg, a useable weight of 750kg with a cabin for up to eight passengers, a cruise speed of 350km/h (189knots), and a range of 1,020km (551nm). It is intended for missions currently operated by helicopters, particularly EMS transport, SAR operations and surveillance.
Both eVTOLs employ a tilt-wing design. Thomas Pfammatter, co-founder and CEO, Dufour Aerospace tells Revolution.Aero: “Compared with many other designs in advanced air mobility, the tilt-wing is a proven aerodynamic concept and has already successfully been flown 60 years ago.”
A tilt-wing aircraft combines the best of both the helicopter and aircraft worlds, according to Pfammatter. “It is capable of taking off and landing like a helicopter while being as energy efficient and fast as an airplane in cruise flight.”
Gautier says that Blueberry has been closely studying dozens of programmes developing prototype eVTOLs for more than five years. “We see a lot of very futuristic designs on magazine covers. The Dufour products bring solutions to what the market needs: range, speed and economics. No unnecessary frills, just high end, efficient technology.
“It will take a few years before we see the first deliveries of the Dufour products. We do not aim to simply work with Dufour up until the first aircraft is delivered, but long thereafter. We do not choose partners lightly,” Gautier adds.
Although Dufour products may not be the first to certification (Aero2 is due next year and Aero3 in 2025), Gautier believes the craft will be a “unique tool” both for EMS helicopter operators and airlines serving off-main route urban centres.
Aside from convincing financiers, you also need pilots to fly the eVTOLs. As noted, Aero3 will be a crewed aircraft, so pilots will need to be trained. “We initially expect that Aero3 crews will need to meet training criteria to a similar level of today’s professional helicopter or fixed-wing aircraft crews. There are still open questions that will need to be addressed by the respective authorities.”
The opportunity presented by eVTOL must not be missed, according to Gautier. Concerns for our environmental footprint, lack of natural resources and soaring oil and gas prices are not going away.
“Our announcement reflects a true commitment with Dufour Aerospace. As all other eVTOL commitments our order is subject to various conditions being fulfilled over the next few years, in particular, in relation to certification. We will work hand-in-hand during this process to ensure all the steps are reached,” says Gautier.