Revolution.Aero Uplift: Drone Wolf
Wolves survive alone in the wild, but new territory is more readily secured with the pack. Strong alliances make lighter work. Lobo Leasing has done just that.
The Dublin-based vertical lift aircraft lessor has signed an agreement (with deposits) with Pipistrel to buy 15 Nuuva V300 autonomous cargo hybrid electric VTOLs (pictured above). No financial details have been released.
Lobo chose its VTOL maker carefully after considering a number of companies. But Pipistrel’s 15 years of electric aviation development and prior FAA certification of the e-trainer, Velis were deciding factors. Pipistrel was also recently bought for $235m by Textron Aviation. Lobo was unaware of the purchase during its selection process, but the acquisition is a clear indication of industry confidence in the Slovenian OEM’s business model.
“Our main focus, as with most helicopter leasing companies, is on mission critical operators – HEMS, Humanitarian work, Search and Rescue or offshore oil rig transport,” said Gustavo Semeraro, senior vice president, Business Development, Lobo in an interview with Revolution.Aero. “However, most of the eVTOLs LOIs [letters of intent] seen so far come from the fixed wing airline space and are focused on the air taxi sector (e.g. Joby, Lilium).”
The Nuuva V300 developed by Pipistrel offers something different, according to Semeraro. A hVTOL UAV designed for middle-mile logistics, it has a 3m3 (105.9ft3) capacity, capable of carrying a load of 460kg up to 400km in favourable conditions. “It’s an aircraft that complements the operational requirements of mission critical operations, so initially this should be an important segment for the aircraft to prove its capabilities. Then, the major market for the Nuuva will be logistics. Which is a huge total addressable market,” he adds.
The manufacturer also has a respected pedigree in both electric aviation and unmanned flight. “They are a very successful OEM; producing a light aircraft for over 30 years and making the only electric aircraft certified in the world today.” The aircraft maker’s type-rated E-811 electric engines will power the Nuuva V300.
Set up in 2011, Lobo is adapting to a changing market. “For two-and-a-half years we have been studying the eVTOL and hVTOL markets. We are, of course, helicopter passionate people. But you see these new technologies will start to initially complement what helicopters are doing and in the long term replace some of them on certain missions,” says Semeraro. “We try to be ahead of the market and I think we have been able to do that.”
Semeraro says Lobo plans to use its knowledge of the rotorcraft industry to begin leasing the Nuuva V300s.
“Lobo today is a platform that connects investors with OEMs and operators, we are part of this ecosystem. That’s how we will benefit Pipistrel. By linking them with investors interested in the aircraft as an asset, then we can provide leasing solutions,” he says. “Across both the rotor and fixed wing industries leasing is a critical part of maintaining the ecosystem. This is especially the case for clean sheet designs because there can be doubts about factors like residual value risk and operating costs. As a leasing company we take that risk, so you can facilitate operators to begin to operate VTOLs.”
This is Lobo’s first speculative order (unlike most helicopter lessors). But Semeraro says it is serious. “Pipistrel is not a start-up in the market trying to raise speculative capital like SPACs [special purpose acquisition company]. It is a self-funded project, with additional funding now available as a result of the Textron acquisition,” he says.“This is very aligned with Lobo Leasing’s investment philosophy. That was a position that kept us strong throughout the downturn in 2016 to 2019. So that was a very interesting alignment of thought.”
The alliance between Lobo and Pipistrel plans to see operators leasing and flying Nuuva V300s by the end of 2023.