AIR: Pushing the envelope
With a full-scale prototype flight test behind them, pushing the performance envelope ahead of crewed tests later this year, AIR is pushing on towards certification, according to CEO Rani Plaut.
The Israeli OEM flew their AIR ONE eVTOL prototype in December last year. Loaded to its full capacity of 1100kg (2425lbs), the aircraft took off and transitioned to cruising speed. “We’re proud to be, as I see it, one of two or three companies that have done it. If you look at the landscape Joby has shown full flight with transition, AutoFlight also showed this. So we are definitely spearheading the pack so to speak,” said Plaut.
The next phase for AIR is to continue the flight testing and expand the performance envelope up to full performance. “It is easier for us on the approval side to get clearance for flights if they are piloted remotely. We are going to fly manned probably by the end of this year and we are currently discussing potential locations,” said Plaut. The choice is between Israel, where all test flights have been performed to date, or the US due to AIR’s relationship with the FAA, under which its certification will occur.
The test flights and prototypes serve not only as proof points for the performance but also as a “technological mule” for proofing technologies for the mass production unit, according to Plaut. AIR has the plans for its production unit complete and it is negotiating with vendors to undertake the work.
AIR is moving ahead with the FAA under 21.17(b) certification, this special category under which many of the US-based eVTOL developers are certifying has been devised by the administration specifically for this type of aircraft. Plaut sees the FAA as a portal to not only the US but also to other geographies.
“Our unique selling point is being a private or personal aircraft and not a commercial one. Being Part 91 versus Part 135 opens up the opportunity to sell units even if they are not yet type certified. Meaning we may be able to go under the EAA’s [Experimental Aircraft Association] Mosaic [Modernisation of Special Airworthiness Certificates] Project,” said Plaut. Once the Mosaic Project’s expansion to LSA granted by the FAA could potentially allow for aircraft such as AIR ONE to be sold and flown before regulations for commercial eVTOLs allow that side of the market to begin operations. This means the first AIR ONE units would be sold under experimental licensing. Currently, private owners have purchased over 340 units and there are some additional pre orders made by company partners, said Plaut.
Another pressing task facing Plaut is setting up shop in the US. The company is in advanced talks with several US states regarding a final location for its facility and testbed. “This is a process that should be concluded in the next few months. The location will initially house both flight testing and the integration of the production prototypes which is practically the nucleus of the mass production facility as it will first be for a limited number of units at the beginning (several hundred annually). Joining all tasks on the same location gives us a short feedback loop as we have with our customers,” said Plaut.