FLIMAX: Zero emissions ‘flightseeing’ and beyond
UK aerospace startup, FLIMAX is targetting zero emissions flight like many others, but its business model, focused initially on a sightseeing aircraft, varies from the rest.
With expertise in the team from BAE Systems, Royal Air Force, Jaguar Racing and Cambridge and Cranfield Universities, FLIMAX decided that the production of a sightseeing aircraft, certified under general aviation (GA) provides the best route to commercialisation. Known as the FLIMAX-S, its developers claim it will cost just $125 per passenger per hour, significantly lower than a Cessna 172 at $151, a Eurocopter E130-B4 at $315 and Joby’s S4 at $496.
Tony Bishop, chairman and CTO, FLIMAX told Revolution.Aero: “So we had to work out where to start from. We were aware that there are already electric trainers being produced. Then rather by accident we came across what we think is a sweet spot in the aerial sightseeing market. This allows us to redesign the aircraft from scratch which is the only way to make it truly efficient. With typically about 35% of the takeoff weight being the batteries, that means in a light aircraft you are carrying a lot more energy weight around with you.” Initial talks with the aerial sightseeing industry have proved successful although no deals or partnerships have been made public as yet.
The FLIMAX-S will be operated wholly under visual flight rules (VFR) sightseeing operations are not something done in poor weather, through clouds or at night. “This was a point we had not considered fully until we spoke to the industry. But everything about the aircraft makes certifying it as quick and easy as possible. We can now certify to rules that already exist which can’t happen with eVTOLs,” said Bishop. FLIMAX believe they can certify for roughly one 20th of the cost of an eVTOL certification — that figure can be up to $2bn. “It takes a lot of energy to get up there and down. Also, you need to ensure you have energy for two landings and takeoffs if the vertiport is unavailable for any reason.”
FLIMAX predicts initial yearly sales of around 100 aircraft for the sightseeing market. Beyond that, once VFR certification is attained, the team intend to move directly to instrument flight rules (IFR) certification which means the aircraft will then be certified for air taxi operations. IFR would also open up opportunities in the medevac and cargo sectors, said Bishop. “A lot of flight seeing operators do some air taxiing or vice versa. So being able to mix the two rapidly increases our market potential.” As batteries improve, at around 5% per year, FLIMAX can enhance performance with updates, and eventually replace most smaller fixed-wing aircraft by the zero-carbon deadline of 2050.
The FLIMAX team are, in part, responding to local needs with their aircraft and the missions it could fly. “London is not so bad, but where I live in Cambridge there a lot of cross country journeys like getting to Bristol or Manchester,” says Bishop. “If you want to make that journey you basically have to go into London and out again or attempt the journey by car. These are trips we would be able to perform in an hour or so.” Attempts to create sub-regional networks have been made in the past such as Suckling Airways, but thin routes mean operating at profit is a challenge. FLIMAX has far lower operating costs, and proposes a dynamic scheduling service that puts on flights to meet demand.
Self-financed to this point, FLIMAX is now focused on raising funds to continue development and progress with certification. “Speed is of the essence here, we want to move fast,” said Bishop. See the FLIMAX website for more information on the project.