Farnborough Agreements Expand AAM’s Customer Base

Helity plans to use Lilum Jets on private and business shuttle flights connecting southern Spain to North Africa.
Credit: Lilium

Customer interest in advanced air mobility (AAM) continued to expand at the Farnborough Airshow, both by mission and geography, diversifying the orderbook beyond its early focus on airlines and lessors.

German startup Lilium led the charge, signing purchase intents that could see its Lilium Jet electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) air taxi enter service in Scandinavia, Spain and the Benelux countries. French startup Ascendance Flight Technologies announced the first letters of intent (LoIs) for its Atea hybrid-electric eVTOL, from customers in France, the Philippines, Singapore and the U.S.

Almost all the “orders” so far claimed by the nascent AAM industry are conditional as the aircraft involved have yet to fly. But LoIs and other such agreements are indicators of customer interest and potential applications for this new class of aircraft.

Beyond the eVTOL market, Farnborough also saw order announcements for hybrid- and hydrogen-electric propulsion retrofits for regional airliners as that market continues to expand.

Norwegian crew management company AAP Aviation signed an LoI with Lilium to purchase 40 seven-seat Lilium Jet eVTOLs and collaborate on developing a network on landing sites in Scandinavia. Belgium-based business jet operator ASL group signed an LoI for six jets and will cooperate with the startup to develop a network across Belgium, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and western Germany. 

Helity Copter Airlines, which provides helicopter charter flights between southern Spain and northern Algeria, across the Strait of Gibraltar, has signed an LoI for five Lilium jets. These deals added to a memorandum of understanding (MoU) giving global helicopter operator Bristow Group the option to purchase 50 Jets. Lilium now holds purchase intents from external customers for up to 470 aircraft.

Ascendance announced LoIs from six customers for a total of 245 of its five-seat Atea eVTOLs. These comprise French helicopter operators HeliFirst and Jet Systems, California Part 135 airline startup FlyShare, Manila-based private aviation company PhilJets and Singapore-based Evfly and Yugo, a private charter provider that already has an MoU with Electra for 12 electric short takeoff and landing aircraft.

Both Ascendance and Lilium are targeting the longer-range regional market for eVTOL air taxis. The all-electric Lilium Jet is expected to fly 175 km (110 mi.), plus reserves, compared with a planned 400 km for the hybrid-electric Atea. Both startups are aiming for service entry in 2025.

Broadening the eVTOL application base further, Eve Holding Air Mobility announced a nonbinding LoI with Embraer and BAE Systems for a potential order of up to 150 aircraft for the defense and security market. The LoI raises Eve’s conditional order backlog to 1,910 aircraft. Separately, Embraer and BAE formalized an MoU to potentially form a joint venture to develop a defense variant of Eve’s vehicle. 

On the eve of Farnborough, UK startup Vertical Aerospace announced a conditional preorder for 50 VX4 eVTOLs from European business jet operator FlyingGroup, its first commercial agreement in the business aviation market. Vertical now holds preorders for 1,400 aircraft.

In the regional airline market, startup Ampaire secured a firm order with deposits for five nine-seat Eco Caravans, plus an option for 20 more, from U.S. per-seat, on-demand charter carrier WingTips. The Eco Caravan, a Cessna Caravan converted to hybrid-electric propulsion, is planned to be available in 2024. 

The companies anticipate another 175 orders, plus 50 for Ampaire’s follow-on 19-seat Eco Otter hybrid-electric conversion of the De Havilland Canada DHC-6 Twin otter, as WingTips expands nationwide.

Canadian lessor Avmax Aircraft Leasing has signed a firm order with Universal Hydrogen (UH2) to convert 20 regional aircraft to hydrogen-electric propulsion. Avmax has the flexibility to select between ATR 72-600 and De Havilland Canada Dash 8-300 conversion kits. Avmax could also become a maintenance partner for UH2 in North America.

ZeroAvia has signed an MoU with U.S. regional Ravn Alaska for 30 hydrogen-electric powertrains to retrofit its Dash 8-100/300 fleet. Ravn previously signed a similar MoU with UH2. ZeroAvia also announced an additional $30 million in funding from Barclays Sustainable Impact Capital, Saudi Arabia’s Neom smart city, climate fund Aenu and existing investor International Airlines Group.

Between them, ZeroAvia and UH2 have so far announced orders covering the conversion of more than 400 regional turboprops although there is significant overlap, suggesting potential customers are hedging their bets on who will get to market first.

Graham Warwick

Graham leads Aviation Week's coverage of technology, focusing on engineering and technology across the aerospace industry, with a special focus on identifying technologies of strategic importance to aviation, aerospace and defense.