KinectAir and VoltAero partnership takes flight

Yuvan Kumar

When an ex-Airbus chief technical officer decides to build an electric conventional take-off and landing plane, expected to be in production by 2023, other aviators are bound to take notice. This is exactly how Jean Botti, CEO and co-founder, VoltAero and Jonathan Evans, CEO, KinectAir came to be partners. 

Botti oversaw the launch of Airbus’s very first electric aircraft ventures – the Electric Cri-Cri and E-Fan X – in 2011 and 2015 respectively. While Evans flew UH-60 Black Hawks for the US military, as well as on-demand air ambulance missions. He also started a drone software company called Skyward, which was acquired by Verizon.

Next on the roadmap is a collaboration between the two to bring regional hybrid-electric operations via an electric conventional take-off and landing (eCTOL) aircraft by 2023. Cassio will be able to seat four to 10 people, flying a range of 800 miles (1200kms). The aircraft will be piloted to begin, with possible autonomous capabilities in the near future.

His role at Airbus means Botti knows how to make an aircraft airworthy and production certificate-worthy, said Evans. The powertrain for Cassio is currently being validated using a testbed aircraft.

He believes the future is regional and hybrid electric, delivered by VoltAero’s Cassio. Evans said: “Today we have off-the-shelf, efficient, state-of-the-art, conventional propeller-driven aircraft to apply in a network powered by software. That allows an on-demand experience in the palm of your hand at a price you can afford. Next, we bring in the electric future, moving from kerosene and gasoline to hybrid electric technologies with VoltAero’s Cassio, which will be in our fleet by 2023.”

This is not to say the Cassio will not have short-hop capability, according to Botti. The hybrid configuration will allow the aircraft to fly fully electric for distances up to 120 miles (200kms), “mild” hybrid up to 370 miles (600kms) and “heavy” hybrid for the 740-plus mile range (1,200kms).

Evans said the cost per seat mile for Cassio flights will be approximately “70 cents on the dollar”.

 

KinectAir will test the model this summer, which will be available for on-demand charter via an app on your phone in the US and UK to begin with. It is currently gathering data through an app preview, where potential customers can generate costs for routes using a Pilatus PC-12, a Cirrus SR22T and the Cassio (up to 120 miles full electric). 

The company is using demand to build its services and popular routes, many of which have been outside of major hub airports. Evans added: “We can take off and land in under 3,000 feet in both of our current aircraft in the fleet and with the Cassio. That exposes an order of magnitude more local airfields than ever seen on Kayak or Expedia.”

Evans said KinectAir’s service would cost approximately $1 per seat mile to the customer.

KinectAir has had an initial 250 investors through crowdfunded equity and now has a $2m pre-seed open which has received interest from Cathay Pacific board member Andy Tung and others. While VoltAero has raised European investment worth $2m in cash and $11m in equity. It is currently in the process of raising Series B funding.

“KinectAir is one of the key operators we are working with to bring services to the US and Europe,” said Botti. “We have already identified 200 popular routes in France, and we are also looking at the UK. In particular, flights across the [English] Channel could be very useful since our plane can do cargo, medical evacuation and transportation of mail.”

A preview of the KinectAir app with 8,000 routes requested by potential customers. Blue represents the concentration while red are new routes customers want to fly, said KinectAir.

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