Melbourne-based startup Skyportz has officially signed an agreement with US manufacturer Electra.aero for the purchase of up to 100 hybrid electric short takeoff and landing (STOL) ‘air taxi’ aircraft.
The first delivery of the new aircraft to Skyportz is expected to take place in 2026, with the first demonstrator model set to grace Australian skies as soon as 2023.
The news comes after the two companies announced they had formed a strategic partnership last month.
According to Skyportz founder and chief executive Clem Newton-Brown, Electra is due to begin flight tests of its hybrid-electric STOL vehicles next year.
The seven-seater fixed-wing Electra vehicles can carry up to 800 kilograms for a total of around 800 kilometres on one charge, with in-flight battery recharging capabilities.
The vehicles have the ability to take-off and land within just 100 feet – or 30 metres – meaning Electra vehicles can easily land on rooftops and parking lots.
Further, according to Electra, its vehicles can offer 2.5 times the payload and 10 times the range with 70 per cent lower operating costs than equivalent electric vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) alternatives.
It marks the latest in a number of recent deals that could see air taxis and eVTOL vehicles touch down in Melbourne as soon as 2025.
In the last month alone, Embraer spinoff Eve Urban Air Mobility announced a new partnership with local charter helicopter operator Microflite will lay the foundations and “validate parameters” so eVTOL vehicles can launch in just five years’ time.
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The news also comes shortly after Eve announced a separate partnership with Ascent to allow the revolutionary aircraft to be booked via an Uber-style app.
Notably, Skyportz has also formed a strategic partnership with Microflite to assist in the development and testing of eVTOL infrastructure.
Overseas, the industry also continues to pick up steam, with three frontrunners in the eVTOL market – Joby Aviation, Archer Aviation and Lilium – all going public ahead of planned flight testing.
“They’re actually flying. Three of them went public in the last month in New York,” Newton-Brown told The AFR. “There’s literally billions of dollars going into the front runners.”
Newton-Brown has been working with property owners to establish the landing infrastructure required for the introduction of eVTOL vehicles and STOL air taxis in Melbourne.
The company said it is focused on introducing a range of Skyportz locations, from existing helipads and airports, on to key suburban and urban locations such as business parks, shopping centres, industrial sites and greenfield city fringe developments.
“I see Skyportz as being a brand of airport that becomes a suburban airport in industrial areas dotted around major cities,” he said.
However, with the new agreement, Skyportz could ultimately also become a dedicated electric airline.
The company is nearly halfway through a crowd-funding scheme to raise $750,000 to cover the cost of consultants developing options for land sites, however Newton-Brown noted that much more capital would need to be raised in coming years to construct an air taxi network.
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