- More than 220 electric aircraft aviation startups are working to develop low-emission flight programs.
- Ranging from full-size jetliners, to private business jets, urban mobility air taxis, and freight and delivery solutions, each of the companies is years away from introducing their products to the market, although some are closer than others.
- Business Insider spoke with VCs and industry experts who shared a few of the companies they’re most excited about.
- Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.
Crossing oceans and continents in aircraft fuelled by electricity is decades away, at best, but that doesn’t mean that electric air travel will remain a pipe dream until then.
A veritable horde of startups are working to get battery-powered aircraft off the ground, and a number of them are making progress towards electric aircraft that can help people navigate cities, travel to meetings, deliver and receive packages, and soon, even take commercial regional flights with a fraction of the emissions produced by today’s passenger planes.
This is a nascent market, but recent advances in battery and computer technologies have made it a popular one: more than 220 companies are competing to deliver the tech that will mark the end of the jet age and usher in a new era.
Business Insider asked consultants and venture capitalists to share the top electric aviation startups worth keeping an eye on, including Kirsten Bartok Touw of AirFinance Capital, Dean Donovan of DiamondStream Partners, and Robert Thomson of Roland Berger.
While each stressed that it’s difficult to discuss these startups as a monolith â€” there are many markets to mine here, including cargo transport, urban mobility, autonomy, light aircraft, and jet aircraft â€” several still emerge as strong contenders worth watching.
Here are the big ones to watch.
Total fundingraised: $US720 million
What the company does: Joby is developing an electric vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) “air taxi” that could provide fast, efficient, clean transportation around cities.
Why it was chosen: Joby was chosen by all of the experts Business Insider spoke with. The company is fairly well-funded, with Toyota making a large investment during the company’s C-series. The company began a formal certification program with the FAA in 2018, and says it is targeting certification and initial deployment in 2023. The company also has a commercial partnership with Uber, allowing it fast entry into the market once the aircraft is certified.
Total fundingraised: €118.2 million (about $US140.4 million)
What the company does: Volocopter is another “air taxi” maker developing an eVTOL for the urban air mobility market.
Why it was chosen: Volocopter is another well-funded startup, with investments coming from a wide array of sources including Geely Global, the Chinese company which owns Volvo. The company has said it is roughly two to three years from bringing its products to market. The company began selling tickets in 2019 for its first flights, albeit without a firm timeline.
“You’ve got Joby and you’ve got Volocopter, which look like they’re on track for certification by 2023,” Bartok Touw said. “As certification becomes more of a given and less of a question mark, then I think it will be much easier for those companies to raise [more] capital.”
Total fundingraised: $US376.4 million
What the company does: Lilium is designing a five-seat eVTOL “jet” aircraft.
Why it was chosen: Lilium is working on a somewhat different design compared to other eVTOL startups. Its Lilium Jet aeroplane has two fixed wings, with a total of 36 electric motors (and thus is not, in fact, a jet). The aircraft has a range of about 160 miles, giving it greater reach than some of the more helicopter or drone-like designs.
Total fundingraised: About $US200 million
What the company does: Eviation is creating an all-electric business jet
Why it was chosen: Israeli startup Eviation unveiled its Alice aircraft at the Paris Air Show in 2019. The $US4 million Alice can carry nine passengers (and two crewmembers) up to about 600 miles, operating at a fraction of the cost of traditional propeller aircraft. It already has more than 150 orders, including from launch customer Cape Air, which plans to replace its fleet of Cessna 402 aircraft with the all-electric propeller plane. Eviation expects FAA certification around 2022, although its prototype was damaged in a fire during a systems test earlier this year.
Total fundingraised: $US2.3 million
What the company does: Sweden-based Heart Aerospace is designing an all-electric 19-seat airliner
Why it was chosen: Founded in 2018, Heart has only undergone its initial seed funding. However, it caught the eye of prolific Swedish fund EQT Partners, which contributed a large part of that round. The company was also awarded a €2.5 million (about $US3 million) grant from the European Innovation Council. The company unveiled its 19-seat “ES-19” regional aeroplane design in September. The propeller plane will have a range of roughly 200 miles, and will serve a significant market need in the Nordic region.
Total fundingraised: $US120,000 (plus $US650,000 in grants)
What the company does: Albany, NY-based Wright Electric is working to build a full-sized electric narrow-body aircraft.
Why it was chosen: Wright is still fairly young, with just a small amount of seed funding. But it’s a company with potential, according to Robert Thomson of Roland Berger. Wright is working to create a 186-seat electric jetliner that can fly for up to two hours, giving it a range of roughly 300 miles.
While the technology to enable long-haul electric flying is still decades away, Wright argues that three quarters of all flights are on narrow-body aircraft, generating half of all aviation-related market emissions, meaning its Wright 1 jet could make a real difference as the aviation industry scrambles to lower emissions. Wright is aiming to bring its first plane into service by 2030, and has partnered with European low-cost carrier EasyJet, as well as business jet provider Jetex.
“Wright Electric is doing a good job of trying to press ahead,” Thomson said.
Total fundingraised: $US16 million
What the company does: Elroy is developing autonomous electric aircraft to transport cargo and deliver packages.
Why it was chosen: Elroy is at the forefront of a frantic push to develop unmanned drones to help move cargo, with applications ranging from package delivery to transporting humanitarian aid to remote disaster-struck regions. Its initial design will have a range of 300 miles and can carry 250-500 pounds of cargo. Elroy is hoping to start using the product in 2021.
“I like Elroy, they’re doing something really cool,” Bartok Touw said. “They’re [doing] bigger cargo, like 300-pound payloads.”
Total fundingraised: $US31.1 million
What the company does: Matternet is another logistics startup designing a delivery drone, along with an integrated shipping platform.
Why it was chosen: Matternet’s drone delivery concept has already borne fruit. In 2019 UPS, using Matternet drones, was granted the first FAA airline approval – known as a Part 135 certificate – to operate a drone airline. UPS and Matternet began a test program earlier in the year to transport medical supplies between campuses at the WakeMed health system in Raleigh, NC, and in April 2020, as coronavirus lockdowns proliferated the US, the companies began a drone-powered delivery service at The Villages retirement community in Florida, offering efficient and contact-less deliveries of CVS prescriptions. The company is also close to being granted FAA Type Certification, which would allow a faster expansion.