An electric jet startup hopes to become the Uber of the skies

An Israel-based startup hopes to make self-piloting air travel as cheap as a bus ticket

18 Oct 2017

One day catching a flight might be as easy as ordering an Uber, apparently. This is according to the head of a company hoping to raise millions of dollars of investment into their self-flying electric planes, though, so I guess they would say that.

The startup, Israel-based Eviation Aircraft, is developing a self-piloting electric aircraft. The company’s CEO, Omer Bar-Yohay, said his vision was "Uber meeting Tesla in the sky” at a conference yesterday.

A small-scale prototype of the electric airplane was shown at the Paris Air Show earlier this year. The company hopes to return with a full-scale aircraft capable of carrying passengers in 2019.

The startup began about two years ago, and this week the company was at a conference hoping to raise $20 million in funding. If they secure the funding, the company hopes it will the first to market with an electric airplane designed to carry passengers.

"We have been sprinting full-speed for the past two years," Bar-Yohay said. "I don't think it is going to be winner takes all, but it will be winner takes a hell of a lot."

Eviation would make the most of small, typically quiet regional airports, using them as places to take off and land. This would help keep the costs down even further. 

"It needs to cost like a bus ticket," Bar-Yohay said. “If you build the plane electric, like a Tesla, the cost of operating becomes ridiculously low." Keeping the planes maintained would also be cheaper compared to traditional aircraft.

"You need to build machines that will never break; electric components are naturally like this," Bar-Yohay said. The self-piloting Eviation plane will be able to fly for about 650 miles (1,050 km) on one charge.

The batteries will spread out in more than a dozen places around the vehicle, so "no matter what hits you, some part of the aircraft will have the power to keep you going," he said. 

The company already has competition, including Uber researching vertical-takeoff vehicles to fly passengers short distances. Another startup, Lilium, is working on developing electric cars for the sky, and last month it took a huge step towards achieving its goal - raising $90 million of funding from Chinese technology giant Tencent, Atomico, Obvious Ventures and LGT.

But the on-demand flight market has room for more than one or two companies, Bar-Yohay said. "It's the next blue ocean out there," he said. "There is going to be room for everybody."

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