FBOs, Meet AAM

We cover Clay Lacy Aviation's partnership with air taxi manufacturer Overair and plenty more in this week's Future of FLYING newsletter.

Hello, and welcome to the Future of FLYING newsletter, our weekly look at the biggest stories in emerging aviation technology. From low-altitude drones to high-flying rockets at the edge of the atmosphere, we’ll take you on a tour of the modern flying world to help you make sense of it all.

Now for this week’s top story:

Clay Lacy Aviation to Bring Electric Air Taxis to FBOs

(Courtesy: Overair)

What happened? Clay Lacy, the famed aviator, is thought to have flown more hours on turbine aircraft than any pilot in history. But Clay Lacy Aviation, the company Lacy founded (and no longer has any association with the founder), is looking to fly electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) aircraft and other futuristic designs out of its FBO network in Southern California in partnership with Overair.

Old dog, new tricks: Clay Lacy Aviation is one of the oldest private jet charters and fleet operators in the Western U.S., with two full-service FBOs in Southern California and a third in the works on the East Coast. But the experienced provider is embracing the new generation of advanced air mobility (AAM) aircraft, such as Overair’s Butterfly eVTOL air taxi.

The partnership will center around the development of vertiports at Clay Lacy Aviation’s John Wayne Airport (KSNA) and Van Nuys Airport (KVNY) locations, as well as a concept of operations for Butterfly and other AAM aircraft that could fly in the region. Overair has similar agreements with Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport (KDFW) and the city of Arlington, Texas.

Air taxis for all: This week’s collaboration follows Clay Lacy Aviation’s agreement with Joby Aviation to install the latter’s global electric aviation charging system (GEACS) at John Wayne. Overair, however, has backed the combined charging system (CCS) standard widely used by electric ground vehicles and endorsed by the General Aviation Manufacturers Association (GAMA).

Both GEACS and CCS are designed to be universally accessible to electric aircraft—each could charge Overair’s Butterfly, for example. But Joby has clashed with some of its air taxi rivals, with each side asserting their framework as the industry standard. Clay Lacy Aviation, though, plans to build electric infrastructure at its FBOs that will support both charging system proposals.

Quick quote: “Clay Lacy Aviation is committed to installing the electrical infrastructure to support all makes and models of electric aircraft, both fixed wing and eVTOL, to encourage the adoption of electric flight. In planning our new FBO development at John Wayne Airport, we are speaking with multiple OEMs and our local utility provider to ensure that the electric infrastructure we build out can support both CCS and GEACS charging protocols,” Scott Cutshall, senior vice president of strategy and sustainability at Clay Lacy Aviation, told FLYING.

My take: Joby and CCS-supporting competitors, such as Archer Aviation and Beta Technologies, each argue their proposed framework will be the sole industry standard. They may be right about there being one winner—major OEMs and operators will probably design and plan for one standard rather than both. It’s just easier that way.

But what if they’re wrong, and both standards can coexist? Clay Lacy Aviation and Overair appear to believe in a multipolar world, with both GEACS and CCS infrastructure fitting into the ecosystem. Atlantic Aviation, another FBO network, recently partnered with Joby, Archer, and Beta to install both kinds of chargers at its sites. These moves may be contingency plans should one system supplant the other. But either way, FBOs are building infrastructure to support both.

For what it’s worth, both CCS and the North American charging system (NACS) developed by Tesla have been viable options in the electric ground vehicle space. But CCS is slowly losing out as Ford, General Motors, and other large automakers switch over to NACS.

Deep dive: Clay Lacy Aviation, Overair Partner to Bring Air Taxis to Southern California

In Other News…

Historic Astronaut Crew Begins Research at Space Station

(Courtesy: Axiom Space)

What happened? The multinational crew of Axiom Mission 3—or Ax-3, the third private astronaut mission to the International Space Station chartered by Houston-based Axiom Space—arrived at the orbital lab and began conducting more than 30 experiments. The crew will research microgravity, space botany, and even methods of preventing cancer.

Astronauts around the world: A SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule carrying the crew of Ax-3—the first all-European commercial astronaut mission to the space station—docked Saturday morning. The crew, comprising Spanish, Turkish, Swedish, and Italian nationals, joined space station occupants from the U.S., Europe, and East Asia.

The combined crews will work together for two weeks studying a wide array of low-Earth orbit (LEO) activities. Astronauts are exploring how microgravity, for example, affects neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s and are even using it to try to prevent and predict cancer. Other studies focus on plant growth, remote planetary exploration, and the effects of zero gravity on astronaut stress.

Deep dive: First All-European Commercial Astronaut Crew Begins Research at Space Station

North American Manufacturers to Ship $1.3B Worth of Electric Aircraft to India

(Courtesy: JetSetGo)

What happened? JetSetGo, an Indian fleet operator and marketplace for private jet and helicopter charters, ordered up to 280 electric aircraft in three separate deals with a combined value of $1.3 billion. Each aircraft—Overair’s Butterfly, Horizon Aircraft’s Cavorite X7, and Electra.aero’s hybrid electric short takeoff and landing (eSTOL)—offers different advantages.

Mix and match: JetSetGo said the combination of the three aircraft will create an “optimal mix” to serve five use cases: airport transfers, regional connectivity, intercity commute, intracity shuttles, and urban air taxis. The agreements lock it into 150 firm orders: 50 from each manufacturer for a combined $780 million. But each includes options for more aircraft.

Overair’s Butterfly introduces two technologies never before seen in eVTOL aircraft, designed to reduce energy demand and enable smoother flights. Horizon’s X7 employs a unique “fan-in-wing” configuration and blends features of a conventional aircraft with an eVTOL. And Electra’s design can take off and land with just 150 feet of runway.

Deep Dive: India’s JetSetGo Orders $1.3B Worth of Electric Aircraft from 3 Manufacturers

And a Few More Headlines:

  • Vertical Aerospace founder Stephen Fitzpatrick committed $50 million to keep the air taxi manufacturer liquid through mid-2025.
  • NASA and Archer partnered to test electric air taxi battery systems for potential use in spaceflight.
  • Electra topped 2,000 preorders for its nine-seat hybrid eSTOL following its agreement with JetSetGo.
  • Walmart partner DroneUp became the latest drone delivery firm to earn new flight permissions from the FAA.
  • An attempted first lunar landing by a private company ended before reaching the moon as Astrobotic’s Peregrine lander returned to Earth.

On the Horizon…

Chinese-made drones could be transmitting sensitive U.S. information back to China, at least according to the FBI and Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA). The agencies released a report emphasizing the Chinese government’s outsized control over domestic company data—and urging American firms to avoid buying drones from DJI and other Chinese manufacturers.

DJI, though not specifically named in the guidance, has already pushed back on the allegations and characterizations made by the U.S. government. The company, responsible for an estimated 7 in 10 consumer drone sales worldwide, has been the target of seemingly endless bans from U.S. lawmakers, who have decried its drones as “TikTok with wings.”

As the U.S. attempts to restrict drones, the U.K. is embracing air taxis. The country’s Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) launched a consultation for vertiport design proposals, with the aim of installing the eVTOL hubs at existing airfields nationwide. As in the U.S., the strategy is to leverage existing infrastructure for early operations of air taxis and other AAM aircraft.

Finally, European Commission officials this week said they intend to release a draft of the first comprehensive European space law by March. The finer details of the legislation are largely a mystery, though the expectation is it will address safety and sustainability concerns and harmonize space regulations across European Union member states.

Mark Your Calendars

Each week, I’ll be running through a list of upcoming industry events. Here are a few conferences to keep an eye on:

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