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In a year when public transport on planes, trains and buses has had fewer travelers following the Covid-19 pandemic, one of the startups hoping to launch a whole new approach to bringing people in from A to B – flying taxis – has raised significant funds.

Volocopter, a startup in southern Germany (Bruchsal, in particular) that builds and tests electric VTOL (vertical take-off and landing) airplanes, has raised € 200 million (around $ 241 million) as part of the a Series D funding round. Along with its aircraft, Volocopter has also built a business case in which its vessels will be used in a taxi-type fleet in urban areas. CEO Florian Reuter tells us live services are now two years away for the two vehicle models he is developing.

“We actually plan to certify our VoloCity in about two years and start commercial air taxi operations soon after,” he said. “Paris and Singapore are in pole position [as the first cities], where Paris wants to install electric air taxis for the 2024 Olympic Games. With our VoloDrone, we are planning the first commercial flights even earlier than with our VoloCity. “

To date, Volocopter has shown its craft on flights to Helsinki, Stuttgart, Dubai and over Marina Bay in Singapore. Besides Europe and Asia, it also wants to launch services in the United States.

In some context, it’s basically on track with what the company had previously projected: in 2019 – when Volocopter raised $ 55 million in seed funding for its Series C (which ultimately closed at € 87 million , approximately $ 94 million) – the company said it was three years into service.

This latest D Series (oversubscribed) includes investments from a mix of financial and strategic backers. Funds managed by BlackRock; global infrastructure company Atlantia SpA; Avala Capital; auto parts giant Continental AG; NTT of Japan through its venture capital arm; Tokyo Century, a Japanese leasing company; several family offices are all new investors, among others. Volocopter also said that all of its existing investors – this list includes Geely, Daimler, DB Schenker, Intel Capital, btov Partners, Team Europe and Klocke Holding and more – also contributed to the round.

If that sounds like a long list, it’s somewhat intentional, as Volocopter’s job is complex and requires a large ecosystem of other players, said René Griemens, the company’s chief financial officer.

“Getting urban air mobility off the ground requires a complete ecosystem that we are currently developing. Many of our strategic partners will support us on different aspects of the supply chain, scaling up components, entering markets, improving operations, among others. Most of them are very familiar with certain aspects of our business model (eg Japan Airlines for aviation, Atlantia for infrastructure), ”he said. “Their investment is a reflection of their enthusiasm for Volocopter as a leader in building the entire UAM ecosystem, thus giving credibility and comfort to purely financial investors.”

He added that many of these companies have a “hands-on partnership” with Volocopter. “DB Schenker, for example, is deploying state-of-the-art, high-load electric logistics drones with us around the world.”

The company has now raised nearly $ 390 million. We’re asking for an updated valuation, but for some context, PitchBook’s data now puts it at $ 624 million.

Moonshots and sunsets

Founded in 2011, Volocopter has now been working on its idea – which stands out for its super-wide circular design that sits where a helicopter’s rotor would be – for an entire decade, and in many ways, that’s the idea. classic moonshot in action.

He hasn’t made any money yet, and the product he’s building to do so is very revolutionary – flying into completely uncharted territory, so to speak – and therefore ultimately hasn’t been tested.

It’s not the only one working on “flying taxi” concepts – there are other very well capitalized companies like Lilum, Joby Aviation, Kitty Hawk and eHang.

However, all have faced various hurdles ranging from investor lawsuits to bankruptcies, accidents, shelved projects and divestments (perhaps most notably, Joby picked up Elevate last year as Uber walked away. expensive moon bursts).

And above all, none of them fly commercially yet. With Volocopter (like the others), investors here have made a long-term bet on a concept and a team that they believe can deliver.

For now, the company says technology is no longer the barrier, nor does it appear that regulators, who in the pandemic are more focused on examining new approaches to old problems for improve efficiency and recognize that we may have to do things a little differently now, as a result of new demands from public health and the public.

In the case of VTOL machines, the promise has always been that they could bypass many of the street congestion problems in urban areas and provide a more environmental alternative to current, energy-intensive modes of transport.

The challenge, on the other hand, was determining the safety of both the entirely new devices, as well as the traffic and other systems under which they would run. The idea being that in the end, these contraptions would be autonomous, that adds another complex twist.

Interestingly, regulators in different markets who might have been more skeptical of the new concepts seem to be more willing to view them differently now with the pandemic at hand. This has happened in other areas as well, such as the UK electric scooter market, which saw an increase in activity after long-skeptical regulators gave them a provisional nod the year. last, citing the need for more individualized transport options in the event of a pandemic. country hit.

Volocopter’s model is based on transporting one person or small groups, so in a sense could be appealing here as well.

“There are no longer any major hurdles in terms of the technology as such,” Retuer said. “Everything is now a question of execution. EASA has defined what is required to achieve certification of electric air taxis at the highest level of aviation safety. We have the best technology on the market to certify us to EASA’s high safety standards and will keep our heads down to finalize the few remaining steps of certification. “

On the other hand, he said that the other challenges that remain are those of any highly technical startup: “Our biggest challenge right now is talent acquisition, ”he said. “We are looking for the best talent in the world and are rapidly growing our team now, so that we can accelerate technically and market development. Especially in the markets where we will be opening the first routes, like Paris, Singapore, China and Japan, we are fully preparing everything that is needed, from digital infrastructure to landing sites and approvals of cities and more.

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