Japan’s Fuyo General Lease is investing in electric aircraft developer Bye Aerospace. The terms of the transaction announced this week are unclear, with no confirmed amount for the investment, which is resulting in an unspecified “third-party allocation" of new shares in the Colorado-based company.
Tokyo-based Fuyo has a diverse leasing portfolio that already includes some aircraft, as well as ships, automobiles, construction machinery, industrial tools, and IT/office equipment. In its newly published medium-term management plan, the company says it intends to increase the number of aircraft it owns at a rate of 10 a year over the next five years from the current total of 19 to 70.
However, Fuyo has not confirmed whether it intends to start offering Bye’s in-development eFlyer 2 and 4 light aircraft under leases, or the planned eight- to 12-seat eFlyer 800 model. “Through our investment in Bye Aerospace, we will work to expand the aviation business field by grasping the trends of global innovation in zero-emission technologies and contribute to the decarbonization of aviation,” said Fuyo in a press release. It did not respond to questions from FutureFlight about its specific intentions for the Bye aircraft.
Bye Aerospace founder and CEO George Bye confirmed that Fuyo’s investment and other capital it is now seeking to raise will fund continuing efforts to certify the eFlyer models and prepare to start production. He told FutureFlight that the company is making progress with work to make the molds, tools, fixtures, and parts to build the first production-conforming example of the two-seat eFlyer 2, with the second and third examples due to be ready over the next two years.
The timeline for service entry of the first two members of the eFlyer family appears to have slipped by more than two years, which Bye Aerospace mainly attributes to disruption caused by the Covid pandemic. The company is now indicating that the first production-conforming eFlyer 2 will begin “operational testing” in late 2022, with the second and third examples expected to start FAA flight testing in 2023. The company started flying an earlier eFlyer technology demonstrator (then designated as the SunFlyer) in February 2019.
In 2019, Bye Aerospace said it aimed to complete FAA Part 23 type certification for the eFlyer 2 in 2021. At that point, the eFlyer 4 was due to make its first flight in early 2021, but now the company is not declaring when this will happen but has said it expects to make further announcements later this year, indicating that the timeline for the larger aircraft is running about a year behind that for the eFlyer 2. "Certification and low-initial production will follow [completion of the flight test aircraft] for the eFlyer 2, and later for the eFlyer 4 [which is] expected to occur about a year after that," Bye explained.
In July 2020, it indicated that the first deliveries of the eFlyer 2, currently priced at $489,000, would be in late 2021, followed by those for the $627,000 eFlyer 4 at the end of 2022. In recent communications, Bye has not specified when it now intends to bring both models to market.
The eFlyer 2, which will feature Garmin’s G500 TXi avionics system, is mainly intended for use as a primary training aircraft. It is to be powered by Safran’s 110 kW (150 hp) Engineus 100 electric motor. A Siemens motor powered the earlier technology demonstrator.
Bye told FutureFlight that he expects the first production example of the eFlyer 2 to validate the performance benefits of electric propulsion demonstrated in tests of the earlier version of the aircraft, which is to be fitted with ASR’s Soteria whole-aircraft emergency recovery parachute system. It is expected to operate at speeds of up to 135 knots, with 220 nm range at a 96-knot cruise speed, and climb 1,200 feet per minute to a maximum altitude of 14,000 feet.
The company described the main benefits as follows: “Robust takeoff, climb, and relatively high-altitude cruise performance with little sensitivity to density altitude; reduced-center-of-gravity travel with only small trim changes reducing cruise trim drag and benefitting flight-path management or avgas-related heavy wing issues; and high-efficiency aerodynamics providing unprecedented cruise power-to-speed ratios and featuring great slow flight, approach to stall, and anti-spin entry characteristics.”
The four-seat eFlyer 4, for which Bye has yet to confirm the chosen propulsion systems, will be an advanced trainer and air taxi model. The company says that Safran is its propulsion partner and that it expects to release more information about other suppliers for the aircraft, along with performance details, by the end of 2022.
The larger eFlyer 800 model is intended as multirole general aviation aircraft that could appeal to current operators of twin turboprops such as Textron’s ubiquitous King Air family. Bye has said that this aircraft should make its first flight in 2024 with the aim of achieving type certification in 2027 and that it is still working on the propulsion system to be used for this model.
Bye has reported what it describes as a “production backlog” of almost 900 aircraft, including all three eFlyer models. It says that this is based on having collected “purchase deposit” agreements through which customers secure delivery positions after paying a non-refundable deposit. The deposit for the eFlyer 2 is $5,000, representing just over 1 percent of the purchase price.
Founded in 2014, Denver-based Bye Aerospace conducted an initial fund-raising round in 2018 that was led by the Subaru-SBI Innovation Fund. The Japanese automotive group did not disclose how much it invested. In July 2020, Bye announced a further $10 million funding round, half of which came from an undisclosed venture-capital group. Today, the company has 56 employees, supported by an additional 10 contractors.