French eVTOL aircraft developer Ascendance Flight Technologies, which says it is building sales momentum for its Atea model, announced this week that it now holds letters of intent for 245 copies of the four-passenger vehicle. The commitments have come from a mix of six helicopter operators and private flight providers spread across Europe, the U.S, and Asia.
According to Ascendance’s co-founder and chief customer officer, Thibault Baldivia, the Toulouse-based start-up formed a “Care Group” to provide a channel for prospective operators to have input on the program and to be sure that it is commercially viable. “We are talking a lot with customers to ensure that the machine we are designing will be what they need,” he told FutureFlight. “For instance, we chose to have hybrid-electric [propulsion] to get the range and performance they need.”
The Atea is expected to be able to fly up to 400 km (250 miles) at speeds of up to 200 km/h (125 mph). The design features eight ducted fan rotors installed in a pair of wings for vertical lift and two propellers for cruise flight.
The customers identified this week include air mobility platforms Evfly and Yugo in Singapore, France-based HeliFirst and Jet Systems Helicoptères Services, California-based Flyshare, and Philjets Group in the Philippines. They all have different business models and plans for the Atea.
For instance, Flyshare is an established Part 135 operator that, according to Baldivia, intends to operate regional services, linking communities around the wider Los Angeles area. “Ascendance has implemented several features in the Atea that gives it superior range, speed, and load capacity, [and] matches the needs of our business model extremely well,” commented Flyshare chairman James Hopkins. “We are impressed with Ascendance’s technical decisions with respect to the powerplant and the ability to incrementally improve the emissions profile of the aircraft over the first few years of its introduction into service.”
Philjets intends to use the aircraft to operate a mix of private charters, tourist sightseeing flights, and emergency medical evacuations across the Philippines’s 7,000-island archipelago. The company’s head of sales and marketing, Geoffrey Cahen, said the manufacturer’s willingness to include the company in the development process had encouraged it to make the early commitment to include the Atea in its fleet.
According to Baldivia, eVTOL aircraft like the Atea will have significantly lower maintenance costs than today’s helicopters, mostly by avoiding the need to have a main gearbox and rotors. While no price has yet been disclosed, he indicated that the Atea will likely cost about as much as a similar-sized rotorcraft.
In 2021, Ascendance, which was founded by former Airbus engineers who were involved in its E-Fan electric aircraft program, conducted flight tests with subscale models and extensive wind tunnel test campaigns. It is now working on a full-scale prototype to be ready for the next phase of flight testing in 2023 and has set up an ‘iron bird’ test rig in Toulouse. The company aims to achieve EASA type certification in 2025 and to be ready to start deliveries soon after.