AutoFlight tests globalization’s limits with strategy for affordable eVTOLs

New AutoFlight president Omer Bar-Yohay explains how the company aims to surmount the challenge of urban air mobility’s financial viability.

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Release Date
October 20, 2022
AutoFlight tests globalization’s limits with strategy for affordable eVTOLs
Eviation Aircraft co-founder and former CEO Omer Bar-Yohay has never attempted to hide his skepticism of the urban air mobility business model. So it was something of a surprise when Bar-Yohay — who abruptly departed Eviation in February after a falling out with its principal shareholder — was announced on October 5 as president of AutoFlight, a Shanghai-based startup that is developing an electric air taxi called Prosperity I.

Founded by CEO Tian Yu, who also founded the Chinese drone maker Yuneec, AutoFlight has backing from Japan’s TDK Ventures as well as a $100 million investment from Germany’s Team Global. Earlier this year, the company opened an office in Augsburg, Germany with the aim of certifying its electric vertical take-off and landing aircraft with the European Union Aviation Safety Agency by 2025.

Now, Bar-Yohay and Chief Commercial Officer Chad Cashin, who comes to AutoFlight from Joby Aviation, will establish an American outpost of the multinational startup in Napa County, California. They plan to start flying a prototype of Prosperity I over U.S. soil early next year, with an eye toward certification by the Federal Aviation Administration sometime around 2026.

Related: Eviation zaps its uncharacteristically candid founder

Bar-Yohay has not dramatically changed his tune on electric air taxis. In a characteristically outspoken interview with The Air Current, he reiterated the folly of planning a scaled transportation service around small eVTOL aircraft that cost $4 million or more apiece, which is the ballpark price associated with non-binding orders announced by Archer Aviation, Lilium and Vertical Aerospace.

Rather than attempt to bend a UAM business model around such high capital costs, AutoFlight is determined to drive down those costs by building most of its aircraft in China — illustrating how eVTOL makers are pursuing increasingly divergent enterprise strategies as they look beyond the technical challenges of developing and certifying novel flying vehicles.

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