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Future Flight: Going public

eVTOLs attract money—and high-end nav systems

One new trend in eVTOL aviation has been the move to take these new ventures public. For this we can thank SPACs—special purpose acquisition companies.
AOPA Pilot Briefing July 2021

SPACs are publicly listed companies whose sole purpose is to raise money through initial public offerings (IPOs) so they can target and purchase what they believe are promising private companies. A SPAC lets its chosen targets also go public. It’s an easy way for cash-hungry private companies to sell stock without the bother of launching their own IPOs.

Lilium, fresh off a campaign publicizing its proposed network of vertiports in Florida, has been the latest to profit from the SPAC craze. SPAC Qell Acquisition Corp. (Nasdaq: QELL), which valued Lilium at $3.3 billion, funded the company with $380 million of its own, plus $450 million more in stock holdings. Soon, Lilium should be listed on Nasdaq.

Lilium says it will use its new money to fund a new, seven-seat version of its “electric jet.” Originally, the idea was to create a five-seater, but apparently the promise of a Florida shuttle service has driven the company to go up in size. The new airplane is slated to enter flight testing in 2022.

Lilium isn’t the only eVTOL firm raking in SPAC money. Joby Aviation stands to receive a cool $1.6 billion from a SPAC deal it made with Reinvent Technology Partners (NYSE: RTP), which valued Joby at $6.6 billion. Volocopter got $239 million from a SPAC merger with BlackRock (NYSE: BLK).

Those companies are going to need every penny of those stratospheric fundings. It may not take a lot of money to design and build a prototype, but it takes a huge investment to certify new designs, and millions more to manufacture them. The SPAC craze may even end up calling the shakier eVTOLs’ bluffs. At last count, there were 90-odd companies involved in designing electrically powered, alternative aircraft. Only a handful have any manufacturing experience.

Even so, look for more such SPAC deals as eVTOLs march, unsteadily, into the future.

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Thomas A. Horne

Thomas A. Horne

AOPA Pilot Editor at Large
AOPA Pilot Editor at Large Tom Horne has worked at AOPA since the early 1980s. He began flying in 1975 and has an airline transport pilot and flight instructor certificates. He’s flown everything from ultralights to Gulfstreams and ferried numerous piston airplanes across the Atlantic.

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