Founders Of flyVbird Outline Vision For Electric Regional Aviation
The regional airline business has shrunk on both sides of the Atlantic in recent years, as pilot shortages and rising costs, as well as the environmental flight-shaming movement in Europe, have badly pressured the profitability of regional operators.
But with the advent of advanced air mobility (AAM), a new generation of startup carriers believes they can revitalize regional air travel by bringing down high operating costs through more efficient electrified aviation, while making travel more convenient at the same time by offering point-to-point services between thousands of currently underserved airfields.
As an example, Stuttgart, Germany-based startup flyVbird, which plans to launch services in Central and Northern Europe starting in 2025, believes its proposed combination of electric conventional-takeoff-and-landing (eCTOL) aircraft and a propriety, artificial intelligence (AI)-based, on-demand scheduling solution will be able to deliver a highly efficient offering that can begin to revive the struggling regional airline sector in Europe.
“Our vision is about making decentralized travel times substantially faster, and we believe there is enough spare infrastructure available that we can use for that,” says Anton Lutz, co-founder and co-CEO at flyVbird. “For us, it’s all about efficiency, efficiency, efficiency. It’s about getting the unit costs down as low as possible to be able to offer a price that makes on-demand air travel affordable to a mass market.”
The company is aiming to launch initial services in 2025 using four Tecnam P2012s, with six launch airports identified in Germany and Southern Scandinavia. Toward the end of this decade, the company plans to begin adding nine-seat electric aircraft from U.S. startups Eviation and Electra.aero, expanding to a fleet of around 50 aircraft–a mix of both electric and traditional–before eventually making a switch to a fully electric regional airline sometime in the next decade.
The ramp-up in electric aviation will be gradual, as early operators like flyVbird must collaborate with the OEMs to work through a range of operational issues, explains co-founder Tomislav Lang.
“Once the aircraft is certified, there are still a number of issues remaining; you can’t fly under IFR [instrument flight rules] immediately, you have to do a proof of concept with the aircraft, you have to figure out things related to training and security,” Lang explains. “The ramp-up of all these programs will take the OEMs after [type certification] many years into the future until they really have industrialized their processes.
“But we have no time to wait; we need to begin preparing the infrastructure at these small airports now, and there will be a lot of investment and training from our side to adapt those airports to the new demand model,” he says. “Some of these places are badly in need of new infrastructure, so there are many things we need to do before we can scale service and offer electric regional flights.”
Besides making use of battery-electric aircraft, flyVbird is taking an innovative approach to scheduling on-demand flights. Rather than precommitting to scheduled services, the company offers its customers multihour time frames, allowing them to choose their earliest and latest preferred arrival and departure times. Travelers are then notified three days in advance of their flight about the specific itinerary, allowing the startup to select the most efficient time frame that best matches resources with customer demand.
The secret sauce behind the startup’s on-demand model are a pair of proprietary algorithms. A fulfillment algorithm matches time frames selected by customers with available aircraft, crew and airport slots, allowing the company to efficiently match resources with demand. The second is a product algorithm that considers origins and destinations within the network to determine optimal product and price point.
“At its core, these algorithms are about determining when our time frames make sense and are the fastest options to connect from point A to point B,” Lutz says. “Basically, we’re trying to disentangle the core value we give to our customer–the fastest transportation with secondary markets–from the actual operation of the flight which we only determine based on demand three days before departure.”
Longer-term, Lutz said that flyVbird hopes to eventually upgauge and grow to a fleet of 150-200 aircraft, which he expects to happen within 15-20 years. He notes there are around 22,000 underserved regional airports in Europe that could deliver enormous public benefits if brought online and connected to the air travel grid.
For example, he cites the potential route from Braunschweig, Germany, to Friedrichshafen, Denmark, as an example of a connection that could be more efficiently served with sustainable regional air transport.
“By car, you’d have to travel around eight hours, so offering a three-hour time frame is very competitive,” he says.