Munich Two Munich start-up entrepreneurs want to build climate-friendly small aircraft. So far, Ivor van Dartel (38) and Sebastian Seemann (39) have kept the plans of their start-up Vaeridion a secret. Now van Dartel says: “In a few years we will be the largest e-aircraft company in Europe.“
The two aerospace engineers only quit their jobs in September: Van Dartel at the aircraft manufacturer Airbus, seaman at the car supplier ZF Friedrichshafen. Since then, they have founded their company, raised EUR 3.2 million in venture capital and are in the process of hiring their first 15 employees. Time is running out.
The Paris Climate Agreement, the EU’s “Green Deal”, but also court decisions and laws are putting the aviation industry under pressure. The first laws will only take effect from 2030, but “eight years is nothing in aviation,” says Ivor van Dartel. And from the point of view of the founders, short-haul flights are already massively in danger. They are the biggest polluters in terms of passenger mileage. “If nothing is done now, short-haul and domestic flights will have to be banned or massively taxed.“ However, the founders have a different plan.
In Northern Europe, short domestic flights are indispensable for many citizens because other transport connections such as rail routes are missing. For this reason, the governments of Finland, Norway, Sweden and Denmark have long since reacted and set guidelines for the airlines, one more ambitious than the other.
Governments in Northern Europe are pushing innovation
In Finland, domestic flights are to be emission-free by 2045. Norway wants to achieve this by 2040. And in Sweden and Denmark, fossil fuels will even be banned on domestic flights as early as 2030.
So there is a need for greener aircraft. Several other companies around the world have already recognized this and are working on electric aircraft and hybrid concepts. Airbus has also been working on a hybrid-electric aircraft demonstrator for a while. Van Dartel and Seemann, who was also at Airbus before his ZF station, worked on the so-called E-Fan X.
Fully electric flying seems to be a long way off for large-scale aviation. But the Vaeridion founders see an opportunity for small aircraft: “Not all the problems in the world can be solved by traditional companies,” says van Dartel.
The start-up entrepreneurs believe that by 2030 there could already be 1000 to 2000 electric aircraft on the market globally, which would mean a turnover of five to ten billion euros, according to their estimates. And they are convinced that their concept for this could be one of the best.
What the two have in mind is a microliner with an electric powertrain, a kind of giant motor glider. Two pilots and nine passengers are to be accommodated in it. Unlike the sometimes controversial air taxi concepts, it should take off and land like an ordinary aircraft.
The flight concept works with commercially available batteries
According to the aviation experts, batteries available on the market today would already be powerful enough for a range of 400 kilometers plus reserve – if the machine is aerodynamically optimized.
“Batteries cannot provide the energy density of kerosene,” says Seemann, who is responsible for the technology at Vaeridion. But that is not necessary either. “You just have to design the right aircraft to cope with less energy.“
The two founders Ivor van Dartel and Sebastian Seemann
So far, Ivor van Dartel and Sebastian Seemann (left) have kept the plans of their start-up Vaeridion a secret.
Hundreds of air taxi start-ups around the world are also working on greener concepts for aviation. However, experts continue to question the technical feasibility of vertical take-off aircraft in some cases: companies such as Lilium near Munich rely on batteries that have yet to be developed.
The Vaeridion founders see another advantage for their concept in the approval process. It is true that aviation safety authorities such as the European EASA would certainly be looking closely at their electric powertrain. But: “We deliberately said: apart from the perfect battery-wing combination, we are not doing anything new,” says Seemann.
This view is also shared by Ivan Terekhov, Director of Research and Development at the Lufthansa Innovation Hub. Electric aircraft are “basically further in obtaining safety and registration certificates” than the air taxis, which are often also called eVTOL (an acronym for electric vertical Take-off and Landing aircraft).
Aviation expert considers 2030 target realistic
Terekhov considers it quite realistic that small cabin electric aircraft will become commercially viable on selected ultra-short-haul routes by 2030. “Overall, we see much greater opportunities for medium-term use here than for air taxis.“
Other providers also want to occupy the market. The Eviation Alice, founded in Israel, is considered a pioneer, which is currently preparing for the test flight. The electric aircraft should be able to transport as many passengers as the Vaeridion model. However, the Munich team is betting that they will be able to integrate the battery better.
Other competitors for Vaeridion are the US company Bye Aerospace, the Swedish start-up Heart Aerospace and the Brazilian aircraft manufacturer Embraer.
From the aircraft manufacturers’ point of view, the market for electric aircraft will be significantly larger than the demand in Northern Europe. Vaeridion and its shareholders bet that their aircraft could be an interesting offer for certain routes in Germany, for example.
“Half of the destination combinations in Germany are faster to travel with a theoretical flight connection by electric plane than by bus, train, car or large aircraft,” says Ivor van Dartel.
Bamberg-Friedrichshafen and Hamburg-Sylt: Vaeridion could fly these routes in Germany
Vaeridion is not yet committed to a business model: the start-up could become both an aircraft manufacturer and an airline. One way or another: with their giant motor glider, 300 airports in Germany alone could be offered at Deutsche Bahn for the price of a flexible first-class ticket, the founders believe. An offer for business travelers and wealthy private individuals.
Because the start-up aircraft only needs 650 meters of runway according to current calculations, the list of theoretical Vaeridion connections is long: Hamburg-Dresden, Bamberg- Friedrichshafen, Memmingen-Leipzig – and also Hamburg-Sylt.
However, Ivan Terekhov from the Lufthansa Innovation Hub is cautious about such fantasies. The market penetration of electric aircraft will take “at least a decade”. He also points to a low level of investment activity in the field so far: “Venture capital investments in start-ups around electric aircraft have been vanishingly low to date.“ The aggregate venture capital investments in 2021 amounted to only $ 59 million, less than one percent of the total investments in the travel and mobility market last year.
The Munich-based venture capital firm Vsquared Ventures, the Berlin-based early-stage investor Project A and investor Andreas Kupke have nevertheless decided to invest in Vaeridion. Vsquared partner Herbert Mangesius says: “The impact of such a mobility service, which is available at short notice and will soon be scalable, can hardly be overestimated.“