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Wednesday, May 29, 2024

Flying Taxi Co. Overair Inks Korean Deals

Santa Ana-based Overair Inc. is striking up international partnerships as part of its fleet build-out efforts.

The flying taxi company, whose inaugural vehicle is known as Butterfly, has set its sights on South Korea, an emerging Advanced Air Mobility (AAM) market that aims to enable widespread eVTOL operations—or electric vertical take-off and landing—for a variety of uses.

Overair said late last month that it had signed a letter of intent for the purchase of 20 all-electric Butterfly airborne vehicles from South Korean transportation service HeliKorea. Financial details were not released.

Separately, Overair signed memoranda of understanding agreements with Daewoo Engineering & Construction and the Korean Police.

In the meantime, Overair has been working with Los Angeles to help meet the city’s goal of introducing flying taxis ahead of the 2028 Olympic Games in the city to help ease traffic concerns.

Overair expects to begin testing the Butterfly taxi next year, with commercial service expected to start in 2027, shortly before the Olympics get underway.

“Overair is a company with global ambitions,” Overair co-founder and CEO Ben Tigner said as part of the signings in South Korea.

Deals, Certification

The company signed a letter of intent with helicopter transportation company HeliKorea for 20 Butterfly eVTOLs that will be used for much more than passenger taxi operations.

The company’s six-seat eVTOL is designed to carry five passengers and a pilot, though it can carry cargo instead. For taxi functions, Overair predicts the Butterfly ride will take 18 minutes from John Wayne Airport to Los Angeles International Airport (LAX).

A separate deal with the South Korean police could use the Butterfly aircraft for rapid response, allowing officers to speed over streets below.

FAA Champion

Overair and other eVTOL upstarts are working on getting certification with the Federal Aviation Administration.

The government agency last month saw Michael Whitaker approved as its new CEO, following a unanimous vote in the Senate.

The appointment was welcome news for the eVTOL industry; Whitaker is very familiar with the technology, as he was previously the chief operating officer of Supernal, Hyundai’s AAM company.

Supernal has its engineering base in Irvine and has hired hundreds for its local operations.

Testing, Testing

Overair is one of several eVTOL manufacturers that’s working with Urban Movement Labs, a transportation partnership in Los Angeles, to establish AAM infrastructure and operations.

Overair’s CEO Tigner predicts a rapidly growing industry.

His company’s Butterfly will have a range of over 100 miles, the ability to recharge quickly between trips, and a top speed of around 200 miles per hour.

It will also have an advantage over other eVTOLs when flying in bad weather such as rain and wind because of its overall design and technology, the company said.

Getting a full-size experimental prototype aloft will be a giant step for the company, which is developing the electric-power vertical take-off and landing craft in a 203,000-square-foot hub in Santa Ana near Segerstrom High School.

Test flights will take place at a site in Victorville, about 85 miles from Los Angeles.

“We expect to be certified in 2027, so shortly thereafter we should be able to begin commercial operations,” Tigner told the Business Journal in July.

“This is going to be a big, important industry that has big economic consequences,” Tigner, who won an Innovator of the Year award from the Business Journal last year, said.

‘Drone Father’

The aircraft’s propulsion system was developed with the expertise of Abe Karem, Overair’s co-founder who is widely referred to as the “drone father” for his work on the Predator military drone and other related aircraft.

Overair was spun out of Lake Forest-based Karem Aircraft in 2020.

A key innovation is using slow-turning propellers that produce very little sound, allowing the Butterfly vehicle to operate in high-density areas with noise-sensitive communities.

Tigner last summer confirmed the Overair strategy includes both selling the Butterfly flying taxis to other companies and running its own ride service.

He said in July he expects the employee headcount to grow from 170 to over 200 by the end of the year.

Overair received $145 million in additional funding from its South Korean backer last year. ­

More Than Just Flying Taxis for Overair

While Overair is often referred to as a “flying taxi” company, the planned uses for its airborne vehicle Butterfly encompass a much wider range of transportation.

Overair recently signed a commitment agreement with HeliKorea for 20 Butterfly aircraft that “will be used for medical, executive, and cargo transport, as well as firefighting, high-voltage power line inspection, and other applications.”

Overair also signed a memorandum of understanding with the Korean Police, which will integrate them into law enforcement activities.

“Should the agreement come to fruition, Korean law enforcement could use Butterfly for rapid response or dispatch, allowing it to bypass the busy streets below,” according to Flying magazine.

Overair also plans to use the cabin for on-demand ride-sharing, critical patient and organ transport, military missions, and other applications, the magazine said.

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