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John Wayne Vertiport

Clay Lacy Aviation Eyes Air Taxis, As Part of $100M Investment at SNA

John Wayne Airport could become one of the first airports in the nation to become home to a “vertiport,” a hub with the ability to host and charge flying electric taxis.

Santa Ana-based Overair, an upstart developer of electric vertical takeoff and landing vehicles, or eVTOLs, on Jan. 24 signed a partnership with Clay Lacy Aviation to establish emission-free, electric aviation operations at both John Wayne Airport and Van Nuys Airport in Los Angeles.

That deal comes about two weeks after Santa Cruz-based Joby Aviation Inc. (NYSE: JOBY), a $4 billion-valued firm that is also developing flying taxis, signed an agreement with Clay Lacy to install Southern California’s first electric air taxi charger at John Wayne Airport.

The Joby pact will establish John Wayne Airport “as a node in Joby’s Southern California air taxi network, which is expected to be one of the first networks to launch in the U.S.,” the company said in a Jan. 8 statement.

“Ultra-quiet all-electric aircraft bring the promise of convenient and efficient transportation, easing traffic congestion and reducing travel times,” said Scott Cutshall, senior vice president of strategy and sustainability at Clay Lacy, a provider of private jet charter and aircraft management services that’s had operations at Orange County’s main airport for several years.

Big Investment

The projects reflect the quickly changing face of aviation, as dozens of well-financed companies are racing to develop vehicles in the eVTOL industry.

Often dubbed flying taxis, the machines are also destined for uses such as medical and cargo transportation.

While still largely in the testing phase, local eVTOL firms are eyeing the Los Angeles Olympics in 2028 as a target date to show off the advantages of their vehicles, which promise fast commute times and environmentally friendly operations.

An eVTOL ride between John Wayne Airport and Van Nuys Airport could in theory take under half an hour.

The approximately 60-mile drive between the two spots, by comparison, often runs well more than two hours.

Clay Lacy is spending $100 million to redevelop its 14-acre fixed based operator (FOB) terminal in OC, located on the west side of John Wayne Airport, just south of the air traffic control tower.

Establishing eVTOL operations at the terminal would be just one part of that redevelopment project.

Clay Lacy said the project at John Wayne Airport may be the first in the world to be Gold-certified by the Institute for Sustainable Infrastructure.

The project reinforces “the company’s longstanding commitment to leadership on sustainability in aviation,” the company said.

Joby Race

The eVTOL efforts at John Wayne Airport, which is expected to be completed in mid-2025, will include charging facilities that will be available to other EV companies.

“Today we provide fuel to airplanes; electricity is basically a new type of fuel,” Clay Lacy’s Cutshall told the Business Journal.

“We’re putting in a charging infrastructure for electric aircraft of all makes and models.”
Joby said its aircraft can be deployed on routes up to 100 miles, and carry a pilot and four passengers at speeds of up to 200 mph.

“We’re taking concrete steps to ensure the right infrastructure is in place to support our future service and we’re grateful to be working with an industry pioneer like Clay Lacy Aviation to lead the way on bringing sustainable aviation to Southern California,” Joby founder and Chief Executive JoeBen Bevirt said last month.

Last September, Joby delivered eight eVTOLs to Edwards Air Force Base in Northern California, six months ahead of schedule.

“Joby’s aircraft, which has already begun flying at Edwards AFB, is the first electric air taxi to be stationed on a U.S. military base and is believed to be the first delivery of an electric air taxi in the U.S.,” Joby said in a September statement.

Jet Operator

Founded in 1968, Van Nuys-based Clay Lacy calls itself “the world’s most experienced operator of private jets.”

The company prides itself on being the first in aviation to adopt new technologies, such as pioneering a camera system in the air to become the world’s leading aerial cinematographer and the first business jet fleet to install higher speed Wi-Fi.

Per the Overair agreement, Clay Lacy, which opened its fixed based operations facility at John Wayne Airport in 2021, will focus on the development of charging infrastructure and aircraft operation logistics. Clay Lacy has 55 employees in Orange County.

Airport officials have expressed interest in promoting new technologies like eVTOL vehicles.

“John Wayne Airport is keenly interested in the rapidly evolving field of eVTOLs,” Airport Director Charlene Reynolds told the Business Journal.

“As a forward-thinking aviation hub, we recognize the potential for this technology to revolutionize air travel, providing more sustainable and efficient options for our passengers.

We are awaiting the FAA’s guidance regarding integration and regulatory framework for these electric aircraft. Our commitment to safety and compliance remains a top priority, and we anticipate clear directives from the FAA as we explore the potential incorporation of eVTOLs into our operations.”

Congress is considering subsidies to build chargers for eVTOLs. Currently, a bill has passed the House and is now with the Senate, Cutshall said.

Overair will bring expertise in aircraft integration, maintenance, certification, user and vertiport software integration, flight path planning, and public awareness building to the collaboration.

“This collaboration with the Overair team brings us one step closer to better serving the residents and communities in Southern California,” Cutshall said.

Overair Pacts

The Clay Lacy partnership is the latest of several infrastructure initiatives announced by Overair, including deals with India’s JetSetGo, the city of Arlington and DFW International Airport in North Texas, as well as several agreements with South Korean partners.

Overair was co-founded by Abe Karem, often dubbed the “drone father” for his role in inventing the Predator that revolutionized aerial warfare.

The company’s raised approximately $170 million since its spinoff from Lake Forest’s Karem Aircraft in 2020.

Overair said it is also working on an eVTOL charging facility at Clay Lacy’s headquarters site at the Van Nuys Airport.

Butterfly’s First Test Flight Nears

Overair says flight testing of its Butterfly eVTOL prototype is slated to start in the first half of this year at the company’s Victorville facility, about 85 miles from Los Angeles.

That testing will mark a key milestone in the Santa Ana-based company’s push to develop the flying taxi, which will also find uses in the medical, cargo transportation and military areas.

The 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 carry five passengers and a pilot.

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

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