Flying cars may not yet be commonplace, but delivery drones are on their way. LCI last week said it has signed an agreement with Elroy Air to acquire up to 40 of the company's Chaparral vertical takeoff and landing, or VTOL, aircraft.
“This commitment for the pioneering Chaparral system will enable us to efficiently support mission-critical, remote logistical work and socially responsible humanitarian efforts around the world,” said Jaspal Jandu, CEO of LCI. “It will do so in complement with the wide-ranging capabilities of our existing aviation fleet.”
LCI said it is “uniquely positioned across the commercial fixed-wing, helicopter, and advanced air mobility sectors.” Since its inception in 2004, the privately owned company said it has conducted more than $8 billion in aviation transactions. It provides leasing services to airlines, helicopter operators, governments, and end users.
LCI is the aviation subsidiary of Libra Group, whose subsidiaries own and operate assets in nearly 60 countries. It is primarily active in aviation, energy, hospitality, real estate, maritime, and diversified investments.
Chaparral eVTOL to carry cargo
Elroy Air said the autonomous aircraft and software it is developing are the first of their kind in the industry and will “expand the reach of express shipping to every person on the planet.” The South San Francisco, Calif.-based company added that it has built on the same powertrain and perception technology enabling the electric and autonomous vehicle “revolution.”
It claimed that its systems will expand delivery locations, reduce timeframes, and provide immediate aid in disaster and firefighting situations. Elroy Air noted that its aerial drones can also rapidly and autonomously resupply troops in the field.
Elroy Air said its VTOL logistics systems can operate outside of airport infrastructure and lead evolution in “end-to-end” commercial air cargo. It began flight testing with FedEx Express last year.
The Chaparral is intended for aerial transport of up to 500 lb. (225 kg) of goods over a 300 nautical mile (555.6 km) range. This is enabled initially by a turbine-based, hybrid-electric powertrain with distributed electrical propulsion, as well as specially designed aerodynamic modular cargo pods.
Applications include safe, efficient, and cost-effective aerial cargo transport for commercial logistics, disaster relief, firefighting, and humanitarian operations without risk to pilots, said Elroy Air. The company wrote that it has secured more than $2 billion in orders for more than 900 Chaparral systems in the commercial, defense, and humanitarian sectors.
The company's backers include Catapult Ventures, Marlinspike Capital, and Shield Capital. It has also received funding from strategic investors including Lockheed Martin Ventures and Prosperity7, as well as angel investors including early Uber executives.
LCI commits to Elroy Air's long-term growth
LCI said its investment in Elroy Air's system underpins its long-term commitment to sustainable growth and innovation. Under the terms of the deposit-backed agreement, LCI will initially acquire 20 aircraft with an option for a total of up to 40 units.
“We have been impressed with Elroy Air's vision and approach and look forward to working closely with the team on a wide range of opportunities,” said Jandu. “This forms part of our wider advanced air mobility strategy and will strengthen LCI's position as a leading provider of leasing, financing, and investing solutions for this new and exciting market.”
David Merrill, co-founder and CEO of Elroy Air, added: “We're experiencing an enthusiastic response to the Chaparral and its capabilities to serve as a key part of a safe, efficient, and capable fleet of aircraft to respond in emergency situations, protect pilots, and enable rapid logistics in a new and sustainable way.”
“Through our agreement with LCI, the Chaparral will be available for financing—enabling much broader access to the aircraft,” he said. “We are proud that the Chaparral will now be part of LCI's aviation fleet and look forward to providing aerial cargo transport globally.”
Libra Group to share support network
The new VTOL aircraft will complement LCI's existing fleet of modern helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft. In addition, LCI and Libra Group plan to share commercial, financial, and end-user expertise with Elroy Air through established industry networks.
“We are proud of LCI's partnership with Elroy Air, which further accelerates the Chaparral's entry into the global market,” said George Logothetis, chairman and CEO of Libra Group. “Bridging the present with the future requires novel partnerships such as these where established industry leaders join with innovators to make paradigm-shifting technologies a reality.
“Our group is committed to leveraging our global platform to catalyse the uptake of sustainable innovations across our six sectors, and we look forward to sharing many future-focused partnerships to come,” he said.
LCI said it maintains a growing fleet of modern aviation assets that it leases to major operators and end users around the world. Many are deployed on mission-critical and socially responsible sectors such as emergency medical services (EMS), search and rescue (SAR), and offshore wind energy.