Surf Air Mobility - a US-based membership-based air travel booking platform - is acquiring hybrid electric aviation technology pioneer Ampaire in a bid to make regional travel more affordable, accessible, and environmentally friendly, according to a joint statement.

Ampaire creates hybrid-electric powertrains to convert existing passenger aircraft to electric aircraft, with the initial focus being on nine to 19-seat piston and turboprop aircraft. Surf Air intends to make the hybrid electric powertrain upgrades available to fleet owners on and off its consumer platform, as well as license its technology to original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) for new aircraft types. The two companies intend to drive further advances toward fully electric aircraft, with the goal of significantly reducing direct carbon emissions.

Completion of the acquisition is subject to certain closing conditions, including, amongst others, approval from Ampaire stockholders.

Ampaire said it had successfully completed a month-long demonstration programme of the first electric-powered flight on a commercial route with its Electric EEL, a hybrid electric Cessna (twin piston) 337 aircraft. This was the first of this type to receive FAA experimental market survey approval, allowing the company to carry passengers other than flight crew. The deployment had exemplified the performance benefits of hybrid electric systems, with 100% dispatch reliability and long endurance flights of more than 547km and durations up to three hours.

The company flew the largest hybrid-electric aircraft at the time in May 2019. It was also exploring larger aircraft conversions with support from NASA and the US Department of Energy’s ARPA-E research arm. Ampaire is a portfolio company of Elemental Excelerator, the Los Angeles Cleantech Incubator, and Techstars, with additional support from Starburst Accelerator and others.

“With flight demonstrations and testing already in progress, Ampaire’s hybrid electric powertrain technology brings us closer to the next great shift in air travel: sustainable aviation that’s accessible to everyone,” commented Surf Air Mobility’s co-founder and Chief Executive Officer Sudhin Shahani. “With this advanced technology, we have the opportunity to solve aviation’s biggest problems - operating cost and environmental impact - through electrification. We see the near-term opportunity to transform existing turboprop aircraft across the entire industry as the first step to ultimately extend to fully electric aviation across all trip lengths.”

On the market potential, the companies pointed to Union Bank of Switzerland estimates that the global market opportunity for hybrid electric aircraft was estimated to grow to USD178 billion by 2040.

Transitioning to electric aircraft could also reduce fuel costs by up to 90%, according to the World Economic Forum, as well as lower maintenance expense and noise. “Working with Surf Air Mobility will allow us to follow the successful path of hybrid electric automobiles and take that model to the sky more quickly,” said Ampaire Chief Executive Officer Kevin Noertker. “It is our intention to be one of the first to make this technology available at scale on both existing and new commercial routes.”

“By focusing on shorter, regional routes in the near term, hybrid-electric aircraft will completely transform the way we think about how we travel,” said Fred Reid, Surf Air Mobility’s President. “By improving the cost structure, we’re able to create a new kind of point-to-point network that opens up previously untenable markets with more direct connections. With half of all US flights 800km or less, hybrid electric technology will have an immediate and broad-reaching impact,” he said.

Surf Air (URF, Santa Monica) is itself a virtual carrier which outsources its PC-12 operations to Advanced Air (AN, Hawthorne).