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Exclusive: Flying taxi startup Autonomous Flight launches $100m funding round

Autonomous Flight funding

British flying taxi startup Autonomous Flight is looking to raise $100m (£75m) in an upcoming Series C funding round, UKTN can exclusively reveal.

The funding round comes as the startup opens pre-orders for its flying taxis designed to transport passengers from Charing Cross to Heathrow in 12 minutes.

The upcoming Autonomous Flight funding round follows a $7m (£5m) Series A round in April this year and a $25m (£19m) Series B round that is nearing completion.

The Series C round will open in January 2022, along with pre-orders for its electric aircraft.

The news was confirmed to UKTN by Autonomous Flight founder and chairman Martin Warner. Speaking to UKTN via video call from New Jersey, US, Warner said he was “already in conversations” with prospective investors for the Series C round.

Warner, a serial entrepreneur, founded Autonomous Flight in 2017. It is one of a dozen or so companies aiming to make electric vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) aircraft commercially viable.

Taking pre-orders from strategic partners will be a key step in Autonomous Flight’s roadmap to have its eVTOL aircraft certified and ready for service by 2024, Warner said.

Autonomous Flight’s Y6S Plus aircraft can hold six passengers and is being designed to reach cruise speeds of 200km/h. The three-propellered eVTOL will be able to travel 130km on one charge and is designed to drastically reduce the time of intra-city journeys.

Warner said he is “sceptical” about eVTOLs having the range to travel between different cities, which is why he is focusing on cross-city routes. The company is also looking at UK cities such as Manchester and Liverpool.

The cash will be used for R&D in what is still a nascent industry, with most companies – including Autonomous Flight – still in the prototype or concept stage.

One partnership that Autonomous Flight is open to is supplying its eVTOL to emergency services such as regional air ambulances. Warner said the Y6S could be easily modified to make space for a person on a stretcher and emergency services staff.

However, the startup is focused on the commercial market for its primary business model, which is why it has six seats to strike a balance between unit economics and keeping the aircraft light enough to take to the skies.

Warner said that most eVTOL companies are aiming for 2024 for certification, with pilots and testing to take place over the next two years.

Warner told UKTN that he is regularly in contact with regulators such as the US’ Federal Aviation Administration and the UK’s Civil Aviation Authority.

Autonomous Flight’s Series C announcement caps off a busy year for the eVTOL market and marks a different approach to some of the British startup’s competitors.

In 2021 four eVTOL startups – Archer Aviation, Joby Aviation, Lilium and Vertical Aerospace – announced or completed mergers with blank-cheque acquisition firms. Meanwhile, Beta Technologies closed a $368m Series A while HT Aero secured $500m.

Some analysts believe that the influx of this capital to the urban air mobility market could expedite commercially viable flying taxis – although there are still notable hurdles for companies to overcome.

“We are edging ever closer to a reality where drones will become a regular mode of transport in cities around the world,” Warner said. “We are years away from this reality, not decades.”