By Nick Carey
LONDON (Reuters) - Israeli startup AIR on Tuesday unveiled its first "easy-to-operate" electric, vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) aircraft that it aims to sell directly to consumers predominantly in the United States starting in 2024.
AIR has been working with the U.S. Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) for two years and expects to obtain certification by the end of 2023 for the AIR ONE, a two-seater, 970 kg (2,138 lb) eVTOL, which will have a flight range of 110 miles (177 km), Chief Executive Rani Plaut told Reuters.
AIR raised seed funding of under $10 million last year and has been running unmanned tests of its vehicle. It is building prototype models and expects to sell its eVTOLs for around the same price as an expensive car, Plaut said, without providing more precise details.
An increasing number of investors and aviation companies have piled into the hot but yet-to-be-approved urban air mobility space and the number of eVTOL startups has proliferated.
Air taxi firm Joby Aviation has gone public via a merger with a blank-check company and Vertical Aerospace - which has pre-orders for up to 1,000 eVTOL aircraft with launch customers Avolon and American Airlines - is going public via a merger with Broadstone Acquisition Corp.
Plaut said the difference with AIR is that it will be sold to consumers who can use its "fly by intent" software to fly without being fully trained pilots.
"Our focus is entirely personal," he said. "We're not talking about commercial flights, we're talking about people using this as they use cars."
The United States has a lot of open airspace that makes it a suitable first market for the AIR ONE. Plaut said AIR expects demand could reach 15,000 vehicles a year.
AIR is currently raising additional funds to get through the FAA certification process, but did not disclose how much.
(Reporting By Nick Carey; Editing by Bernadette Baum)