Last month, Los Angeles-based Quantum XYZ made electric aviation headlines with the announcement of its purchase order for 24 eFlyer electric airplanes from Colorado’s Bye Aerospace. The news followed a November 2018 announcement that Quantum had placed a pre-order for Workhorse SureFly hybrid-electric VTOL aircraft valued at $2 million, signaling Quantum’s intention to become a major player in the emerging urban air mobility (UAM) market.
There was just one question: Who is Quantum XYZ?
Founded by CEO Tony Thompson, an L.A. attorney with a background in aeronautical engineering, and co-founded by Zeeshan Moha, Napp Da, and Scott Akina, Quantum has thus far kept a relatively low profile in the hype-soaked UAM world. But Thompson was happy to open up to eVTOL.com about Quantum’s vision for aeromobility — one that incorporates complementary fixed-wing and VTOL services for everything from short urban hops to weekend trips to Vegas.
“Urban mobility is a big problem as we all know — I’m looking out of my office window now and I see nothing but traffic,” Thompson said in a recent phone interview. While there are various solutions to urban congestion, including underground and ground-based approaches, Quantum’s solution is in the air. Moreover, Thompson continued, “We view air mobility itself to be multi-modal. And so our strategy is to move people within cities and around cities and between cities using fixed-wing aircraft, using rotary aircraft . . . onshore and offshore.”
Thompson said he first began following electric aviation about 10 years ago. Back then, or “maybe even as recently as five years ago, electric aircraft had a big snicker factor to them,” he said. “People just didn’t believe that batteries had the energy density to make electric aviation a reality — and at that time they were right.”
Today, electric aviation is still in its early stages, “but everyone now agrees that it will be a reality,” he said. Five years ago, Quantum’s founders were sufficiently confident in this shift that they launched the long process of obtaining a part 135 operating certificate from the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration, with the ultimate goal of operating electric aircraft for hire.
Speaking in late August, Thompson said that Quantum’s air carrier certification was “imminent.” In addition to leveraging the aviation expertise of co-founder Akina — an 8,000-hour pilot and retired special agent who oversaw the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s aviation department in L.A. — Quantum has hired as its director of operations James “Jim” Starley, a retired airline captain who held senior roles with Continental, United, and Copa Airlines during his nearly 45-year career. Quantum is also being advised by Dave Hopkins, CEO of the aviation consulting company Air Transport Business Development (ATBD).
While waiting for its electric aircraft deliveries, Quantum plans to conduct low-profile operations with conventional airplanes such as Beechcraft Bonanzas or Cessna Caravans, primarily “to get regulators comfortable with the service we want to provide,” Thompson said. The company will initially focus on commuter and weekend routes; for example, between Santa Monica and San Bernardino, or L.A. and Santa Barbara.
When Quantum launches VTOL service, its goal will be to “dot the city of L.A. with take-off and landing points [to] provide high-density urban air mobility,” Thompson said. Eventually, the company also aims to incorporate offshore take-off and landing pads, and perhaps a seaplane service. “The goal is to dot the city with take-off and landing points, and there’s no reason to overlook offshore take-off points,” he said.
According to Thompson, Quantum hopes to start its electric fixed-wing service within two to three years, and its eVTOL service perhaps two years after that, depending on when aircraft are certified. While some eVTOL proponents, notably Uber, are targeting commercial operations by 2023, Thompson has more conservative expectations.
“VTOL in my view will take off and then will be a very large market, but not soon,” he said. “It’s going to take at a minimum four years for the very first VTOLs to get up in the air, and when that happens, it’s going to take at least five to seven years for that solution to be ubiquitous and to make a serious contribution to the mobility problem.”
In contrast, he said, fixed-wing aircraft already have the physical and regulatory infrastructure needed to commence operations immediately. For example, in the greater L.A. area, “there are 15 to 20 airports dotted throughout the city that can be used today to move people around the city. And of course we’ve got the air traffic infrastructure in place that has been designed to deal with fixed-wing aircraft.”
Of course, Quantum isn’t the only company looking to launch UAM operations in Los Angeles — the city has also been identified by Uber as one of the three pilot cities for its Elevate program. Thompson said that while Quantum would be open to working with Uber in the future, “our strategy does not depend on what Uber does. Uber may want us to provide the service to them, they may not, but our strategy doesn’t depend on that. And one of the big reasons why is [because] Uber is just not considering fixed-wing whatsoever.”
With respect to its early fixed-wing operations, Thompson noted that the Quantum XYZ team is particularly happy to have added Bye Aerospace CEO George Bye to its board of advisers, a development that was announced at the time of the eFlyer order. “That’s big for us because it means that we can really tightly integrate our service with his offering,” Thompson pointed out. “We’re going to be able to integrate the aircraft with the charging infrastructure and with the maintenance required on the aircraft, and that’s going to really help us provide a very tight service.”
While electric aircraft might not take off quite as soon as the most optimistic predictions would have it, Thompson is confident that the transition will be inevitable, and irreversible.
“I don’t think anyone has to be a genius to know that aviation is changing — it’s going to dramatically change in the next 10 years,” he told eVTOL.com. “And once the switch to electric is made, it’s never going back.”