Brian Garrett-Glaser
By Brian Garrett-Glaser

As the managing editor of eVTOL.com, Brian covers the ecosystem emerging around eVTOLs and urban air mobility. Follow him on twitter @bgarrettglaser.

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SPAC chaired by former Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg may seek eVTOL acquisition

Blank-check company New Vista Acquisition Corp. has filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) to raise $200 million in pursuit of taking public an emerging technology company in the aerospace industry.

Uber Air SPAC
New Vista is the latest SPAC to emerge targeting an acquisition in the eVTOL space. Uber Image

The special purpose acquisition company, or SPAC, is chaired by former Boeing chief executive Dennis Muilenburg, with investors Kirsten Bartok Touw of AirFinance and Travis Nelson of Eclipse Investors serving as co-presidents.

New Vista’s SEC filing refers to businesses developing emerging technologies in the “advanced air mobility and logistics industries,” along with space, defense, and communications, as its preferred acquisition targets.

“Emerging technologies we have identified include, but are not limited to, electric, hybrid and distributed propulsion, alternative fuel, power and power storage systems, advanced materials and manufacturing technologies, digital networks and advanced computing, sensor and situational awareness systems, robotics and automation, software-driven data processing, machine learning and AI,” New Vista’s initial S-1 filing states.

Bartok Touw’s AirFinance has invested in numerous eVTOL startups, including Elroy Air and Volansi — both focusing on an unmanned, hybrid-electric approach to the logistics industry. New Vista will have 24 months from its initial public offering (IPO) to close a deal.

“We believe that our broad industry focus will provide for many potential targets that could become attractive public companies as well as allow us to explore potential targets with a diverse set of business models and financial characteristics, including those that range from high-growth, early-stage innovators to more mature businesses with established franchises, revenue streams and cash flows,” the SPAC’s filing states.

The company’s S-1 names as advisors several known players in the eVTOL space: Paul Eremenko, chairman and CEO of Universal Hydrogen; Gur Kimchi, co-founder of Amazon Prime Air; and Wyatt Smith, former head of business development at Uber Elevate, among others.

New Vista joins the ranks of numerous other announced SPACs targeting emerging companies in the aviation sector, including Zanite Acquisition Corp (NASDAQ: ZNTE) — rumored to be in talks with German eVTOL unicorn Lilium.

Chinese developer EHang went public via a traditional IPO in December 2019 and helicopter booking platform Blade Urban Air Mobility announced its intent to combine with a SPAC in December 2020 as a vehicle-agnostic option for investment in market opportunities presented by new vertical lift technologies. Private aviation brand and marketplace Wheels Up recently announced plans go public via a SPAC deal that values the company at over $2 billion.

EHang urban air mobility
EHang was the first urban air mobility to go public in December 2019. The company’s stock is up more than 400 percent from its IPO price. EHang Image

With the immense capital costs required to develop, certify, and manufacture new aircraft, some investors are optimistic about the impact of SPACs on the budding eVTOL market. SPACs have surged in popularity in recent years to take emerging technology companies public — particularly pre-revenue businesses unable to make forward-looking predictions in a traditional IPO — and capitalize on the confluence of low interest rates, a desire among investors to hold securities rather than dollars, and booming attraction to electric vehicles driven in part by the meteoric rise of Tesla stock.

EHang’s stock (NASDAQ: EH) has surged more than 400 percent in the past three months, demonstrating that interest extends to aerial vehicles. Drone stocks such as AeroVironment (NASDAQ: AVAV), Draganfly (CNSX: DFLY), and AgEagle Aerial Systems (NYSE: UAVS) have surged in recent months as well.

Though some eVTOL companies expect to certify their aircraft as early as 2023, it is likely that obtaining both type and production certification, beginning high-rate vehicle manufacturing, and building airspace management solutions necessary for dense operations — all prerequisites for these businesses to create markets of a size that would justify their valuations — will take much longer.

If these timelines and challenges are accurately communicated to potential investors, then SPACs may prove a highly effective way for eVTOL and other transformative aerospace companies to access the capital necessary to bring their products to market. Blade, for example, assumed in its December presentation to investors no passenger eVTOL flights will take place before 2025 — a timeline that allows flexibility if, for example, the Federal Aviation Administration takes longer than expected to award type certificates for electric aircraft.

But companies with little completed flight testing may hoist additional technical risk on public investors if they choose to SPAC. Numerous eVTOL investors and executives have expressed concern to eVTOL.com about Lilium’s pursuit of a blank-check merger, as the company hasn’t flown its five-seat eVTOL prototype since a fire in February 2020, yet is targeting 2023 for certification. Engineers have previously expressed doubts about the Lilium Jet’s purported capabilities in German magazine Aerokurier.

With New Vista and numerous other eVTOL SPACs in the works, public investors will likely have options.

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