Directional Aviation’s Kenn Ricci discusses Eve Urban Air Mobility

CLEVELAND, OH. Tuesday June 15, 2021 -eVTOL
– by Will Guisbond

A 40-year aviation industry veteran, Kenn Ricci is a principal of Directional Aviation Capital, which owns enterprises including OneSky Flight and its Flexjet, Sentient Jet, and FXAIR brands. The latest addition to the OneSky portfolio is Halo, created through the alignment of the recently acquired helicopter operators Associated Aircraft Group (AAG) in the U.S. and Halo Aviation in the U.K. On June 1, Halo announced an order for 200 eVTOL aircraft from Eve Urban Air Mobility Solutions, an Embraer spinoff.
Ricci is also a co-CEO of the special purpose acquisition company (SPAC) Zanite Acquisition Corp (Nasdaq: ZNTE), which last week confirmed it is in talks to potentially combine with Eve. reporter Will Guisbond visited with Ricci about Eve’s appeal and how he sees the urban air mobility industry evolving. What about Eve specifically made their aircraft and model a good fit for Halo? Do you anticipate exploring additional aircraft options with other manufacturers?

Kenn Ricci: We saw Eve as being both more advanced in its development and more suited to the type of transformational operations we envisioned than other providers. For example, Eve has designed an aircraft that not only is well-prepared for initial certification but also — through Embraer — has a proven track record of production, including acquiring the production certificates that are needed to build in quantity. Some of the companies in the eVTOL space have no experience with what it takes to actually produce aircraft, as opposed to simply developing a working model.

One thing that Eve definitely won’t be doing is operating eVTOL craft; it will just be building them, in the way that Embraer builds but does not operate jets. That’s important, because we want a clear competitive path for this aircraft, with a partner that is focused solely on the craft.

The outstanding lineage of aircraft design, certification and production that Eve — leveraging the expertise and experience of Embraer — brings to this aircraft positions it with significant advantages in the competitive landscape. And the OneSky companies’ background as operators has taught us that product support is absolutely vital to the overall success of new programs. The relationship between Embraer and Eve will create one of the most successful global product support infrastructures in the industry. Finally, the work that Eve and Embraer have completed around their traffic management system is just one more example of how uniquely positioned Eve is to help us deliver on our vision of eVTOL as being something much more than simply a small helicopter operating within today’s constraints.

Halo plans to operate 100 of Eve’s eVTOL aircraft in the U.S., and 100 in the U.K. How does urban air mobility fit into Directional Aviation’s larger strategy? How will these new aircraft operate within your existing fleet? Do you envision them dramatically changing your operations?

Kenn Ricci: We haven’t quite worked out the Halo model yet, whether we are going to offer the aircraft through a subscription, ad hoc, part of Flexjet, or a combination. We plan to share our go-to-market strategy in the fall.That being said, we don’t see urban mobility alternatives like eVTOL changing our operations; instead, we see them as facilitating our operations. Urban air mobility fits into our strategy because we believe that transportation isn’t just about getting from one airport to another as fast as possible. It’s about getting to your final destination as fast, as efficiently and as safely as possible. Since airports, by definition, are relatively distant from most people’s final destinations, it’s important to help them get to where they are going as quickly as possible. Given the surface transportation congestion in many metropolitan areas, air mobility provides a viable alternative, especially if it is cost-effective and low in both noise and emissions. Do you foresee challenges rising regarding customer receptivity (i.e., comfort level, entry cost) with these new aircraft?

Kenn Ricci: We expect that our owners and clients will be highly receptive to eVTOL alternatives because the travel to their final destination will be faster than surface alternatives while also being lower in noise and emissions — enhanced sustainability is a priority for many of our owners and clients. The comfort levels will be comparable to those in existing vertical flight alternatives. How do you foresee the move into eVTOL aircraft affecting community acceptance of urban air mobility flights? Do you think the promise of eVTOL aircraft in the future will make communities more accepting of noisier helicopter operations today?

Kenn Ricci: We expect that eVTOL flight will be smaller, faster, quieter and lower-emitting than existing vertical flight alternatives, with the option of delivering passengers even closer to their final destinations than current vertical flight options. They will have a much smaller footprint than even today’s helicopters, like a BMW sedan coming down the street as opposed to a bus. We don’t see community acceptance as a major barrier. What are your plans for Zanite Acquisition?

Kenn Ricci: Embraer’s Eve Urban Air Mobility Solutions subsidiary announced [on June 10] that it is negotiating a possible merger with Zanite Acquisition Corp. Negotiations are ongoing.