Aviation tech (2024)

Sky’s the limit

Last updated: 28 Mar 2024

Market 101

Renewable jet fuels. Hydrogen power. Air taxis. All frontiers in the future of aerial tech.

Let’s start with sustainable aviation fuel (SAF), made from waste oils and agricultural feedstock, which airlines say will be the main — or perhaps sole — pathway for large jets to hit their carbon neutrality targets by 2050. SAF’s key advantage is it can be used straight away, with no adaptations needed for planes or associated infrastructure at airports. That said, it’s 2-5x more expensive than regular aviation fuel, so using more of it could mean higher air fares.

Startups are tinkering with other technologies that should be able to take a bite out of the industry’s carbon footprint — if the big technical challenges can be overcome. Batteries are doing a great job of replacing fossil fuels in cars — with planes, things are much harder. Kerosene-based jet fuel stores more than 40x as much energy per kilogram as lithium-ion cells; simply put, batteries are heavy and planes need to be light. Startups are exploring the electric route anyway. One of the most advanced projects is the Bill Gates-backed hybrid-electric plane developer Heart Aerospace, which in February announced a $107m Series B funding, bringing the company’s total financing to $145m.

Hydrogen also has promise as a jet fuel, but it needs time to mature — possibly decades. Volume is again the issue here, forcing innovators to sketch ideas for new types of aircraft fuel tanks. UK-American aircraft maker ZeroAvia — another Bill Gates investment — has tested a small hydrogen-powered plane. Airbus, the world’s largest plane manufacturer, is betting on hydrogen-powered planes entering into service by 2035.

Down on the ground, airports are getting ready for the future. Paris Charles de Gaulle is mapping flight paths for the cargo and passenger drones that are expected to someday whizz around terminals. In the Netherlands, Eindhoven airport is using AI to improve aircraft turnaround times, while Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport is hiring robots to help handle passenger luggage.

And finally, the flying car dream. Air taxis may soon be able to take us on short hops from airports to city centres or between islands. Germany’s Volocopter is racing against the clock to launch its electric flying machine in time for the Paris Olympics this summer. Target dates slip all the time in this world — but squint and you can see these vehicles leaving the helipads soon.

Early stage market map

Key facts

2.5%

and rising: aviation’s share of global emissions1

22%

is the hike in ticket prices expected by 2050, as planes start to run on more expensive SAF2

5

is how many “vertiports” are being built in the Paris region to accommodate air taxis3

Startups tracked by Sifted

Sifted take

Aviation isn’t an industry that can change quickly: the development cycle for aircraft is decades long, so expect conventional propulsion to remain the mainstay for a while yet. The contenders coming with new technologies will need to keep tapping deep pockets if they want to get their designs in the sky — we may see some fail the runway. Meanwhile, flying taxis are hovering in the near distance but they’ll initially be a luxury or premium service, so we probably won’t get to ride in them for a while. The best plan is to snap up the affordable Ryanair seats now, as it looks certain that we’ll be paying more for our flights in 2050.

Rising stars

Manna Drone Delivery

Drone tech

Delivery & cargo

Total funding

€27.4m

Dublin, Ireland
2019

founded by serial entrepreneur Bobby Healy, Manna is a drone delivery service backed by the likes of Molten Ventures and DST Global.

Round

Early VC

Valuation

Undisclosed


Date

2023

Size

€22.7m

Destinus

Drone tech

Delivery & cargo

Total funding

€53m

Payerne, Switzerland
2021

builds autonomous flight systems for both civilian and defence applications for aircrafts of all speeds.

Round

Grant

Valuation

Undisclosed


Date

2023

Size

€26.7m

Ascendance Flight

Sustainable aviation

Total funding

€31m

Toulouse, France
2018

develops solutions ranging from propulsion technologies to end-to-end vehicles aimed at decarbonising aircrafts.

Round

Early VC

Valuation

Undisclosed


Date

2023

Size

€21m

Beyond Aero

Sustainable aviation

Total funding

€24m

Toulouse, France
2020

backed by Kima Ventures, Beyond Aero builds business aircrafts using hydrogen propulsion.

Round

Seed

Valuation

Undisclosed


Date

2022

Size

€10m

Early stage startups to watch

Aerit

Stockholm, Sweden
2021
Pre-seed

1.2m

1.2m

-

Aerovolt UK Ltd

London, United Kingdom
2022
Pre-seed

410k

410k

-

AHYRES

Leganés, Spain
2022
Grant

50k

50k

-

Aiir Innovations

Amsterdam, A
2016
Series A

2.6m

2.1m

-

Apian

London, UK
2020
Seed

5.9m

5.9m

-

ARC Aerosystems

Cranfield, United Kingdom
2017
Support Program

-

-

-

Ascendance Flight Technologies

Toulouse, France
2018
Early VC

31m

21m

-

AutoFlight

Augsburg, Germany
2017
Series A

90.9m

90.9m

-

Aviant

Trondheim, Norway
2020
Seed

3.4m

2m

8.6m

Avy

Amsterdam, Netherlands
2016
Grant

1.4m

50k

-

Beagle Systems

Hamburg, Germany
2019
Seed

2m

2m

-

Beyond Aero

Toulouse, France
2020
Seed

24m

10m

-

Destinus

Payerne, Switzerland
2021
Grant

53.1m

26.7m

-

Drone Geofencing

Nimes, France
2019
Seed

1.4m

1.4m

-

Elfly Group

Sandefjord, Norway
2018
Bootstrapped

23m

7.5m

-

Elyse Energy

Lyon, France
2020
Grant

115.2m

115.2m

-

Elysian Aircraft

Mijdrecht, The Netherlands
2023
Seed

9.1m

9.1m

-

Firefly Green Fuels

Bristol, United Kingdom
2022
Early VC

6m

6m

-

Jetson

Stockholms kommun, Sweden
2017
Seed

24.6m

13.6m

-

Kelluu Oy

Joensuu, Finland
2018
Seed

3.3m

1.4m

-

Maeve Aerospace BV

Delft, Netherlands
2020
Seed

10m

5m

-

Manna Drone Delivery

Dublin, Ireland
2019
Early VC

27.4m

22.7m

113.6m

Metafuels AG

Zurich, Switzerland
2021
Seed

7.3m

7.3m

-

Norsk e-Fuel

Oslo, Norway
2019
Grant

170k

170k

-

QuadSAT

Odense, Denmark
2017
Series A

11.6m

8.7m

-

Scout Drone Inspection

Trondheim, Norway
2017
Early VC

5.5m

2.8m

-

SKYCORP Technologies

Tartu, Estonia
2023
Pre-seed

305k

305k

-

Skyqraft

Stockholms kommun, Sweden
2019
Early VC

6.1m

3.5m

-

Starcopter

Braunschweig, Germany
2017
Seed

3m

2m

-

SYLPHAERO

Mérignac, France
2021
Support Program

-

-

-

TETMET

Paris, France
2023
Pre-seed

600k

200k

20m

Tinamu Labs

Zurich, Switzerland
2018
Seed

5.8m

830k

-

Turbotech Industrie

Quimper, France
2017
Early VC

3m

1.2m

-

UBIQ Aerospace

Trondheim, Norway
2017
Seed

10m

-

-

Urban-Air Port

London, United Kingdom
2019
Series A

5.5m

2.5m

-

Volant Autonomy (formerly 3UG)

Bath, United Kingdom
2018
Grant

-

1.6m

-

Voliro

Zurich, Switzerland
2017
Seed

5m

3.3m

-

VÆRIDION

München, Germany
2021
Seed

7m

3.3m

-

XSun

Guérande, France
2016
Early VC

8.4m

5.3m

-

Zyrone Dynamics

Ankara, Türkiye
2018
Seed

1.1m

1.1m

3.5m

Europe’s success stories

Who early stage startups are up against

(Pre-)Seed

SeriesA

SeriesB

SeriesC

SeriesD+

IPO/Exit

Has developed a two-seater, 65km-range aircraft for intracity trips, with which it has successfully completed trial flights.

(Pre-)Seed

SeriesA

SeriesB

SeriesC

SeriesD+

IPO/Exit

Is developing a seven-seater electric jet for intercity trips, with a range of 250km.

Sources

Data sources

Sifted Proprietary data

Dealroom.co Data

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