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Beyond Aero Takes on Private Jet Emissions with Hydrogen-Powered Vision
Interview with Eloa Guillotin, CEO and Co-Founder of hydrogen-electric aircraft startup Beyond Aero.
Eloa Guillotin, CEO and co-founder of hydrogen-electric aircraft startup Beyond Aero, has grown accustomed to having her ambitions met with scepticism: “Everyone keeps saying to me: ‘this is impossible. You have a lower than 1% chance of success.’”
Her response? “I keep pushing.”
Growing up in a small community on the French Atlantic coast, Guillotin’s dream was to work in aerospace. “It is completely crazy, you will not leave the village”, was the reaction she got.
Nonetheless, her determination led her to pursue a spot at the prestigious aerospace academy ISAE-SUPAERO in Toulouse, where fierce competition made securing a position challenging. Still, she persevered and ended up graduating in aeronautic engineering and aircraft design.
Next on her agenda was starting her own company, in particular one that would tackle aviation’s growing contribution to global warming.
Yet again, the doubters emerged, cautioning against the venture: "You have a small probability you will succeed." Nevertheless, Guillotin persisted and proceeded.
Today, that company stands as the three-year-old Beyond Aero, dedicated to developing hydrogen-electric aircraft with a clear aim to provide a sustainable alternative to private jets.
Having set up the company, Guillotin faced the next challenge. New aircraft development is incredibly capital intensive, and Beyond Aero would need investors and partners.
That made her turn to Y Combinator, the California-based incubator renowned for backing and nurturing present-day tech and e-commerce giants like Stripe, AirBnB, Dropbox, and DoorDash, as well as aviation companies such as Heart Aerospace and Boom Supersonic.
The barrier to acceptance, however, is exceptionally high, with less than 1% of applicants making it through. Yet again, Guillotin defied expectations, with Beyond Aero being included in the 2022 cohort.
As a result, while Guillotin acknowledges that the challenges of launching an aviation startup are formidable, with most ideas never advancing past the drawing board, she remains undeterred. In her own words, "I'm completely a believer, and I will not stop to fight."
Beyond Aero's vision: A completely new plane
Guillotin's belief is accompanied by a substantive goal: offering a sustainable aviation solution to a sector ripe for change – business and private jets.
Protestors now make regular appearances at private aircraft terminals, advocating for the complete prohibition of private jets. As Guillotin points out, "one business jet is emitting two tonnes of CO2 an hour, which is crazy."
Beyond Aero, however, is approaching the issue with a different strategy.
The company is designing an entirely new plane for this market, the Beyond Aero One, powered by hydrogen fuel cell technology, capable of covering distances of up to 800 nautical miles, carrying 6-8 passengers. This range opens up possibilities for routes like London to Milan or Barcelona to Rome.
Europe, in fact, serves as Beyond Aero's initial focus. With the company headquarters in Toulouse, Guillotin asserts that "the idea (behind the aircraft) is not to go to a private island for a weekend."
Instead, she envisions the initial market opportunity as involving business shuttle flights between major European economic hubs such as London, Paris, Geneva and Berlin.
The vision of decarbonising business aviation is a compelling one, and so the interest in Beyond Aero is certainly there. The company has secured approximately $616 million in Letters of Intent (LOIs) for roughly 80 aircraft.
But why not take a cheaper and easier-to-certify route of retrofitting existing aircraft, rather than make a completely new one? Here, as well as pointing out certain limitations when it comes to retrofitting, Guillotin also offers a long-term perspective, asking, "Is your definition of success based on 100 years, and not just a few years?"
In essence, the company's mission is to invest in future technologies and aircraft design that make a real leap forward, rather than focusing solely on improving current designs.
The advantage of being based in Europe
It is often said that it takes $1 billion to create a clean-sheet aircraft and take it through the years needed to design, produce, test and certify it. Guillotin would not be drawn into the final sum Beyond Aero will need, except to say that she is optimistic that it might not actually require quite that much.
Guillotin also stresses that there’s more to success than raising cash: “Yes, it’s always a question of money. But not only [money].”
Instead, she points out that if you have “the right team, the right market, the right technology, the right momentum”, then you will succeed in raising enough investment to take you through to commercial launch.
However, she did make the point that being based in Europe as a next-generation aircraft maker offers a number of advantages. In particular, Guillotin says that aviation is one of the last industries, where Europe is not late compared to the East Coast or West Coast of America, or China.
Key to that is a series of grants offered by individual European Governments as well as the European Union. This includes France’s 2030 plan to decarbonise a number of industries, including aviation. Beyond Aero was even cited by France’s President Emmanuel Macron as a national success story in the sector.
In addition, France is taking steps to produce non-fossil fuel hydrogen at scale. As well as green hydrogen, made from renewable energy, this includes pink hydrogen produced from nuclear power. At the same time, the world’s largest white hydrogen (naturally occurring hydrogen) deposit was discovered earlier this year in the Lorraine region of Eastern France.
Finally, there is a lot of work going on in France to make the country’s airports hydrogen-ready. This includes initiatives such as Hydrogen Airport, a joint venture between Paris airport operator Groupe ADP and Air Liquide.
A glimpse of the aircraft
Beyond Aero’s launch aircraft — teased at the Paris Air Show earlier this year — will store gaseous hydrogen in tanks, with multiple fuel cells powering two electric powertrains. A novel cooling system, referred to as the TMS (Thermal Management System), will work in tandem with the fuel cells.
The aircraft's design, including the placement of various components, took over two years to perfect. The result is an aircraft with fuel tanks situated beneath the fuselage, distinctively slender wings with specialised long winglets, and a patented half-moon-shaped air inlet to cool the powertrain.
The aircraft's sleek black exterior is expected to appeal to high-net-worth individuals looking to transition from fossil-fuel-powered private jets.
According to Guillotin, conceptualised designs for the aircraft's interior are also in existence and will be unveiled at a later date.
Finally, while saying that it's too early to commit to a specific timeframe, Guillotin expressed her company's commitment to achieving certification and commencing commercial service within this decade.
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