Tech – Regent: Regent is a developer of an electric boat-flying machine designed to offer fast, safe, and low-cost coastal transportation. Regent builds seagliders, a new category of electric vehicle that operates exclusively over the water that aims to drastically reduce the time and cost of moving people and goods between coastal cities. Seagliders can travel up to 180 miles on existing battery technology and up to 500 miles with next-generation batteries, using existing dock infrastructure.
Non-Tech – Japan Airlines Group (JAL Group): Japan Airlines Group is an international air transport services company. It offers scheduled and non-scheduled air transport services and aerial work services. The company operates large, medium-size, and small aircraft, and regional jets. The company’s route network comprises over 60 countries and regions and connects over 411 cities. Japan Airlines Group sees annual traffic of 22.4 million passengers. The company has been awarded as one of the most punctual major international airlines and a certified 5-Star Airline by Skytrax, the world's largest airline and airport review and ranking company.
Note – to see all the other “Techquisition” deals that were announced globally in January 2023, you can access them here.
Founded in 2020, Regent develops all-electric, zero-emission seagliders for sustainable maritime transportation that combines the high speed of an aeroplane with the low operating cost of a boat.
Regent is also backed by Thiel Capital, Y Combinator, Founders Fund, and Mark Cuban.
The Regent seagliders will initially carry 12 passengers in a standard seating configuration with a follow-on seaglider model which is aimed to carry 50 or more passengers.
The company has sold over 400 seagliders to global aviation and ferry customers including Mokulele Airlines, Southern Airways Express, FRS (Germany), and Ocean Flyer (New Zealand) with over $7.5 billion in orders from commercial operating partners globally.
Regional aviation provider, Mesa Air Group announced that it plans to purchase 200 of the company’s 12-passenger seagliders to establish new city-to-city direct routes on the coasts.
One of the biggest challenges that electric aircraft manufacturers face in terms of long-distance flights is the low energy density of batteries. Current technology requires electric batteries that weigh 30x more than their current fuel intake to achieve the range of distances covered by fossil fuels.
However, Regent's seagliders are intended to serve as an alternative to flights, ferries, and trains for regional travel between coastal cities that are relatively close in distance and have a longer range than an electric aircraft due to its proximity to the water while flying.
Moreover, Regent’s low-altitude operations mean it doesn’t have to face the stringent regulatory hindrances airlines face.
Multimodal trips are common and the company’s fast-flying seagliders present an opportunity to enhance regional trip legs by replacing or providing an alternative to inconvenient, slow, congested, and/or environmentally inefficient existing modalities (see image below).
“This strategic investment speaks to the growing adoption of seaglider technology by major airlines. At Regent, we’re at the helm of ushering in a completely new era in sustainable transportation, and JAL Innovation Fund’s investment gives us the resources and support that we need to unveil an innovative approach for regional travel at lower costs, faster speeds, and zero emissions.”
- Billy Thalheimer, Co-founder, and CEO of Regent
Japan Airlines’ focus is to solve social issues and achieve sustainable development goals through its business activities.
In its rolling plan 2022, a revision of the medium-term management plan, the company has positioned ESG strategies as its medium- to long-term growth strategy.
JAL has put ESG strategy at the core and aims to achieve net zero CO2 emissions by 2050. The company steadily upgraded its fleet to low-carbon aircraft such as the Airbus A350 during the pandemic and expects that 50% of the carbon reductions by 2050 will be achieved through upgrades to fuel-efficient aircraft.
Source: JAL Group Medium Term Management Plan FY2021-2025
The company established JAL Innovation Lab in 2018 to push the innovation frontier of the airline business and realise untapped business opportunities. It aims to build a comprehensive air mobility platform.
The medium-term goal of JAL Group is to establish an operation platform business and expand the air mobility market. As a result, the company has been conducting trials of drones and various other activities with the goal to commercialise drones by FY2023.
JAL has been actively participating in drone Proof of Concept flight tests in remote islands and urban areas and eVTOL studies to turn them into businesses. The company intends to generate new revenue streams through air mobility and create a sustainable society for all by launching a drone business in 2023 and an air taxi business in 2025.
Source: JAL Group Integrated Report, March 2022
In 2020, through its innovation fund, Japan Airlines invested in three mobility technology companies – Volocopter, Bestsmile, and Fetch Robotics, to develop and market next-generation transportation technology.
In October 2021, Japan Airlines announced a strategic partnership with Avolon to lease or purchase up to 100 of Vertical Aerospace’s VA-X4 eVTOL aircraft laying the groundwork for Japan's air mobility revolution.
The company is constantly preparing to solve logistics issues in remote islands and mountainous areas where access to medical care and shopping is limited, as well as to transport emergency relief supplies in the event of a disaster.
Japan Airlines plans to use its expertise in the air transportation industry to paint a picture in which drones and eVTOLs play an active role in society, based on a flight management framework and system, and will take the lead in new markets.
With the goal of creating a world where different types of air mobility can move around, the company intends to develop a platform that supports safe and smooth operations, allowing more operators to enter the air mobility market while ensuring safety.
The investment in Regent serves as a first step in the exploration of incorporating seagliders into JAL Group’s global network and highlights its commitment to sustainable transportation.
Along with the investment, Regent will work with JAL to explore opportunities for ecosystem development, bringing together relevant stakeholders to deliver the benefits of seagliders to new and underserved markets.
The deal rationale revolves around JAL’s plan to leverage Regent's strong technological capabilities in regional coastal transportation which will add significant value to this partnership by contributing to its sustainability and air mobility goals.
“We are very pleased to make this investment in REGENT from our CVC, JAL Innovation Fund. We believe seagliders are a safe, sustainable, and economical solution and we are excited to work with REGENT to assess demand not only in Japan but around the world. We are delighted to add seagliders to JAL’s list of new challenges and are honoured to work with REGENT to explore the possibilities of seagliders.”
- Yasushi Noda, Senior Vice President of Japan Airlines
One of the reasons JAL Group, and many of its peers, are so interested in the electric aircraft market is the growth expected – the electric aircraft market is estimated to grow from ca. $8 billion in 2021 to $28 billion by 2030 (CAGR of 14.8%).
The global aviation industry accounts for approximately 2% of all CO2 emissions caused by humans. These figures are expected to rise even further as the global aircraft fleet size and air travel increase.
Organizations and governing bodies such as the International Civil Aviation Organization, the Federal Aviation Administration, and the European Union Aviation Safety Agency have called for more sustainable aircraft fuel alternatives, estimating that aircraft-generated emissions will triple by 2050.
The logistics industry is also concerned about the emissions produced by cargo planes and is racing towards zero-emission logistics.
To reduce their carbon footprint, logistics stakeholders are investing in electric modes of transportation. As a result, the use of all-electric aircraft in logistics opens up new opportunities for electric aircraft manufacturers. Because of the rise of e-commerce, the global volume is expected to rise.
Airbus, Eviation, Zunum Aero, and Pipistrel, among others, see the need for cleaner aircraft as a major opportunity in the near future. As a result, the need for environmentally friendly air travel is a major driver of the electric aircraft market.
As environmental impact grows in importance for operators and society, more efficient modes of transportation are needed to support both a greener and increasingly interconnected future.
Electric aircraft have the potential to disrupt several aspects of the transportation industry.
It offers a new mode of transportation for urban areas, providing fast and convenient air transport for short distances, reducing travel time and traffic congestion.
As these aircraft are powered by electricity, they are significantly more sustainable than traditional aircraft, which are powered by fossil fuels.
Seagliders will combine modern technology, unique design characteristics, and underutilized infrastructure into an environmentally and economically compelling part of these networks.
The techquisition investment into Regent completely aligns with JAL Group’s commitment to minimise environmental impacts and realise sustainable transportation for the future.
The deal should help enable JAL Group to seamlessly integrate technology in selected solutions to expand its sustainable offerings.
“Next-generation air mobility represented by drones and eVTOLs will not only contribute to environmentally friendly logistics and transportation infrastructure but also help create a disaster-resistant and resilient society through prompt emergency transportation of relief personnel and relief supplies and also revitalize communities through the provision of new services”
- Yasushi Noda, Senior Vice President of Japan Airlines
JAL Group’s techquisition investment is a great example of how a traditional business in the aviation industry is actively engaged in the journey of transforming itself to deliver greater value to its stakeholders by properly positioning itself for the future, ready to tackle disruptions.
The essence of such a transformation unfolding is embedded in a strategy execution approach we have trademarked and call Techquisition, which my firm, Aquaa Partners, has designed and delivers to its clients every day as an experienced and trusted expert partner.