Hybrid-electric developer Aura Aero is embarking on a second financing round to keep on track a plan to deliver its 19-seat hybrid Electric Regional Aircraft, or ERA, by 2028. The Toulouse-based company has already raised €55 million ($59 million) since its founding five years ago and needs roughly the same amount to complete the certification campaign as well as build a new factory at the city’s former military air base at Francazal.


Source: Aura Aero

Republic Airways is the latest airline to signal interest in the ERA, which is scheduled to fly in 2026

It comes after US commuter airline Republic Airways became the latest potential customer to signal interest in the ERA, announcing on 6 November that it is to become a “strategic advisor” on the programme. Indianapolis-based Republic is not yet committing to purchasing the aircraft. However, the Embraer E170/175 operator’s move is significant as it is a key partner for all three US majors, and an order would open the door of the massive US regional market.

Other declared customers include Maltese private aviation operator Elit’Avia, which at June’s Paris air show added eight aircraft to a 20-unit order made in 2022. Elit’Avia will configure the aircraft in a nine-seat VIP layout and plans to fly its ERAs in the USA. Agreements from France’s Pan Europeenne Air Service – which has signed for four aircraft – and Asian Aerospace of the Philippines, for three, have boosted what Aura Aero claims is now a 350-strong list of commitments and letters of intent.

Along with the likes of Heart Aerospace and Jekta, Aura Aero is hoping to disrupt regional air transport with an all-new 19-seat electric aircraft. In a market once dominated by the Beechcraft 1900, De Havilland Canada Twin Otter, Dornier 228, and Fairchild Metroliner “there has been no innovation for 40 years”, according to Aura founder and chief executive Jeremy Caussade, a former Airbus executive, who set up the company with two colleagues in 2018.

Aura has taken a different route to many of its peers. As well as the ERA, Aura has dipped its toes in aircraft production with a much more conventional design, albeit one that will eventually also be electrically powered. The two-seat Integral – which comes in trainer S and aerobatic R variants – has been in build since 2019. Following certification, the R is expected to go into service with flying clubs in Dijon and Midi Pyrenees in early 2024. The S will follow about six months later.

This means that, unlike most so-called advanced air mobility (AAM) players who are yet to assemble aircraft in volume, Aura is already a functioning manufacturer. It has more than 200 employees and a bustling factory in a refurbished pre-war military hangar, which it moved into in 2020. An assembly line features several Integral models in various stages of production and is surrounded by workshops where carpenters shape the trainer’s wooden frame. A mezzanine level houses design offices.

Integral Final Assembly Line©AURA AERO

Source: Aura Aero

Integral models on the Francazal assembly line

While Aura’s progress in five years has been impressive, its story has been marred by tragedy. The Integral’s flight test campaign was put on hold for a year after the R prototype crashed in April 2022 on a sortie from Saint-Girons airfield, south of Toulouse, killing both pilots. After a report by French air safety investigative agency BEA made several recommendations on design changes, flying resumed earlier this year, with the first S example joining it in flight testing in July.

In October, Aura added European Union Aviation Safety Agency Part 21J industrial design approval to its Part 21G (manufacturing) certificate obtained in 2021. This gives the company full manufacturing authority. Within two years, Aura hopes to be producing aircraft in more modern surroundings, with work due to begin on a 20,000sq m (215,000sq ft) factory on the airport next year. Scheduled to open in late 2025, it will have a capacity of 150 Integral and ERA aircraft a year.

AURA Factory ©Brunerie

Source: Aura Brunerie

An artist’s impression of the new factory, work on which is due to begin in 2024

While Aura aims to have the ERA ready for its maiden flight in 2026, the company’s first electric type to take to the skies will be the Integral E, a variant it debuted at the Paris air show in June. The business is still working with Safran to certificate the aircraft’s electric motor. However, Aura hopes to have the Integral E flying before the end of the year, with certification targeted for the first quarter of 2025.


Source: Aura Aero

Aura displayed the Integral E at Paris and plans to fly it this year

At Paris, Aura announced a memorandum of understanding with Airbus Flight Academy Europe (AFAE), a subsidiary of the airframer that provides basic instruction for pilots destined for the French air force and navy. Under the MoU, the school will “collaborate on the initial development” of the Integral E. AFAE chief executive Jean Longobardi said at the time that the aircraft could help it achieve its objective of operating a low-carbon fleet by 2030.

Aura’s signature project, however, remains the ERA. In May, the company revealed further details on the design. The aluminium-fuselage and carbonfibre-wing aircraft will have eight electric motors – a previous iteration had six – and a T tail. The aim is to have it certificated as a CS-23 category, commuter-class aircraft, with a maximum take-off weight of 8.6t. The eight motors will be powered by twin turbogenerators, and four battery packs, giving it a range of 900nm (1,670km).

Industrial partners include Safran Helicopter Engines, which will supply the ERA’s turbogenerator. Sister business Safran Electrical & Power is working on other electrical equipment, including motors. Meanwhile, earlier this year, Aura signed an agreement with fellow French company Thales to develop a “new generation connected avionics solution, adapted to electric and hybrid regional aviation”.

The ERA will be a hybrid rather than exclusively electric aircraft and Caussade is adamant that full electric is some way off being feasible for an aircraft this size, even if the batteries are doing most of the heavy lifting. With a 1h flight requiring at least a 45min safety margin, a tank of kerosene can supply that additional power, but “it would be a huge problem” for an aircraft reliant solely on batteries, he argues. “In 20 years, full electric might arrive,” he adds. “But for now, it is impossible.”

He admits that infrastructure remains a challenge for the electric-aircraft sector as few airports, particularly those in remote areas, are yet equipped with charging points, and this is where the ERA’s ability to fly using conventional fuel will also come in handy, at least in the short term. However, he believes that the electric revolution could be an impetus for small, independent airfields, who sometimes struggle to get regular deliveries of aviation fuel, to invest in charging facilities.

Aura has had to fish in the same investment pond as all its AAM peers, and, while financiers have been captivated by the promise of disruptive sustainable air transport, delays in bringing designs to market and the sheer number of competing start-ups has led to a dip in interest, as seen by the share prices of several electric vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) pioneers since they went public (although some values have recovered as prototypes have begun to fly).

Caussade believes investors are starting to look more favorably at the fixed-wing, short take-off and landing AAM segment as an alternative to eVTOL air taxis or urban air mobility (UAM). “Public support for sustainable regional air transport is huge, and there will be a turning point,” he says. “UAM is a bubble. It’s a niche of the helicopter market, so a niche of a niche. As long as we are progressing and consuming far less money than UAM, the mood will change.”

The success of the company’s upcoming appeal for fresh investment, as it looks to take the major step to certification and volume production in a new factory, could prove if that optimism holds true.