The business case for Martin Jetpack

The business case for Martin Jetpack

The Martin Jetpack will be a game-changer for light aviation and since its unveiling it has generated a lot of press to that end.

But search any articles on the net, and you’ll likely find articles written by geeks excited that their oft-wished-for jetpack has finally arrived or stories of millionaires buying them for their morning commutes. Unfortunately, these articles contain next to no analysis of the significant IP the company is generating nor what the export potential is for the technology beyond being simply expensive toys.

As investors and businesspeople wanting to take NZ Inc. to the world we should be far more excited about the company than we seem to be. With the company heading towards its IPO, here’s four reasons why you should be excited about them and the opportunity their technology offers: 

1) Lower operating costs

- The ducted fan technology and lightweight airframe the company has developed enables far lower operating costs than comparable airborne solutions. The jetpack, with its ability to hover, competes with helicopters, which typically have an hourly operating cost in excess of between $300-$1500 an hour. The company states that they estimate them to be around $125 an hour, running on a mix of normal car petrol and 2 stroke oil, making costs up to 90% lower for certain tasks such as search and rescue and urban surveillance than they would be for a comparable helicopter. While it only flies for half an hour before needing to be refuelled, it still offers an effective range of 50km.

2) Significantly lower training costs

- From the fine print of the Martin Jetpack press release after their 5000ft test flight in 2011, “On average a Jetpack pilot will be trained and competent with only around twenty hours of classroom and flight training, costing just a few thousand dollars. Helicopter pilots, by comparison, take 50 hours of flight time and many more hours of classroom training, costing tens of thousands of dollars. That means, in a rescue service for example, rather than having a single dedicated pilot, every member of a team could be trained and competent in a Jetpack”.

3) Safe urban airborne transport

- As the world urbanises and traffic increases in cities, having airborne mobility solutions that are deemed safe (or of comparable safety to a helicopter, which are currently permitted for use in many urban areas) will be a fast growing market. The ducted fans on the jetpack eliminate the biggest risk associated with helicopters, rotor strike, meaning they’re far safer to operate in urban areas and safer for bystanders. Further, their smaller airframes allow them to navigate into smaller openings than are currently possible, allowing them to land on roads and alleys where helicopters currently cannot reach. While Martin Aircraft does not currently offer an enclosed version of the aircraft, it is unrealistic to think that this is not in the product pipeline, in which case these will be able compete directly with helicopters as an all-weather urban transport option.

4) UAV technology

- The company states that it is also developing unmanned aerial versions of its flying platform. While many other ‘drone’ surveillance platforms being developed, few (if any) offer the lifting capacity (upwards of 100kg) of the Martin aircraft. This enables it to be used for jobs that are either currently fulfilled by helicopters like short distance aerial transport and cinema camera quality aerial shooting, while also being used for jobs currently considered too expensive for helicopters. 

In short, the company is competing with the low-end, light-lifting tasks that are currently performed by helicopters and non consumption (areas where helicopters would be good, but currently cost too much) - and that’s a far bigger market than as a fancy commuter vehicle. 

Glenn Martin has stated that the main breakthrough he has managed in the 20 years of research and development is to develop a torque-neutral ducted fan (in other words, it doesn’t spin like a helicopter, requiring counter balancing). While it doesn’t sound sexy, it is more efficient than a helicopter rotor enabling the whole airframe to be smaller and lighter, as well as minimising many of the risks associated with low level flight. Like the development of the Hamilton Jet led to the development of jetboats and PWC’s, this technology will enable the development of whole new classes of craft. 

This is not a story about rich people and their flying machines. The company is based in Christchurch with NZ suppliers using NZ expertise and technology. It is, and can be, NZ Inc’s next big export story. Let’s make sure that the opportunity to capture as much of this value as possible does not go to waste. 

Oliver Bruce also writes about other developments in disruptive innovations in transport at asymoto.tumblr.com.