eVTOL startup Volant grounded as former partner files lawsuit over stake dispute

In China's nascent and small eVTOL space, where practically most entrepreneurs know each other, the volume of lawsuits against Volant is rare.

Volant (沃兰特), an eVTOL startup, has become yet again the target of a lawsuit for allegedly violating commercial confidentiality and intellectual property rights, Chinese media reported today.

The suit was filed by Song Pengchen, former partner responsible for government relations at Shanghai-based Volant.

The lawsuit is the latest in a series of incidents that cast gloom over the startup’s future, such as the crash of its prototype VE25 in early June this year.

Rumors had it that Volant took a reckless move to fly its VE25 model before even an airframe test.

Volant blamed the crash on the parties supplying it with the aircraft’s hull.

Song was a co-founder of Volant, involved in team-building and fundraising for the firm.

Bad blood

He reportedly sued Volant for being denied ownership stakes. Information from Qichacha, a business data search service provider, shows that Song isn’t a shareholder of the company.

Song is not the only former executive who turned against their former employer.

Following the crash in June, the directors responsible for kinematics, flight control and aircraft architecture also quit their jobs at the company, media reported.

The most high-profile resignee is Dang Tiehong, formerly chief technology officer of Volant, who left this year to found his own eVTOL company Range Aviation (览翌航空).

Range’s one-third prototype is now undergoing test flight. Industry observers pointed out that it is similar in appearance to Volant’s earlier aircraft on a reduced scale.

In recent months, Volant is said to be mired in troubles, most notably a cash flow crunch. The company reportedly has sought to borrow money against intellectual property rights as collateral.

Volume of lawsuits

In China’s nascent and small eVTOL space, where practically most entrepreneurs know each other, the volume of lawsuits against Volant is rare.

On October 26 last year, AutoFlight (峰飞航空科技), also an eVTOL firm based in Shanghai, announced that it had sued Dong Ming, founder and CEO of Volant, for breaches of commercial confidentiality.

AutoFlight again took Volant to court on June 28 this year, accusing the latter of patent infringement.

Dong, a former employee at AutoFlight, signed a non-compete agreement when he resigned.

Before AutoFlight, he had stints at AVIC, General Electric and Rockwell Collins Aerospace and is an expert on aircraft integration technology.

Dong is said to have sparked resentment and triggered mass departures within Volant because of his militant management style.

However, he dismissed the criticism, saying domestic eVTOL rivals were prematurely obsessed with the goal to undercut competition.

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Ni Tao

Ni Tao is the founder and editor-in-chief of cnrobopedia. Prior to cnrobopedia, he had a full decade of experience with a major state-run English-language newspaper as a tech reporter and opinion writer. He is also a communications specialist, having provided consultancy services to established firms like Siemens, Philips, ABinBev, Diageo, Trip.com Group (Nasdaq: TCOM, HK: 9961), Jianpu Technology (NYSE: JT) and a handful of domestic startups. A graduate of Fudan University, he writes widely about China's business and tech scenes and other topics for global publications including South China Morning Post, SupChina, The Diplomat, CGTN, Banking Technology, among others, and tries to impart his experience to students at Fudan University Journalism School, where he is a part-time lecturer. When he's not writing about robotics, you can expect him to be on his beloved Yanagisawa saxophones, trying to play some jazz riffs, often in vain and occasionally against the protests of an angry neighbor. Get in touch with him by dropping a line at nitao0927@gmail.com.

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