Jetpack company flies closer to IPO lift-off

TIM HUNTER
Last updated 05:00 01/03/2011
FLYING MULE: Martin Aircraft chief executive Richard Lauder in its Christchurch workshop with the jetpack, which has attracted  military interest.
The Press
FLYING MULE: Martin Aircraft chief executive Richard Lauder in its Christchurch workshop with the jetpack, which has attracted military interest.

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The public may get a chance to back world class Kiwi technology in the next three months if a planned float of Christchurch aero-engineering firm Martin Aircraft Company takes off.

The company has gained global attention with demonstrations of its innovative jetpack, a personal flying machine capable of transporting a person 50km at speeds of 100km/h, and reaching an altitude of 2500m.

Founder and inventor Glenn Martin said it had always been his vision to float the company on the sharemarket.

``We've been talking to the brokers and talking around the markets and appointed people to look at the process, so we're pretty serious about it,'' he said.

Although it had yet to earn revenue, Martin Aircraft had the requirements for investment, he said.

``You need [a product] nobody else has got, which we've got; you need [intellectual property] protection, which we've done worldwide; you need proof of concept it's actually going to work, well we've flown this thing 3500 times and it blows away any aviation engineer or aerodynamicist who comes, they're just stunned by it; and then you need a large market, there's not much point if you're only going to sell five.

``And that's the last part that's come to us over the last 18 months. We have expressions of interest now for over 6000 aircraft.''

Chief executive and co-investor Richard Lauder said the company was actively working on an initial public offer. ``We're heavily in process -  a bit disrupted in the last week, but we've appointed financial advisers and lawyers, putting marketing plans in place.

``The exact timing is yet to be determined, but likely to be May/June.''

The amount of money to be raised is not confirmed, but likely to be between $8 million and $20m, with about 25-30 per cent of the company on offer.

The business came through the earthquake relatively unscathed, although no-one was at work last week as staff looked after their personal concerns.

``The building here seems ok,'' said Lauder. ``One of the jetpacks fell over and bent an arm. The guys are out tidying up now. Pretty much by the end of the day we'll have tidied up.

``The main concern for me is how our supply network is holding up. We have critical companies that integrate into our development programme and I don't know what their status is. So if our composite supplier is down, we're stuffed in terms of moving forward - they're in here every week modifying parts. It's not just us, it's a bigger group of organisations.''

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The status of supplies should be clearer by the end of the week, he said.

The Martin jetpack has three versions - a recreational version designed to meet US federal aviation regulations, a government/military version with higher specs and longer range, and an unmanned version.

``In simple terms it's like a flying mule,'' said Lauder, ``something that can carry 120kg  and move it 50km. That's where we've got quite a lot of military interest.''

The manned government services version, for search and rescue, border patrol or emergency response  had the next largest market demand, he said.

Both had potential applications in a major event such as the Christchurch quake.

``In terms of the earthquake here it would have been good for rapid inspection - things like the big hotel that's on a lean, you can fly up the windows and have a look in if you have a jetpack.

``But probably a more likely application is an unmanned aircraft where you can haul people out off the top of structures and things like that - basically they can step on some sort of hanging rope underneath it and just be pulled out, because we can lift 120-130kg.''

The Martin jetpack has been in development for 30 years and has been backed since 2003 by investment from venture capital firm No 8 Ventures.

Lauder said a New Zealand sharemarket float was being considered for both patriotic and pragmatic reasons.

``We've got to acknowledge the support we've had from the government and various government agencies over the last 10 years with grants and our relationship with the universities, free labour from students and professors. It's patriotic but it's also an ethical position.

``The other thing is it's a lot easier to raise money close to home. If we go and ask Americans for example to invest in a company in Christchurch, we already know it turns them off. If they can't kick the tyres it's too far away.

``It's easier to connect to the New Zealand public, talk a New Zealand story. We can do roadshows across the country very easily, but we can't do roadshows in other countries very easily. So there's a practical side to it as well.''

A local float should be good for the market, he said. ``There's unfortunately a lot of negativity in our community - people will find reason why not, as opposed to finding reasons why.

``But we have to work through that. There will be people who believe in our story and those who don't. What we have to do over the next three or four months is present our story and the technology to as many people as possible.''

- BusinessDay.co.nz

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