Martin Aircraft to enter technology-sharing agreement with KuangChi, CEO to step down

Martin Aircraft, the personal jetpack developer, is to enter a technology-sharing agreement with cornerstone shareholder KuangChi Science which will see chief executive Peter Coker step down to take a new role in KuangChi's "Global Community of Innovation" (GCI) and chief financial officer James West promoted as his replacement.

ASX-listed Martin "has been undertaking an in-depth review of the company's progress, in particular, focusing on how best to both progress the path toward commercialisation of the Series 1 Jetpack while effectively managing its cost base," the company said in a statement.

Martin plans to keep costs at bay by joining KuangChi's GCI, which was set up "to create synergy and lower cost" across the Chinese firm's portfolio of technology companies, it said. The GCI is "in essence a group that will explore ways to share services to lower costs and leverage technology across each of the disruptive technology companies within their investment portfolio."

Coker would become vice-president Global Community of Innovators Business Unit at KuangChi, which, in turn, would "assist in the delivery of a number of services to Martin including support in the areas of marketing and investor relations." Each service would be covered by a service level agreement at a reduced cost and help speed Martin's delivery of the Series 1 Jetpack.

Mr West is stepping up to the CEO role effective immediately, although the company is still in talks with him about the terms of his appointment.

In other changes, former PwC partner Hamish Bell will be appointed to Martin's board, while Dennis Chapman and YangYang Zhang will step down and the board will shrink to five directors from seven, it said.

Martin plans to use the Series 1 Jetpack for capability demonstrations to potential customers in 2017, boosting sales and securing further funding for design, development and certification of the Series 2 Jetpack next year, it said.

Last August, Martin reported an annual loss of $5.2 million. The 17-year-old company has said it hopes to make first deliveries in the second half of this year, with a personal jetpack available from the second quarter of 2017.

The machine can be flown by a pilot or remote control and its potential uses include search and rescue, military, recreational, and commercial applications. It can fly for up to 30 minutes at a maximum speed of 74 kilometres an hour at an altitude of 1000 metres.

The Christchurch-based company raised $28 million in an initial public offering on the Australian Securities Exchange in February 2015, which saw Chinese entrepreneurial investor KuangChi Science become the largest shareholder with 22.7%.

Martin Aircraft shares last traded at 46Ac cents, below their 60Ac listing price but ahead of the 40Ac they were sold at in the initial public offering. The stock has fallen 37% this year.


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