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Larry Page’s air taxi startup loses one of its main competitors

Kitty Hawk I might have the support of Google’s Larry Page, but that doesn’t mean things are going well. Forbes has learned that Kitty Hawk left key engineer Damon Vander Lind in May after “months” of fighting with Page and CEO Sebastian Thrun over the company’s strategy. Page and Thrun want to build a bigger version of it Heaviside air taxi which autonomously carries two passengers with a remote pilot as a backup, but Vander Lind said it was “too risky.”

There were also accusations that Vander Lind was not receptive to ideas and sometimes hostile to staff, Forbes demanded the sources. Kitty Hawk has also dealt with separate complaints of sexism. An external inquiry did not find any known cases of discrimination, but the company tapped an external consultant to help improve the company’s culture.

The company will partially cover this gap by acquiring 3D Robotics and hiring its co-founder (and former Conducted editor) Chris Anderson as chief. Thrun also said he was taking a much more practical approach to managing Kitty Hawk, including developing the production Heaviside prototype.

The moves could help reinvigorate Kitty Hawk, who axed his original flying car effort in 2020 and fired most of the team from that project. However, it still highlights the challenges the company faces. Now this is a guest of air taxi competitors which could beat the market. And while the two-passenger Heaviside may perform better in certain circumstances (you may not have to wait that long for customers, for example), Kitty Hawk takes a risk hoping officials will approve their mix of automation and remote piloting. In simple terms, the stakes are growing more and more.

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