By Ian McMurtry
American and Virgin Atlantic Commit to Zero-Emission Air Taxi
Continuing the recent flood of news of airlines investing in “the future of aviation,” Vertical Aerospace has entered the market with its own creation and customers already lining up for the new product. The English company has announced that it has acquired interest for roughly 1,000 units of its new electric air taxi, with airlines across the globe intrigued by the new aircraft type.
Vertical Aerospace is a Bristol, UK-based firm founded by Stephan Fitzpatrick back in 2016. Fitzpatrick has come off varied success with the boom of OVO Energy, an English gas and electricity firm, and the failed prospect of Manor Racing, a short one-year stint in Formula One to save the Marussia Manor Racing team. Following Vertical’s first aircraft, the VA-X2, the firm fully committed to venturing into vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) air taxis with the next model being planned for uses in the passenger, medical and air cargo markets.
The project, titled the VA-X4, will be tested by the European Union Aviation Safety Agency with a planned capacity for four passengers and a single pilot. The lightweight aircraft will come with a range of 100 miles and offer a top speed of 202 miles per hour. The aircraft manufacturer has teamed up with fellow Brits in Rolls Royce to develop a low-noise, zero-emission engine that will be the key in revolutionizing short-haul travel. Vertical says that the two propeller engines will also come with four tilting rotors that will reduce sound by 15 decibels compared to the traditional helicopter.
Now the aircraft builder has the backing of the commercial market as well. Announced is a commitment from American Airlines for 250 airframes and Virgin Atlantic for 150. Dublin-based leasing firm Avolon has also signed up for 500 aircraft, expecting the Vertical model to live up to its expectations. Virgin has agreed to a joint venture with the builders, giving both companies time to see how the upcoming design will operate in the air taxi market over London.
Commenting on the airline’s commitment to change, Virgin Atlantic CEO Sai Weiss said, “With innovation and sustainability leadership firmly in our DNA, we are excited to be partnering with Vertical Aerospace to pioneer sustainable and zero emissions air travel in the UK. We pride ourselves on building enduring strategic partnerships and are thrilled to be working alongside Vertical in its mission to bring eVTOL travel to the UK.”
The low-cost airline has struggled to win over local traffic in years prior but hopes that the addition of the eVTOL model will restructure the way people think about traveling. Virgin noted that the electric aircraft will reduce transit times from Cambridge to London’s Heathrow Airport by over an hour and has the potential to offer zero-emission transfers for 7.7 million passengers in the London area.
Across the pond, American’s move to back Vertical comes just four months after United and its regional partner Mesa Airlines struck a deal with Archer Aviation to help get their battery-powered air taxi airborne. The Archer variant can travel 60 miles at 150 miles per hour with United making a commitment for 200 aircraft.
As for Vertical’s VA-X4, the company’s self-proclaimed timetable shows that the VA-X4 will begin flight testing later this year. The goal is for the aircraft to complete its testing in 2024, with deliveries of the new air taxi starting in the months following.