By Ian McMurtry
American and Virgin Atlantic commit to zero-emission air taxi
Continuing the recent flood of news from airlines investing in “the future of aviation,” Vertical Aerospace entered the market with its own creation and customers already lining up for the new product. The British company announced that it had acquired an interest in around 1,000 units of its new electric air taxi, as airlines around the world were intrigued by the new type of aircraft.
Vertical Aerospace is a Bristol, UK-based company founded by Stephan Fitzpatrick in 2016. Fitzpatrick has had varying degrees of success with the boom of OVO Energy, an English gas and electricity company, and the failure of Manor Racing, a short year in Formula 1 to save the Marussia Manor Racing team. Following Vertical’s first aircraft, the VA-X2, the company is fully committed to venturing into vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) air taxis, with the next model slated for use in passenger markets, medical care and air freight.
The project, titled VA-X4, will be tested by the European Union Aviation Safety Agency with a planned capacity for four passengers and a single pilot. The light aircraft will have a range of 100 miles and offer a top speed of 202 miles per hour. The aircraft manufacturer has teamed up with his British colleagues at Rolls Royce to develop a low noise, zero emission engine that will be the key to revolutionizing short-haul travel. Vertical says the two propeller engines will also be fitted with four tilt rotors that will reduce sound by 15 decibels compared to the traditional helicopter.
The aircraft manufacturer now also enjoys the support of the commercial market. A commitment from American Airlines for 250 cells and Virgin Atlantic for 150 is announced. Dublin-based leasing company 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 manufacturers, giving the two companies time to see how the upcoming design will work in the air taxi market over London.
Commenting on the airline’s commitment to change, Virgin Atlantic CEO Sai Weiss said, “With sustainability innovation and leadership in our DNA, we are delighted to partner with Vertical Aerospace to launch sustainable, zero-emission air travel in the UK. We pride ourselves on building long-lasting strategic partnerships and are delighted to be working alongside Vertical in their mission to bring eVTOL travel to the UK.
The low-cost airline has struggled to gain local traffic in previous years, but is hoping the addition of the eVTOL model will restructure the way people plan to travel. Virgin noted that the electric plane will cut transit times from Cambridge to Heathrow Airport in London by more than 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 the back of Vertical comes just four months after United and regional partner Mesa Airlines struck a deal with Archer Aviation to help get their powered air taxi off the ground. by battery. The Archer variant can fly 60 miles at 150 miles per hour, with United committing to 200 planes.
As for Vertical’s VA-X4, the company’s self-proclaimed schedule shows that the VA-X4 will begin flight tests later this year. The goal is for the plane to complete its tests in 2024, with deliveries of the new air taxi starting in the following months.