Virgin Atlantic looking at ‘flying taxi’ partnership for VTOL vehicles for transport to large airports
Virgin Atlantic is exploring whether it could launch a flying taxi VTOL service as part of a partnership with Bristol-based Vertical Aerospace. Virgin suggests electric vertical take-off and landing vehicles (eVTOL) could fly from towns like Cambridge to major airports, such as Heathrow, Gatwick and Manchester – to save passengers the bother of getting there by surface transport. Vertical Aerospace is conducting test flights of its aircraft this year, but it can see challenges ahead. The proposed VA-X4 aircraft will be able to carry 4 passengers and a pilot up to 100 miles. They claim they will be low carbon (depending on the electricity used) and not too noisy – or at least, less noisy than a helicopter. They say it will be “near silent” when cruising though the “rotors and wings would still make noise in forward flight”. Vertical Aerospace has already partnered with American Airlines and Avolon, an aircraft-leasing company. These would not be mini air taxis to ferry passengers from one skyscraper to another, which would require new air-traffic control technology, public acceptance of the noise and safety aspects of more aircraft in cities, and regulatory change – which could be years away.
Virgin Atlantic explores ‘flying taxi’ partnership
Virgin Atlantic is exploring whether it could launch a flying taxi service as part of a partnership with Bristol-based Vertical Aerospace.
The airline suggests electric vertical take-off and landing vehicles (eVTOL) could fly from towns to major airports.
Vertical Aerospace is conducting test flights of its aircraft this year.
One expert said the proposal was “less radical” than those of other air taxi companies, but argued there would be challenges ahead.
What is the idea?
Several companies have promoted the idea of autonomous “flying taxis” that could pick passengers up from rooftops in city centres and take them wherever they would like to go.
Virgin Atlantic’s suggestion is slightly tamer.
It has proposed that an eVTOL aircraft could pick people up from a city such as Cambridge and fly them to a major airport such as London Heathrow.
Vertical Aerospace says its VA-X4 craft will be able to carry four passengers and a pilot up to 100 miles, as well as being emissions-free and quieter than a helicopter.
In fact the company claims it will be “near silent” when cruising. It has already partnered with American Airlines and Avolon, an aircraft-leasing company.
Is it feasible?
“There’s a lot of hype in this market,” Vertical Aerospace president Michael Cervenka told the BBC.
“We have taken the approach that is pushing the bounds of what is available in terms of technology, but not going beyond.”
With a 15m (49ft) wingspan, the aircraft would have to fly to and from designated spots such as helipads or regional airports.
As with any other aircraft, the VA-X4 will be subjected to strict safety and regulatory checks.
Dr Guy Gratton, associate professor of aviation and the environment at Cranfield University, said Slovenia’s Pipistrel Velis gave a good indication of what a modern electric plane could achieve.
“The Velis will carry two people, half a toothbrush and fly for about an hour-and-a-quarter. That is a conventional aeroplane and thus pretty efficient compared to anything with vertical take-off and landing,” he explained.
While the VA-X4 will be quieter than a helicopter, the “rotors and wings would still make noise in forward flight”, he added.
Mr Cervenka expects it will sound no louder than a refrigerator from the ground, when cruising overhead.
He said the company’s goals could be achieved with today’s technology rather than hoping for the invention of a “magical new battery”.
But more lavish visuals of air taxis carrying passengers from one skyscraper to another would require new air-traffic control technology, public acceptance of more aircraft in cities, improvements in automation and regulatory change that could be a decade away.
On Thursday, Vertical Aerospace announced plans for the company to be floated on the New York stock exchange after a merger with Broadstone, in a deal valuing the company at $2.2bn (£1.6bn).
Vertical Aerospace secures ‘flying taxi’ orders from Virgin and American Airlines following $2bn Broadstone merger
The company is planning to work with Virgin Atlantic to launch its electric aircraft at UK airport hubs including Heathrow
By Hannah Baker, Bristol Post Business Editor (Business Live)
15 JUN 2021
Bristol-based Vertical Aerospace has agreed to be taken over by Broadstone Acquisition Corp
Bristol’s Vertical Aerospace has announced 1,000 pre-orders for its all-electric ‘flying taxis’ after confirming it will become publicly traded on the New York Stock Exchange.
The aerospace firm, which is developing an all-electric aircraft, confirmed the merger with special purpose acquisition company Broadstone Acquisition Corp in a deal valuing the company at nearly $2bn (£1.4bn).
The transaction with Broadstone – a US ‘blank cheque’ company owned by business tycoon Hugh Osmond – is expected to close in the second half of 2021.
Vertical Aerospace said it had already received pre-orders from Dublin-based aircraft leasing company Avolon and American Airlines, and a pre-order option from Virgin Atlantic, worth $4bn.
The business has also secured investment from Microsoft’s venture capital fund M12, American Airlines, Avolon, Honeywell and Rolls-Royce. European Internet company Rocket Internet and 40 North – a related investment business of Standard Industries – also have a stake in the company.
Mr Osmond, chairman of Broadstone, said: “Transportation is one of the next big sectors of the global economy to be disrupted at scale.
“Vertical has a clear commercial plan to challenge short-haul air travel, and to create new markets where neither cars nor public transport can cope with demand.”
Vertical Aerospace is planning to develop and launch a Virgin Atlantic-branded short-haul electric vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) network in the UK. The partnership includes an option for Virgin Atlantic to acquire up to 150 eVTOL VA-X4 aircraft.
According to Shai Weiss, Virgin Atlantic’s chief executive, the joint venture will see the launch of electric vehicles at UK airport hubs, including London Heathrow, Manchester and Gatwick.
Vertical Aerospace said it would also work with American Airlines on passenger operations and infrastructure development in the US.
Derek Kerr, chief financial officer of American Airlines, said emerging technologies were “critical” in the race to reduce carbon emissions.
“For years, American has led the industry in investing in newer, more fuel-efficient aircraft,” he said. “[This] partnership is another example of that commitment, and an investment in the future of air mobility.”
Vertical Aerospace is targeting profitability and cash flow breaking even with annual sales of fewer than 100 aircraft.
The business said it had assembled an in-house engineering team with backgrounds from senior levels of Rolls-Royce, Airbus, UK Ministry of Defence, Jaguar Land Rover and General Dynamics.
What is Vertical Aerospace?
Stephen Fitzpatrick, founder of Ovo Energy, established Vertical Aerospace in 2016 (Image: Douglas Fry). Vertical Aerospace was founded in 2016 by Ovo Energy boss Stephen Fitzpatrick to develop the world’s first all-electric vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) aircraft.
According to the business, which unveiled its designs last year, the vehicle will be able to carry four passengers for 120 miles at speeds of more than 200mph.
The aircraft is currently in development, with flight testing expected to take place this year, followed by certification in 2024 and initial commercial services starting shortly afterwards.
Stephen Fitzpatrick, Vertical chief executive and founder, said: “This is the most exciting time in aviation for almost a century; electrification will transform flying in the 21st century in the same way the jet engine did 70 years ago.
“[The] announcement brings together some of the largest and most respected technology and aeronautical businesses in the world and together we can achieve our aim of making the VA-X4 the first zero carbon aircraft that most people will fly on.
“The United Kingdom is already a global leader in aerospace innovation and we believe Vertical Aerospace will be the British engineering champion to drive the aviation industry forward.”
The manufacturer, which has said previously that assembly will take place in the UK, has already flown multiple full-scale prototypes.