Virgin Atlantic Works With Bristol Start-Up On ‘Flying Taxis’

Virgin Atlantic has formed a deal with Bristol-based Vertical Aerospace to explore building “flying taxis” to take passengers from regional towns to major airports.

Vertical Aerospace has also clinched backing from American Airlines and Microsoft ahead of plans for a public listing in New York.

Virgin has an option to pre-order up to 150 of Vertical Aerospace’s VA-X4 vertical-takeoff units, which use electric power and are designed to be “near silent” when cruising, according to the company.

American Airlines and Dublin-based aircraft leasing company Avolon also have pre-order options. The pre-orders depend on certain conditions and milestones, including certification by aviation safety regulators.

A concept image of the VA-X4. Image credit: Vertical Aerospace

Zero-emissions prototype

A prototype of the VA-X4, which is intended to have a range of more than 100 miles, is in production and Vertical Aerospace is planning the first test flight for later this year.

“Electrification will transform flying in the 21st century in the same way the jet engine did 70 years ago,” said Vertical Aerospace chief executive and co-founder Stephen Fitzpatrick in a statement.

The company includes former executives from Rolls-Royce, Jaguar Land Rver and the UK Ministry of Defence in its engineering team.

Microsoft’s venture capital subsidiary and Rocket Internet also have stakes in the business.

Vertical Aerospace said it plans to use partnerships with Rolls-Royce and Honeywell, among others, to achieve certification from the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) and enable production at scale. It hopes to begin commercial flights in 2024.

American Airlines said it hopes to use electric aircraft such as the VA-X4 to reduce carbon emissions.

‘Air taxi’

In the UK, Virgin Atlantic said it is exploring a plan that would allow passengers to be picked up from designated spots in regional cities and transported to major airports such as Heathrow.

The VA-X4 could theoretically carry up to four passengers, plus a pilot.

Virgin Atlantic said there are 37 towns and cities with populations over 100,000 within 100 miles of Heathrow alone.

“The VA-X4 offers huge potential to support zero emissions short haul transfers for 7.7 million customers outside of London,” the company said in a statement.

Vertical Aerospace said last week it plans to float on the New York Stock Exchange following a merger with Broadstone Acquisition, a special purpose acquisition company (SPAC), which values the firm at $2.2 billion (£1.6bn). The deal is expected to close in the second half of this year.

Matthew Broersma

Matt Broersma is a long standing tech freelance, who has worked for Ziff-Davis, ZDnet and other leading publications

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