Flying taxis to take flight in mid-2020s, UK’s Vertical Aerospace says

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LONDON (Reuters) – Tired of traffic jams? Imagine a world where your taxi takes off and lands on top of your office building, recharges and leaves.

Vertical Aerospace CEO Stephen Fitzpatrick poses for a photo in London, Britain October 12, 2021. Photo taken October 12, 2021. REUTERS / Hannah McKay

That’s the vision of Stephen Fitzpatrick, founder and CEO of UK-based Vertical Aerospace, which is set to raise $ 394 million in a merger with a white-listed company in New York, and who says his plane will fly by the mid-2020s.

And he is not alone. Some of the world’s most prominent engineers and airlines believe Vertical is on something with its zero-emission mini-aircraft plan to almost silently carry four passengers through the skies up to 120 miles (193 km).

American Airlines, aircraft rental company Avolon, engineers Honeywell and Rolls-Royce, as well as Microsoft’s M12 unit are investing in the merger, which should be completed by the end of the year.

Fitzpatrick, who also founded OVO Energy, Britain’s third-largest energy retailer, said vertical flights between London’s Heathrow Airport and its Canary Wharf financial district would take 15 minutes and cost £ 50 ($ 68) per passenger.

This potential is attracting the attention of airlines. Over 1,000 VA-X4 aircraft have been pre-ordered by customers. Interest in the zero-emission aircraft comes at a time when airlines are under increasing pressure from investors to help decarbonize the sector and improve their environmental, social and governance scores.

“We are going to sign agreements. We find the appetite and demand from airlines to be really strong, ”Fitzpatrick told Reuters.

The biggest challenge for Vertical is certifying its aircraft, which Fitzpatrick said he was on track to do by the end of 2024, funded by new merger funds.

TEST FLIGHTS

Fitzpatrick first came up with the idea in 2015 when he sat for hours in 10 lanes of traffic in Sao Paulo, Brazil.

Back then, there weren’t many competitors, he said, but today analysts estimate there are more than 100 companies working on competing vertical take-off and landing electric planes. (eVOTL).

The VA-X4 is still under construction and will begin test flights early next year. Fitzpatrick believes Vertical’s partnerships will help him become a winner.

Using industry-proven battery technology, propulsion units and electric motors backed by Honeywell electronics, Fitzpatrick has “no doubt” that the VA-X4 will fly.

Certification will depend on the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA).

“The aircraft certification process is well known. The technologies are new, but the steps we need to take are relatively similar to those of other aircraft, ”said Fitzpatrick, who has recruited senior engineers from Airbus and Rolls-Royce.

Developing a new mode of transportation comes with other challenges like infrastructure, but Fitzpatrick is confident.

“We are already in talks with, for example, Heathrow Airport,” he said, pointing through his office window to potential rooftop skyport locations.

As for convincing passengers, this is where the airlines come in.

“I think the brand’s association with trusted airlines is going to really help passengers embrace the new technology,” he said.

Reporting by Sarah Young; Editing by Emelia Sithole-Matarise


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