Virgin Atlantic has partnered with Vertical Aerospace to create an air taxi network that could replace city-to-city commutes by train and car. Jenny Southan reports
Always ahead of the curve, Virgin Atlantic has announced that it is partnering with Vertical Aerospace to purchase between 50 and 150 eVTOL (electric vertical take-off and landing) aircraft, with the aim of creating a network of sustainable air taxis.
Capable of flying at 200 mph, the fully electric VA-X4 air taxis would be almost silent when in flight and would release no emissions. They would also be low-cost per passenger mile. The company says they would “open up urban air mobility to a whole new range of passengers and transform how we travel”.
Featuring a combination of four tilting advanced rotors at the front and stowable rotors at the rear, the VA-X4 would be able to accommodate four passengers in addition to a pilot, and would have a range of just over 100 miles, making them a good replacement for commutes by car and train.
Vertical Aerospace and Virgin Atlantic say they seek to establish air taxi connectivity between UK cities and airport hubs starting with London Heathrow, London Gatwick and Manchester.
The goal is to “enable sustainable, price competitive, regional connectivity across the first and last 100 miles of the customer journey”. For example, the 56-mile journey from Cambridge to London Heathrow could be flown in just 22 minutes, compared to 90 minutes by car.
With 37 towns and cities with populations over 100,000 and within 100 miles of London Heathrow, the VA-X4 offers huge potential to support zero-emission short-haul transfers for 7.7 million people outside of London, for flights to and from the UK’s main hub airports.
Apparently, a full-scale prototype of the VA-X4 is in production at the moment, with the first test flight planned for later this year.
Shai Weiss, CEO of Virgin Atlantic, says: “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. Our partnership includes exploration of a joint venture [with Vertical Aerospace] to bring short haul, electric vehicle connectivity to cities and our UK airport hubs, starting with London Heathrow as well as Manchester and London Gatwick.
“Combining the design, engineering and manufacturing expertise of Vertical with the award-winning customer experience and operational excellence of Virgin Atlantic.
Stephen Fitzpatrick, CEO and founder of Vertical Aerospace, says: “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.
“By bringing together two entrepreneurial organisations who share the same passion for innovation and best in class partnerships, we can revolutionise urban mobility in the UK and electrify air travel. We look forward to working closely with Virgin Atlantic and completely changing how people think about flying through the skies.
Commercial operations of the VA-X4 are planned for 2024 following European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) and UK Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) certification.
As a founding member of the UK Government’s Jet Zero Council and alongside an existing commitment to net zero carbon emissions by 2050, Virgin Atlantic’s partnership with Vertical Aerospace is a further step towards it becoming an industry sustainability leader – finding innovative solutions to decarbonise aviation.
Virgin Atlantic has a long and established record of innovation – the airline revolutionised in-flight entertainment with the introduction of seat-back screens and the premium cabin in the early nineties, and in 2017 became the first airline to introduce fleetwide wifi.