Flying taxis will take to the skies in the mid-2020s, says UK-based Vertical Aerospace

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Tired of traffic jams? Imagine a world where your taxi lifts up into the sky and lands on your office building, charges up, and starts all over again. That’s the vision of Stephen Fitzpatrick, Founder and CEO of Vertical Aerospace, UK, which will raise $ 394 million (approximately Rs.2,970 billion) through a merger with a New York-listed blank check company, which will fly by mid the 2020s.

And he’s not alone. Some of the world’s most prominent engineers and airlines believe Vertical is on to something with its plan for zero-emission mini-planes that fly four passengers almost silently through the sky up to 193 km.

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

Fitzpatrick, who also founded OVO Energy, the UK’s No. 3 energy trader, said vertical flights between London’s Heathrow Airport and Canary Wharf financial district will take 15 minutes and cost £ 50 (approximately Rs 5,130) per passenger.

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

“We will sign contracts. We find that the appetite and demand from the airlines is huge, ”Fitzpatrick told Reuters.

The biggest challenge for Vertical is to certify its aircraft, which Fitzpatrick says will be on track by the end of 2024, funded by new funds from the merger.

Test flights

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

There weren’t many competitors back then, he said, but today analysts are working on competing electric Vertical Take-Off and Landing (eVOTL) aircraft, according to estimates from more than 100 companies.

The VA-X4 is still under construction and will begin test flights early next year. Fitzpatrick believes Vertical’s partnerships will help them emerge as winners.

With battery technology from the automotive industry and proven electric drive units and motors and electronics from Honeywell, Fitzpatrick has “no doubt” that the VA-X4 will fly.

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

“The aircraft certification process is well known. The technologies are new, but the steps we have to go through are relatively similar to other aircraft, ”said Fitzpatrick, who has hired senior engineers at Airbus and Rolls-Royce.

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

“We are already in talks with Heathrow Airport, for example,” he said, pointing out of his office window at potential Skyport locations on rooftops.

In order to convince the passengers, the airlines come into play.

“I think the brand association with trusted airlines will really help passengers embrace the new technology,” he said.

© Thomson Reuters 2021

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