Tired of traffic jams? Imagine a world where your taxi takes to the skies and lands on top of your office building, recharges and starts all over again. That’s the view of Stephen Fitzpatrick, founder and CEO of Britain’s Vertical Aerospace, which is set to raise $394 million (about Rs 2,970 crore) in a merger with the New York-listed company, and who says its aircraft will Flying by mid-2020.
And he’s not alone. Some of the world’s most high-profile engineers and airlines agree with their plan of a vertical zero-emission mini-aircraft to almost silently carry four passengers 120 miles (193 km) into the skies.
American Airlines, aircraft lessors Avalon, engineers Honeywell and Rolls-Royce, as well as Microsoft’s The M12 unit is investing in the merger, which is expected to be completed by the end of the year.
Fitzpatrick, who founded Britain’s No. 3 energy retailer, OVO Energy, said vertical flights between London’s Heathrow Airport and its Canary Ferries financial district would take 15 minutes and cost GBP 50 (about Rs 5,130) per passenger .
That capability is catching the attention of airlines. More than 1,000 VA-X4 aircraft have been pre-ordered by customers. The interest in zero-emission aircraft comes at a time when airlines are under pressure from investors to help decarbonize the sector and boost their environmental, social and governance scores.
“We’re going to sign deals. We’re finding the appetite and demand for airlines to be really strong,” Fitzpatrick told Reuters.
The biggest challenge for Vertical is to certify its aircraft, which Fitzpatrick said is funded by new money from the merger until the end of 2024.
Fitzpatrick first got the idea in 2015 when he sat for hours in 10 lanes of gridlocked traffic in So Paulo, Brazil.
At the time, there weren’t many competitors, he said, but today analysts estimate there are more than 100 companies working on rival electric vertical take-offs and landings (eVOTL) airplane.
The VA-X4 is still under construction and will begin test flights early next year. Fitzpatrick believes the vertical’s partnership will help it emerge as the winner.
Using battery technology from the car industry, and tried and tested electric propulsion units and motors, and backed by Honeywell’s electronics, Fitzpatrick has “no doubt” that the VA-X4 will fly.
Certification will depend on the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA).
“The process to certify the aircraft is known. The technologies are new, but the steps we need to go through are similar to those on other aircraft,” said Fitzpatrick, who recruited senior engineers from both Airbus and Rolls-Royce.
Developing a new mode of transportation comes with other challenges like infrastructure, but Fitzpatrick is convinced.
“We are already in discussion with, for example, Heathrow Airport,” he said from his office window, pointing to potential Skyport locations on the rooftops.
As far as convincing passengers, that’s where airlines come from.
“I think brand associations with trusted airlines are really going to help travelers embrace new technology,” he said.
© Thomson Reuters 2021