Heathrow set to host Virgin Atlantic eVTOL air taxi service trial

A separate route will serve Bristol Airport, under joint venture with UK start-up Vertical Aerospace

Prime Minister Boris Johnson views a VX4 Vertical Aerospace aircraft at Farnborough. Reuters
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Heathrow Airport will serve as base for a trial of a flying taxi service, under a joint venture by Virgin Atlantic Airways and UK start-up Vertical Aerospace.

This service will see Vertical's VX4 electric vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) aircraft take to the skies over the capital. The zero-emissions plane can reach speeds of up to 321 kilometres an hour and is silent when flying.

Heathrow, home to Virgin’s hub, will be linked with a “vertiport” to be constructed by infrastructure specialist Skyports.

A second route will be opened up from Bristol Airport, where Vertical is based, to an airfield elsewhere in the south-west of England.

Test flights will take place in spring 2024, subject to approval by the Civil Aviation Authority, the UK’s air travel regulator.

The initiative is in line with Vertical’s target of receiving type certification for its VX4 model in time for service entry by 2025. Vertical hopes its next generation aircraft will transform the way people travel by air.

Virgin and Vertical announced the venture on Monday, as the Farnborough International Airshow got under way in Hampshire, in southern England.

The five-day event serves as a global platform for the aerospace and defence industries and is the first big gathering of key decision makers in the sectors since before the Covid-19 pandemic.

“Alongside our partners, we are looking forward to getting the first Virgin Atlantic eVTOL aircraft into the skies,” Holly Boyd-Boland, vice-president of corporate development at Virgin, said.

Andrew Macmillan, director of strategy of Vertical, said under the agreement the firm is “building the best industrial and commercial partner ecosystems and are progressing in Britain with our UK launch customer, Virgin Atlantic.”

“We want the UK to lead the electric aviation and AAM revolution,” he added. “This consortium will help prove how we can deliver safer, cleaner and quieter air travel with the VX4.”

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson visited Farnborough on its opening day and viewed the VX4.

Stephen Fitzpatrick, founder and chief executive of Vertical, told Sky News that eVTOLs are “going to transform everything about travelling around cities”.

“The economics of running electric vertical take-off over conventional helicopters, it’s a massive cost reduction, maybe as much as 80 per cent,” he said. “So it’s going to make air ambulance services much more affordable and I’m sure we’re going to see many, many more [electrical] air ambulance services in the skies over our cities in the years to come.”

He said trials of the VX4 flying taxi would begin in the coming weeks and continue until the end of the year.

In a separate statement, Vertical unveiled a joint initiative with Babcock International to explore new applications for the VX4 model in providing emergency services and cargo transportation.

Under the partnership the companies will work on developing maintenance, repair and operations capabilities to enable cost effective upkeep of the aircraft in remote and challenging environments.

“Climate change is the greatest challenge of our time,” Mr Fitzpatrick said.

“As with all other areas, the emergency services and logistics sectors must respond and adapt.

“I am delighted that Vertical Aerospace will be able to support Babcock, a trusted provider of emergency response services, in their efforts to decarbonise their operations.”

Phil Craig, managing director of UK aviation at Babcock, said the deal would enable the firm to put its “extensive digital and data expertise” to use when it comes to finding low-emission ways of operating.

“As a business, we’re committed to reducing our carbon footprint and this partnership is an exciting step into the world of electric aircraft,” he said.

“Exploring VX4’s technological capabilities allows us to understand how it can be used to deliver critical care and logistical support in challenging environments with zero emissions.”

Updated: July 19, 2022, 10:27 AM
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