Virgin Atlantic to trial flying taxis at London Heathrow hub

Virgin will operate one flight from the main airport in Bristol, a second will link the carrier’s own London Heathrow hub and a so-called vertiport to be built by infrastructure specialist Skyports.
Image: Bloomberg

Virgin Atlantic Airways will carry out test flights using a flying taxi model from UK startup Vertical Aerospace as the futuristic technology moves closer to becoming a reality.

Virgin will operate one flight from the main airport in Bristol, England, where Vertical is based, to an airfield elsewhere in the southwest, according to a joint statement Monday. A second will link the carrier’s own London Heathrow hub and a so-called vertiport to be built by infrastructure specialist Skyports.

Vertical said separately that it’s teaming up with Babcock International Group Plc to explore new applications for its VX4 model in providing emergency medical services and cargo transportation.

The announcements, which initially sent Vertical’s volatile stock soaring in premarket US trading, come at the start of the Farnborough Airshow southwest of London, where electric vertical takeoff and landing craft, or eVTOLs, are playing a higher profile role as competing designs reach maturity. Vertical shares traded down 6% at $4.70 as of 10:13 a.m. in New York.

The demonstration missions will take place in spring 2024 — subject to approval by the UK Civil Aviation Authority — in line with Vertical’s target of receiving type certification for the VX4 in time for service entry by 2025.

UK funding

The program will be supported by £9.5 million ($11.4 million) in UK funding to a group led by engineering firm Atkins and including national air navigation service provider NATS, airports and a number of universities, as well as Vertical, Skyports and Virgin, which has a slew of outline orders for the VX4.

The test flights will evaluate vehicle operation, navigation, ground charging and security provision following development of physical and digital infrastructure, including a vertiport, where ground and aerial trials will begin in about a year.

Under the arrangement with Babcock, Vertical will seek to diversify a customer base currently dominated by airlines and aircraft lessors such as Avolon Holdings Ltd.

As the largest single operator of emergency helicopter services in the UK, Babcock will provide insight into medical evacuation applications and help develop modular maintenance capabilities for remote and challenging environments, the companies said.

Vertical Aerospace is one of a number of companies competing to be first to bring eVTOLs to market. The UK startup has a backlog of 1,400 commitments for the VX4, with American Airlines Group Inc. saying Friday it was ready to make down payments to reserve delivery slots. Vertical rose 72% on that news.

© 2022 Bloomberg

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