Vertical Aerospace said it has pre-orders for up to 1,000 eVTOL aircraft with launch customers Avolon and American Airlines, along with a pre-order option from Virgin Atlantic, all valued at up to $4 billion. Credit: Vertical Aerospace.

So this is the idea.

Virgin Atlantic proposes, that an eVTOL (electric vertical take-off and landing vehicle) aircraft could pick people up from a city such as Cambridge and fly them to a major airport such as London Heathrow — thus avoiding terrible traffic jams.

That aircraft is a Vertical Aerospace VA-X4, which will potentially be able to carry four passengers and a pilot up to 100 miles, as well as being emissions-free and quieter than a helicopter.

In fact, the company claims it will be “near silent” when cruising.

That’s the idea, anyway.

One expert said the proposal was “less radical” than those of other air taxi companies, but argued there would be challenges ahead, BBC News reported.

Several companies have promoted the idea of autonomous “flying taxis” that could pick passengers up from rooftops in city centres and take them wherever they would like to go.

Virgin Atlantic’s suggestion is slightly tamer.

The partnership includes an option for Virgin Atlantic to purchase up to 150 eVTOL aircraft.

Bristol-based Vertical Aerospace is conducting test flights of its aircraft this year, the report said.

The start-up announced it has pre-orders for a total of 1,000 of its electric aerial taxis.

It has also received commitments from Microsoft, American Airlines, Avolon, Honeywell and Rolls-Royce, the company said.

The company was founded in 2016 by Stephen Fitzpatrick, chief executive of Ovo Energy and former owner of Formula One racing team Manor Racing, the report said.

Fitzpatrick highlighted the potential efficiency of electric aircrafts in short travels.

A trip from downtown Los Angeles to LAX or from JFK International airport to Manhattan would last only 12 minutes and would be about $40, he said.

“We see that there’s a huge demand for this urban air mobility all over the world,” he added. “I’ve no doubt whatsoever that in five years time, you will be seeing these vehicles flying over the world’s largest cities.

The partnership includes an option for Virgin Atlantic to purchase up to 150 eVTOL (electric Vertical Take-Off and Landing) aircraft and exploration of a UK Joint Venture with Vertical Aerospace. Credit: Virgin Atlantic.

“There’s a lot of hype in this market,” Vertical Aerospace president Michael Cervenka told the BBC.

“We have taken the approach that is pushing the bounds of what is available in terms of technology, but not going beyond.”

With a 15 meter (49ft) wingspan, the aircraft would have to fly to and from designated spots such as helipads or regional airports, the report said.

It will be a piloted eight-rotor lifting aircraft including four front tilt rotors.

Set to be able to fly at speeds over 150mph with a 100m range initially, it will carry up to four passengers.

Guy Gratton, associate professor of aviation and the environment at Cranfield University, said Slovenia’s Pipistrel Velis gave a good indication of what a modern electric plane could achieve.

“The Velis will carry two people, half a toothbrush and fly for about an hour-and-a-quarter. That is a conventional aeroplane and thus pretty efficient compared to anything with vertical take-off and landing,” he explained.

While the VA-X4 will be quieter than a helicopter, the “rotors and wings would still make noise in forward flight,” he added.

He said the company’s goals could be achieved with today’s technology rather than hoping for the invention of a “magical new battery.”

But more lavish visuals of air taxis carrying passengers from one skyscraper to another would require new air-traffic control technology, public acceptance of more aircraft in cities, improvements in automation and regulatory change that could be a decade away.

Vertical Aerospace announced plans for the company to be floated on the New York stock exchange after a merger with Broadstone, in a deal valuing the company at US$2.2 billion.

The company’s mission is “in some respects very simple: to make green zero-carbon Urban Air Mobility (UAM) a reality, and to be the first to do so,”said Mike Gascoyne, CTO at Vertical Aerospace and former Formula 1 engineer for teams including McLaren, Sauber, Jordan, Tyrell and Renault.

“It’s kind of the holy grail of the aerospace industry at the moment, a lot of people are talking about it — autonomous vehicles, vehicles able to fly in inner cities, carbon-free, low noise… but it comes with a huge amount of technical challenges given current technology.”

Prior to the formation of Vertical, Gascoyne had set up his own consultancy, MGI Motorsport, after around 30 years with F1, aiming to bring the same standards of technology and lightweight composite structural engineering to the mainstream.

Sources: BBC News, ElecDrive.com, YahooFinance, The Engineer, Reuters, Virgin Atlantic