Aircraft leasing company Avolon has placed a $2 billion (£1.4 billion) order for 500 electric vertical take-off and landing vehicles (eVTOL) from British start-up Vertical Aerospace.
Dublin-based Avolon said the agreement will introduce the “ultra-short-haul aircraft category” to commercial aviation, using zero-emission aircraft.
The deal reflects a growing interest in the sector that could challenge the dominance of traditional short-range aircraft carriers in the future.
Vertical’s VA-X4 currently has a range of 120 miles, long enough to travel from London to Cardiff, but Avolon’s CEO Domhnal Slattery believes this can be extended further.
Vertical first unveiled its eVTOL vehicle last year and said it could begin commercial service by 2024. The VA-X4 is 13 meters long with a 15-meter wingspan, can carry up to five passengers and sails at approximately 250 mph.
While prices for the air taxi services are initially expected to fall somewhere between a helicopter ride and a private car, this is expected to fall as adoption grows.
The new agreement gives Avolon shares in the company, in addition to companies such as Microsoft, Rolls-Royce, Honeywell and American Airlines.
It said the vehicles represent “the vanguard of technological change” in the industry and point the way towards electrification of air transport.
Non-fossil fuel-powered aircraft will eventually be necessary if the world is to keep the Paris Agreement’s promises to control climate change.
While larger electric aircraft are being developed for short-haul flights, longer-haul flights pose a challenge.
Reiterating Vertical’s intention to begin service by the end of 2024, Avolon said it will first commit $1.25 billion for 310 eVTOLs with the option to purchase an additional 190 aircraft worth $750 million.
“Our order with Vertical will accelerate the inevitable commercial rollout of zero-emission aircraft,” Slattery said.
“By the end of this decade, we expect zero-emission urban air mobility, powered by eVTOLs, to play an increasingly important role in the global commercial aviation market.
“With Vertical, we will revolutionize air travel and our industry’s impact on the As we emerge from the Covid-19 pandemic, air travel will be fundamentally reshaped, requiring airlines to embrace new technologies that decarbonise air travel.
” Stephen Fitzpatrick, CEO of Vertical Aerospace, commented: “This agreement, with an established aviation company like Avolon, allows us to connect to their global commercial network of airlines and reach key decision-makers in a fast and efficient manner.”