American Airlines, Virgin Atlantic sign deal to procure 1,000 electric aircraft from UK start-up

Vertical Aerospace, a UK electric aircraft manufacturer signed deals with American Airlines, Virgin Atlantic in its bid to make urban air travel a reality.

The startup revealed on Thursday that it has pre-orders for up to 1,000 of its zero-emissions VA-X4 vertical takeoff aircraft, worth as much as $4 billion, as it announced plans to go public in New York via a merger with blank check firm Broadstone Acquisition Corp.

The VA-X4 will travel at speeds over 200 miles per hour and be “near silent” when in flight, according to the company. The aircraft has a range of over 100 miles.

American Airlines agreed to pre-order up to 250 aircraft, with an option for an additional 100. Dublin-based aircraft leasing company Avolon has pre-orders and options for 500 aircraft, while Virgin Atlantic has a pre-order option for up to 150. Pre-orders are subject to certain conditions and milestones being met, including certification by aviation safety regulators.

“This is the most exciting time in aviation for almost a century,” Vertical Aerospace CEO and co-founder Stephen Fitzpatrick said in a statement. “Electrification will transform flying in the 21st century in the same way the jet engine did 70 years ago,” he added.

Microsoft’s venture capital subsidiary and Rocket Internet have also invested in the business.

Airlines and planemakers face mounting pressure to tackle carbon emissions. The pandemic has plunged aviation into its worst ever slump and is expected to accelerate the shift towards renewable forms of energy, as governments use the opportunity to promote a green recovery.

“Emerging technologies are critical in the race to reduce carbon emissions and we are excited to partner with Vertical to develop the next generation of electric aircraft,” said Derek Kerr, the chief financial officer of American Airlines.

In the United Kingdom, Virgin Atlantic is exploring a regional network to connect UK cities with airports such as London Heathrow, Gatwick and Manchester.

“With 37 towns and cities with populations over 100,000 within 100 miles of London Heathrow Airport, the VA-X4 offers huge potential to support zero emissions short haul transfers for 7.7 million customers outside of London,” Virgin Atlantic said in a statement.

Virgin Atlantic plans its first test flight for later this year.