Vertical Aerospace goes public, boasting record eVTOL pre-sales
UK company Vertical Aerospace (VA) is going public through a SPAC, with backing from Microsoft, American Airlines, Avolon, Honeywell and Rolls-Royce and a bulging US$4 billion-dollar preorder book for as many as 1,000 of its VA-X4 eVTOL air taxis.
The SPAC deal is a merger with Broadstone Acquisition Corp, and it'll put VA on the New York Stock Exchange under the ticker EVTL sometime later this year – making it one of a growing number of eVTOL industry players putting their hats out for investment money from the great unwashed masses as they stare down the barrel of the massively expensive challenges of certifying these next-gen aircraft and tooling up for production at volumes that are more or less unheard of in the aerospace industry.
VA is hitting the market with the biggest pre-sales numbers we've seen in the emerging eVTOL space. Assuming it hits its milestones, it's got pre-orders for 250 VA-X4s from American Airlines, 310 from Avolon, and somewhere between 50-150 from Virgin Atlantic. There are options on the American and Avolon deals for 100 and 190 extra aircraft respectively, so all up, it's already sold somewhere between 610 and 1,000 aircraft.
The VA-X4 is a reasonably standard eVTOL design, not dissimilar to the Archer Maker aircraft launched recently in that it's a fixed-wing, V-tailed plane seating one pilot and four passengers, with a bank of vertical lift props along the back of the wing and a bank of tilting props along the front. But where the Maker uses 12 smaller rotors, the VA-X4 uses eight larger ones, and where Archer's rear props are simple two-blade designs, VA has a four-blade design that will scissor together and sandwich back into a two-blade configuration in horizontal flight to keep drag down while adding some extra lift.
It'll fly around 100 miles (160 km) on a charge, at top cruise speeds up to 202 mph (325 km/h), figures that are right in the middle of the road in this space. It's also claiming to be 100 times quieter and 100 times safer than a helicopter at one fifth the cost and vastly lower maintenance, again reasonably standard claims in the eVTOL business that should be achievable.
VA has put a number of key partnerships in place to help it deliver the aircraft, as well as to share the dizzying costs of certification. Honeywell will be handling flight control systems, the electric powertrain is being developed by Rolls-Royce, Solvay is handling composite materials for the lightweight airframe and GKN is responsible for the electrical harness. Microsoft is also on board, working on fleet management software. That represents a lot of people pulling in the same direction, and it gives VA a good chance of achieving its objectives.
The SPAC deal is expected to bring in about $344 million if all goes well, putting around 14 percent of the company in public hands, and the current figures imply a total company valuation around $1.8 billion.
VA says it's in the process of building its VA-X4 prototype, with a first flight expected later in 2021. The company hopes to achieve type certification with EASA by 2024, and has been working closely with the regulators there for some years now. It aims to build 50 aircraft in 2024, 250 in 2025, 1,000 in 2026 and to break 2,000 units a year by 2028.
Exactly how much cash the company's got in the bank to build and test prototypes, certify the aircraft and put an aviation-grade mass production line in place is a bit fuzzy at this point; certainly, the fundraising doesn't end with the SPAC for these next-gen air taxi companies and there's still a long climb to the point where they'll start transforming our urban centers with cheap, quiet vertical commuting options.
Check out our 2020 interview with Vertical Aerospace Chief Engineer Tim Williams, or enjoy a short video below.
Source: Vertical Aerospace