Major airlines preorder hundreds of flying taxis

They’re betting that eVTOLs will be the future of urban mobility.

British company Vertical Aerospace has received preorders for up to 1,000 of its in-development flying taxis, with American Airlines and Virgin Atlantic each committing to buying between 50 and 350 of the aircraft — assuming Vertical can get them off the ground.

The challenge: In New York, Chicago, and other major U.S. cities, the average round-trip commute is already well over an hour, and as urban areas become more crowded, ground transportation is going to become even less appealing.

“Urban centers across the globe are struggling to come to terms with the rising vehicle numbers and the resulting congestion, especially during peak traffic hours,” Joe Praveen Vijayakumar, a senior transportation analyst at market research firm Frost & Sullivan, told CNBC in 2020.

Flying taxis: Vertical (and many other startups) are developing electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) aircraft to serve as flying taxis.

These vehicles take off from a stationary position, so they could operate from the tops of buildings like helicopters, but because they’re electric, they’re more environmentally friendly.

The hope is that passengers will hail the flying taxis instead of Ubers and Lyfts to make short, fast journeys across cities or to nearby metropolises.

The VA-X4: Vertical’s eVTOL is called the VA-X4. Its body is shaped like a helicopter’s, but it has fixed wings like a plane. Eight propellers in front and back of the wings face upward during lift-off and landing. When it’s time to fly horizontally, the four front propellers tilt to face forward.

The VA-X4 can support a pilot and four passengers, zipping across the sky at speeds up to 200 miles per hour. It has a range of about 100 miles, and because it’ll be held to the same strict safety standards as larger commercial aircraft, the eVTOL will be 100 times safer than a helicopter.

The next steps: Vertical’s flying taxis aren’t ready to ferry any passengers just yet — the company still needs to prove to regulators that the eVTOLs can meet safety requirements — but several industry heavyweights are prepared to snatch up the aircraft once they’re ready.

If Vertical hits agreed-upon milestones, American Airlines has committed to purchasing up to 250 VA-X4s, with an option to buy an additional 100. Virgin Atlantic, meanwhile, has an option to buy between 50 and 150 of the aircraft.

When you add in the preorders from aircraft lessor Avolon, up to 1,000 of Vertical’s flying taxis could be hitting the skies — as soon as the company is finished developing them.

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