Vertical Aerospace has confirmed that it expects to need at least an additional 12 months to achieve type certifications for its VX-4 eVTOL aircraft. In a letter to shareholders marking the end of the first quarter of 2023, the UK-based public company said that a review of the program timeline has resulted in a decision by the management team to target certification by the end of 2026. Vertical had previously indicated the four-passenger vehicle could be approved in 2025.
Insofar as the company has explained the reasons for the delay, it has mainly been in terms of technical issues relating to the certification process. However, reporting on its first-quarter balance sheet, the company said that as of March 31, it had cash reserves totaling £104 million ($131 million), which is markedly less than several other front runners in the race, to bring an eVTOL aircraft to market. The operating loss for the first quarter was £23 million.
Vertical now says that its current funding is sufficient to “achieve our goals throughout 2023 and 2024.” It confirmed that a further round of fundraising will be started this year.
The letter, from founder and CEO Stephen Fitzpatrick and chairperson Dómhnal Slattery, summarized ongoing work with air safety regulators in the UK, Europe, the U.S., and Japan, indicating that gaps in regulatory requirements partly explain the need to take more time. “While we apply both new and already-proven technology to these novel aircraft, we do not have a rulebook to follow that sets the highest standards of safety—the same as large-transport-category aeroplanes,” they stated. “We believe this is necessary to win the trust of passengers, proving that these aircraft meet the maximum levels of aerospace safety. Designing for these high standards will also facilitate compliance with the envelope of all national requirements.”
More Flight Testing Needed
Back in September 2022, Vertical achieved the first tethered and piloted hover flight with its VX4 demonstrator aircraft inside a hangar. Since then, the company has said little about the extent to which the envelope for flight testing has been expanded and it is not even clear whether the aircraft has yet flown with its own propulsion system, rather than using ground power.
Shareholders were told that the first demonstrator aircraft will start the second phase of its flight test program shortly. The company said it is now building a second prototype to expedite the discovery process needed to “incorporate further performance and maturity developments.”
This second prototype is being built by helicopter manufacturer Leonardo at its facility in southern Italy. It will incorporate battery packs made at the new Vertical Energy Centre in the UK using cells provided by Molicell. Sovlay is providing composite materials, GKN supplies electrical wiring, and Honeywell is responsible for avionics and flight controls.
“Our approach to certification and our corresponding flight tests have been measured and steady,” said Fitzpatrick and Slattery in their letter to shareholders. “At Vertical, we believe that flying piloted full-scale demonstrators from the beginning of the certification journey maximizes learnings which will pave the way for a final optimized certification-ready aircraft. This might mean that our prototyping and flight tests need a greater time investment now, but we believe this will pay off when it comes to certifying the VX4.”
Leadership Changes Lead to Program Review
The company said that the review of the certification and entry-into-service timeline for Vertical’s eVTOL vehicle had been taken after changes to the management structure that saw chief commercial officer Eduardo Dominguez Puerta appointed as chief operating officer. He is now working closely with the company’s chief engineer, David King. Mike Flewitt has been appointed as chairperson to succeed Slattery, who will now focus on fundraising.
In March, the UK Civil Aviation Authority awarded Vertical Aerospace its design organization approval, which is an important prerequisite to being able to complete the type certification process. Earlier that same month, the British regulator confirmed that it is willing to work with the Special Condition VTOL means-of-compliance guidance established by the European Aviation Safety Agency.
Vertical has received provisional sales commitments from customers including American Airlines, Virgin Atlantic Airways, Flying Group, Air Asia, and Babock, as well as leasing groups Avalon and Japan's Marubeni. American Airlines and Marubeni have both made pre-delivery payments.