On The Radar
As the UK prepares to host the COP26 UN Climate Change Conference in Glasgow, Scotland, Vertical Aerospace has joined forces with Virgin Atlantic Airways, leasing group Avolon, London Heathrow Airport, vertiport developer Skyports and air traffic control service provider NATS in calling on the government to support the launch of electric-powered intercity flights by 2025. In a white paper entitled The Future of Advanced Aerial Mobility, the UK-based eVTOL aircraft developer spells out the economic and environmental benefits of electric-powered passenger flights, arguing that the new aircraft could open up routes that are not currently viable.
Vertical and its partners want the UK government to align itself with local authorities, city mayors, and aviation regulators in supporting the launch of commercial electric flights. Pointing out that major cities including Paris, Los Angeles, and Singapore have already made similar commitments, the white paper effectively maintains that the UK will miss an opportunity to be a leader in the advanced air mobility sector if the government fails to act.
Among the specific commitments demanded in the white paper is an agreement from Britain’s Department for Transport and the Civil Aviation Authority to “deliver a safe operating framework by 2024, to allow commercial electric flights above London, Glasgow, Belfast, Manchester, Liverpool, Cardiff, Bristol, and other UK cities.” Vertical Aerospace also wants to see further incentives for companies developing electric aircraft and for the gigafactories needed to support battery production, as well as clarity over how to regulate and license vertiports, charging infrastructure, and pilots.
Virgin Atlantic is among the prospective operators of Vertical's VA-X4 four-passenger eVTOL, which is now backed by 1,350 preorders. The airline wants to start short-haul domestic services in the UK with an all-electric fleet, connecting cities like Manchester, Leeds, and Hull.
Speaking at a conference on sustainable aviation organized by Vertical Aerospace supplier GKN on October 18, CEO Stephen Fitzpatrick called for governments to introduce carbon taxes on commercial aviation fuel to incentivize the industry to move away from its dependence on fossil fuels. “The government needs to put a price on carbon, put a price on the problem,” he said. “It can start low, but it will get us to the right price [for jet-A fuel], which should be around $50 or $60 per tonne. A simple carbon tax is the best way to support that.”
While Britain's Conservative government has been seeking to burnish its green credentials in the build-up to the COP26 conference, levels of support for electric aviation have been relatively paltry in the UK compared with support in countries like France and the U.S.