The UK government’s Future Flight Challenge has awarded £9.5m (US$11.4m) to help a British consortium of aviation companies build an advanced electric flight ecosystem.
The Advanced Mobility Ecosystem Consortium includes Vertical Aerospace, Virgin Atlantic, Atkins, Skyports and NATS, along with Connected Places Catapult and the academic institutions Cranfield University and WMG, University of Warwick. Skyports will build and operate a Living Lab vertiport to create a testbed for ground, passenger and air operations for the project duration. This center is expected to help materially accelerate the development of AAM services and vertiport infrastructure. Atkins, an aerospace engineering expert, will oversee the project as consortium lead and is responsible for technical management and integration of the two-year program as it moves AAM from the concept stage toward implementation. The company will oversee the systems architecture and deliver a digitally enabled passenger journey management tool for infrastructure and flight operators.
The project will demonstrate the feasibility of a UK AAM ecosystem using Vertical Aerospace’s emission-free VX4 eVTOL aircraft, operated by Virgin Atlantic. Two physical flights will take place from Bristol Airport to an airfield in Southwest England, and between London Heathrow Airport and the Living Lab vertiport. A third simulation flight will demonstrate urban connectivity between London City and Bristol airports.
These demonstrations will explore key aspects of the passenger journey, vehicle operation, airspace navigation, ground charging, security provision and local stakeholder engagement. Heathrow Airport, Bristol Airport, Skyports and NATS (the UK’s national air navigation service provider) will collaborate to deliver the physical and digital infrastructure to facilitate these missions through a complex airspace environment.
Together, the organizations intend to develop technology and infrastructure to accelerate the introduction of advanced air mobility (AAM) in the UK and potentially progress to full commercial operation of AAM. To do this, the ecosystem will create and test technological developments in aircraft electrification, airspace management, ground infrastructure, operational procedures and the systems and supporting business cases required to implement a new model of aerial passenger transport in the UK.
AAM offers cost-effective connectivity into congested urban areas and across regions under-served by existing infrastructure. The UK government’s Future Flight Challenge has forecast that the introduction of AAM services will increase UK GDP by 1.8% by 2030 and support the government’s Levelling Up and Net Zero agendas, reflecting the productivity and wider economic benefits of increased connectivity.
James Richmond, head of advanced air mobility at Atkins, said, “This is an exciting leap forward for AAM. This project brings together experts from across the industry to maintain the UK’s leading position in the future of aviation, moving us closer to commercial operations that will connect regions and contribute to the UK’s net zero targets.”
Gary Cutts, Future Flight Challenge director at UK Research and Innovation, said, “Our roadmap sets out how air taxis could be in use in the UK by 2030, but a lot needs to occur for that to happen. By bringing technical developments from across the aviation industry together into one network, and undertaking early demonstration in the real world, the Advanced Mobility Ecosystem Consortium could accelerate the timescale for AAM introduction by years. This project could revolutionize travel, not just in the UK but around the world.”
Duncan Walker, CEO of Skyports, said, “Just as airports are critical to commercial airplane travel, vertiports are critical to AAM. Our Living Lab will be a central component of the consortium, enabling Skyports and partners to demonstrate end-to-end operations and test the complexities of developing a commercially viable AAM network in the UK.”
Holly Boyd-Boland, vice president of corporate development at Virgin Atlantic, said, “We are thrilled to be working alongside our consortium partners to accelerate the introduction of zero-emission flight to UK customers. As the only airline in the consortium, Virgin Atlantic brings 38 years of operational excellence, a relentless focus on safety and security, and an unrivaled focus on the end-to-end customer journey. Alongside our partners, we are looking forward to getting the first Virgin Atlantic eVTOL aircraft into the skies.”
Andrew Macmillan, director of strategy at Vertical Aerospace, said, “Vertical is not flying solo. We are building the best industrial and commercial partner ecosystems and are progressing in Britain with our UK launch customer, Virgin Atlantic. We want the UK to lead the electric aviation and AAM revolution. This consortium will help prove how we can deliver safer, cleaner and quieter air travel with the VX4.”