A consortium has been formed by UK aviation companies, including Vertical Aerospace, Virgin Atlantic Airways, and Skyports, with the objective of testing and preparing the launch of electric takeoff and landing (eVTOL) flight services, like air taxis, in what members call the world’s first full advanced air mobility (AAM) ecosystem.
The creation of the group was announced today against the backdrop of the Farnborough Air Show. Operating on an $11.2 million grant from the nation’s Future Flight Challenge and an additional $6 million provided by members, the consortium will undertake work to “significantly accelerate the introduction of AAM in the UK.” That will include a full activity range of vertiport construction, ground and air passenger transportation, testing of navigation and other tech, and air taxi flights to Heathrow Airport and longer hauls between London and the southwest city of Bristol.
Known as the Advanced Mobility Ecosystem Consortium, the group will aim to assemble a “first-of-a-kind ecosystem [to] accelerate AAM in the UK by creating and testing 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.”
Members of the new AAM partnership are aviation consultancy Atkins, Vertical Aerospace, Virgin Atlantic, Skyports, Connected Places Catapult, and UK air traffic management company NATS. Also involved are Cranfield University and the University of Warwick’s Manufacturing Group, both of which have been active in researching and testing next-generation aviation technologies.
AAM infrastructure specialist Skyports will build and outfit what is being called a “Living Lab” vertiport, at which ground and aerial trials will begin in about a year, eventually peaking with test air taxi flights of Vertical’s VX4 eVTOL operated by UK airline Virgin Atlantic.
Though the aerial commutes from that facility to Heathrow – and the longer journey to Bristol to demonstrate intra-urban capacities – will mark the crescendo of the group’s work, members said those will only be possible once the far-wider ecosystem enabling AAM travel has been created and proven to be reliable.
“Just as airports are critical to commercial aeroplane travel, vertiports are critical to AAM,” said Skyports CEO Duncan Walker. “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.”
The new UK AAM consortium is expected to continue its developmental work for an initial period of two years, with the Heathrow air taxi trials expected before the end of 2024.