August 15, 2022
UK Awards £9.5m for World-first Electric Flight Ecosystem
FIA2022 Future Flight Industry Innovation

UK Awards £9.5m for World-first Electric Flight Ecosystem

FARNBOROUGH – A new consortium of leading British aviation companies was awarded government funding to demonstrate the commercial and operational viability of Advanced Air Mobility (AAM).

Demonstration of urban and cross-country flights planned at London Heathrow (LHR), Bristol (BRS), London City (LCY) airports, and a new vertiport at a London General Aviation (GA) airport.

The project is the first-of-a-kind advanced electric flight ecosystem that is aimed at accelerating the introduction of AAM in the UK.

Advanced Electric Flight Ecosystem. Image: Future Flight Challenge Consortium Isometric

The Consortium

Vertical Aerospace, Virgin Atlantic (VS), Atkins, Skyports, and NATS, along with Connected Places Catapult and leading academic institutions, Cranfield University and WMG, University of Warwick, today announced the creation of the Advanced Mobility Ecosystem Consortium. Together, the organizations will develop key technology and infrastructure in a project that will significantly accelerate the introduction of AAM in the UK.

The Consortium has been awarded a £9.5m grant by the UK Government’s Future Flight Challenge to develop the essential building blocks of a viable AAM ecosystem that has the potential to be progressed into full commercial operations.

The ecosystem will 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 in the UK.

The CityAirbus eVTOL in ITA’s livery. Photo: Airbus

Accelerating AAM

The project is set up to demonstrate the feasibility of a UK AAM ecosystem using Vertical Aerospace’s emission-free VX4 eVTOL aircraft, operated by Virgin Atlantic (VS). Two physical flights will take place between BRS and an airfield in South West England, and between LHR and the Living Lab vertiport. A third simulation flight will demonstrate urban connectivity between LCY and BRS.

These demonstrations will address important aspects of the passenger journey, vehicle operation, airspace navigation, ground charging, security provision, and local stakeholder involvement.

To enable these flights in a difficult airspace environment, LHR, BRS, Skyports, and NATS, the UK’s national air navigation service provider, will work together to create the physical and digital infrastructure. Aeronautical engineering specialists Atkins will be in charge of the two-year project as consortium lead.

Joby Aviation eVTOL aircraft prototype. Photo: Joby Aviation

Benefits of Advanced Air Mobility

AAM provides a new mode of transportation that enables affordable connectivity into crowded urban areas and across regions that are underserved by current infrastructure. According to the UK Government Future Flight Challenge, the deployment of AAM services will boost the country’s GDP by 1.8 percent by 2030 and help the government’s Levelling Up and Net Zero objectives, demonstrating the improved connectivity’s productivity and broader economic advantages.

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.”

With other countries vying to create their own AAM ecosystems by 2025, this project guarantees that the UK will be among the pioneers of this new, low-carbon mode of transportation.

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.”

Image: Skyport

Novel Infrastructure

For the length of the project, Skyports will construct and run a “Living Lab” vertiport as a testbed for ground, passenger, and air operations. This innovation hub will significantly speed up the development of AAM services and position the UK as a global leader in the construction and management of vertiport infrastructure.

Duncan Walker, CEO of Skyports, said, “Just as airports are critical to commercial aeroplane 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.”

Render: Eve

New Regional Air Connectivity

Holly Boyd-Boland, VP 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 of 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.”

As the consortium pushes AAM from the idea stage to execution over the course of two years, Atkins will serve as the consortium’s leader and be in charge of technical management and integration. To oversee the systems architecture and create a digitally enabled passenger journey management solution for infrastructure and flight operators, it will draw on its decades of aviation experience.

Featured image: Virgin Atlantic Vx4 aircraft. Photo: Virgin Atlantic

Chief Online Editor
Chief Online Editor at Airways Magazine, AVSEC interpreter and visual artist; grammar geek, an avid fan of aviation, motorcycles, sci-fi literature, and film.

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