Marubeni & Vertical Aerospace plan to launch VTOL service in Japan


UK-based eVOTL start-up Vertical Aerospace is partnering with Japanese trading company Marubeni to bring its VA-X4 electric vertical take-off aircraft to Japan. Marubeni has also signed an intention to purchase up to 200 units of Vertical’s electric aircraft as part of the deal.

Vertical and Marubeni have agreed to jointly explore the requirements for operating eVTOL in Japan, attract interested partners and also discuss issues such as route and network planning, infrastructure requirements and capacity. In an accompanying memo, Marubeni expresses belief that eVTOLs could serve a range of purposes in Japan, including inter-city, intra-city, airport shuttle and life-saving services.

A time horizon for starting the business is also mentioned: Marubeni expects to launch eVTOL operations in 2025, it says. Vertical, for its part, had spoken in the summer of wanting to enable the commercial launch of the VA-X4 by 2024, along with a statement that it had already received pre-orders for a total of 1,000 of its electric aerial taxis.

In the meantime, the company says it now has reservations for 1,350 examples worth around US$5.4 billion. The interested companies are American Airlines, Virgin Atlantic, Avolon, Iberojet, Bristow and, most recently, Marubeni.

On the way to commercialisation, the British are aiming for EASA certification for the vertical take-off aircraft – according to “the same standards as large commercial aircraft”. The company provides little information about the aircraft itself in its press release. It merely states that the VA-X4 can carry four people plus the pilot, reach speeds of over 200 mph (about 320 km/h), have a range of more than 100 miles (about 160 kilometres) and “has a low cost per passenger mile”.

The founder of the Bristol-based start-up, which was launched in 2016, is Stephen Fitzpatrick, chief executive of Ovo Energy and former owner of Formula One racing team Manor Racing. Fitzpatrick remains the largest shareholder even after a SPAC deal for the purpose of a quick IPO was made public in the summer.

In an older report from 2018, the executive cited a goal of offering short-haul flights, with multiple passengers carried by a pilot in a vertical take-off. Unlike most of its counterparts, which have a similar goal but have relied on autonomous e-aircraft from the start, Vertical Aerospace believes it can sidestep regulatory and safety issues by piloting the vertical take-offs on board. As the current announcement for the VA-X4 mentions four people plus pilot, this still seems to be the credo.


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