A first-of-its-kind con­sor­tium fea­tur­ing Ver­ti­cal Aero­space, Vir­gin Atlantic, Atkins, Sky­ports and NATS, has been set up to sig­nif­i­cant­ly accel­er­ate the intro­duc­tion of Advanced Air Mobil­i­ty (AAM) in the UK.

The ecosys­tem — which also includes Con­nect­ed Places Cat­a­pult, Cran­field Uni­ver­si­ty and WMG, Uni­ver­si­ty of War­wick, has been award­ed a £9.5 mil­lion grant by the UK Government’s Future Flight Chal­lenge. This will help devel­op the essen­tial build­ing blocks of a viable AAM ecosys­tem that has the poten­tial to be pro­gressed into full com­mer­cial oper­a­tions.

The con­sor­tium 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.

Accel­er­at­ing AAM

The project will demon­strate the fea­si­bil­i­ty of a UK AAM ecosys­tem using Ver­ti­cal Aerospace’s VX4 eVTOL air­craft, oper­at­ed by Vir­gin Atlantic. Two phys­i­cal flights will take place between Bris­tol Air­port and an air­field in South West 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. The two-year project will be over­seen by aero­space engi­neer­ing experts Atkins as con­sor­tium lead.

Ben­e­fits of Advanced Air Mobil­i­ty

AAM offers a new form of trav­el, enabling cost-effec­tive con­nec­tiv­i­ty into con­gest­ed urban areas and across regions under-served by exist­ing infra­struc­ture. The UK Gov­ern­ment Future Flight Chal­lenge fore­cast that the intro­duc­tion of AAM ser­vices will increase UK GDP by 1.8 per cent 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.”

Oth­er nations are rac­ing to estab­lish their own AAM ecosys­tems by 2025 – this project ensures the UK will be amongst the lead­ers in this new decar­bonised form of trans­port.

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 rev­o­lu­tionise trav­el, not just in the UK but around the world.”

Nov­el Infra­struc­ture

Sky­ports will build and oper­ate a ‘Liv­ing Lab’ ver­ti­port to cre­ate a test­bed for ground, pas­sen­ger and air oper­a­tions for the project dura­tion. This cen­tre of inno­va­tion will help to mate­ri­al­ly accel­er­ate the devel­op­ment of AAM ser­vices and estab­lish the UK as a leader in the design and oper­a­tion 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.”

New Region­al Air Con­nec­tiv­i­ty

Hol­ly Boyd-Boland, VP Cor­po­rate Devel­op­ment at Vir­gin Atlantic, added: “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 unri­valled 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.”

A focus on inte­gra­tion

Atkins will lead the con­sor­tium and is respon­si­ble for tech­ni­cal man­age­ment and inte­gra­tion of the two-year pro­gramme as it moves AAM from con­cept stage towards imple­men­ta­tion. It will lever­age its decades of avi­a­tion exper­tise to over­see the sys­tems archi­tec­ture and deliv­er a dig­i­tal­ly enabled pas­sen­ger jour­ney man­age­ment tool for infra­struc­ture and flight oper­a­tors.