Bristol-based flying taxi startup Vertical Aerospace has delayed its entry into service by a year to 2026, in the latest sign that the revolution in “urban air mobility” is taking longer than expected.
Nasdaq-listed Vertical told investors earlier this month that it now aims to have its vehicle certified by the British Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) “by the end of 2026.” This is the second time the company has delayed obtaining the certification since April 2022, when it was changed from 2024 to 2025.
“Trying to predict a firm date when it’s several years away is a challenge, and achieving it depends on agreeing ways to comply with the new technology with authorities,” the company’s founder and CEO, Stephen Fitzpatrick, said in a letter to shareholders.
Fitzpatrick cited factors outside the company’s control such as an upcoming compliance test of its technology with the Civil Aviation Authority among the reasons for the decision.
“We believe that the industry as a whole will see some corrections to the schedule and we are already seeing signs of peers doing so,” he said in the letter.
The award dates for other electric vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) certifications have also been delayed; Germany’s Lilium last year extended its deadline from 2024 to 2025. The company told investors in a letter this week that it was looking to raise $250 million to help fund development of its air taxi.
Fitzpatrick, who is best known in the UK for founding energy supplier Ovo Energy, told the Financial Times: “All the air authorities are motivated but there’s clearly a lot of work they need to do, including building up skills capacity internally in order to certify these vehicles.” “.
For anyone active in the airline industry, he added, there was “a huge hurdle to cross”. “Not to prove that technology works but to prove that it never fails.”
“The regulatory landscape is still being defined,” said Rami Abdel Aziz, a director at aviation consultancy IBA. “It will take time to develop comprehensive guidelines for eVTOLS.”
Despite the regulatory uncertainty, some companies, including Volocopter of Germany, are still aiming for certification as early as next year. Volocopter plans to start up the service in time for the Paris Olympics in 2024.
The realignment of landmarks underscores the challenges that still need to be addressed before the promise of urban air traffic becomes a reality. The sector has attracted billions of dollars as investors bought into the dream of fast and affordable transportation in the sky, despite not having any approved vehicles.
Shares of air taxi startups that went public as special-purpose vehicles in 2021 all tumbled as some of the initial investor enthusiasm evaporated amid global economic uncertainty.
Shares in Vertical are down 80 percent since the company listed on the Nasdaq in December, valuing the company at $386 million.
However, industry supporters insist that sentiment around the industry has shifted from wondering if electric flight will ever happen to focusing on the technological advances being made.
Vertical has partnered with companies including Rolls-Royce, Leonardo and Honeywell, to build its VX4 vehicle, which will have a range of 100 miles, a cruise speed of 150 mph and capacity for four passengers.
Vertical has been flying large-scale prototypes since 2018. It completed its first test flight last year and plans a high-speed test flight over the summer.
In March, the CAA granted Vertical so-called “Design Organization Approval,” a key step required to obtain type certification, the first step for a regulator to grant such approval to an eVTOL manufacturer.
The company is being funded through most of 2024, but it expects to raise additional capital this year. In the letter, it said it had £104m in cash and cash equivalents at the end of the first quarter.