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American Airlines Bets on Future of Urban Air Mobility

U.S. legacy airline companies taking the lead in shepherding new technology into next age of sustainable and efficient transport choices

American Airlines is putting its money on a horse of a different kind – private urban flying machines that run on efficiency, sustainability and inching the progress of civilization up a notch. Such is the case with the airline’s announcement last week of making a sizable investment with Vertical Aerospace, a leading UK-headquartered engineering and aeronautical business developing electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) aircraft. The announcement came approximately a week after United Airlines announced a partnership with Boom Supersonic to develop the next supersonic jet capable of connecting the U.S. with Europe in around three hours.

American, with its latest investment announcement, seeks to emphasize its focus on emerging technologies that are moving the needle forward on reducing carbon emissions and producing innovative elevations in the customer journey.

As part of its investment in Vertical, American has agreed to pre-order, subject to certain future agreed upon milestones and other terms, up to 250 aircraft, representing a potential pre-order commitment of $1 billion, and an option to order an additional 100 aircraft. The airline also expects to make a $25 million investment in Vertical through a private investment in public equity (PIPE) transaction. Vertical is developing the VA-X4, a zero-carbon aircraft that can carry four passengers and a pilot, and fly at speeds up to 200 mph over a range of over 100 miles.

“Emerging technologies are critical in the race to reduce carbon emissions and we are excited to partner with Vertical to develop the next generation of electric aircraft,” said Derek Kerr, Chief Financial Officer at American. “For years, American has led the industry in investing in newer, more fuel-efficient aircraft. Today’s partnership is another example of that commitment, and an investment in the future of air mobility. We are excited about the prospect of what this could mean for our customers, and our company.”

The Next Notch in Urban Transport

These aircraft could potentially transport customers quickly around urban city centers and to airports. Vertical plans to conduct its first test flight of the VA-X4 later this year, with certification of the aircraft as early as 2024.

“This is the most exciting time in aviation for almost a century; electrification will transform flying in the 21stcentury in the same way the jet engine did 70 years ago,” said Stephen Fitzpatrick, Vertical chief executive and founder. “As we all work towards a future beyond fossil fuels, we are delighted to be partnering with American Airlines. We share their passion for innovation and excellence and believe that by working together we will help make carbon free flight a reality for millions of passengers.”

American’s partnership with Vertical is the latest in the airline’s commitment to sustainability. The airline’s recent efforts include:

  • Invested $24 billion since 2013 in 595 more fuel-efficient aircraft as part of the most extensive fleet renewal effort in the aviation industry’s history.
  • Over the same period, American retired a similar number of less fuel-efficient planes, including retiring more than 150 older and less fuel-efficient aircraft in 2020.
  • Committed to purchase 9 million gallons of sustainable aviation fuel over three years from Neste, a leading producer of renewable products.
  • Engaged American’s customers in boosting demand for sustainable aviation fuel through agreements with Deloitte and Kuehne+Nagel.
  • Invested in new technology to help our aircraft operate more efficiently.

Vertical Aerospace, meanwhile, is foused on personal air travel that is on demand and carbon free. The company is backed by American Airlines, Avolon, Rolls-Royce and Honeywell among others and working to be able to produce at scale eVTOL aircraft with projected speeds over 200 mph, near silent when in flight, emitting zero emissions, and maintaining a low cost per passenger mile. The company expects the VA-X4 to eventually open up urban air mobility to a whole new range of passengers and transform how we travel.