Boasting record eVTOL pre-sales, UK company Vertical Aerospace (VA) is going public through a SPAC, with backing from Microsoft, American Airlines, Avolon, Honeywell and Rolls-Royce and a bulging US$4 billion-dollar pre-order book for as many as 1,000 of its VA-X4 eVTOL air taxis.

Virgin has reputably placed orders of between 50 and 150 aircraft.

The SPAC deal is a merger with Broadstone Acquisition Corp, and it’ll put VA on the New York Stock Exchange under the ticker EVTL sometime later this year – making it one of a growing number of eVTOL industry players putting their hats out for investment money.

VA will like most companies in the eVTOL market faces expensive challenges of certifying these next-gen aircraft and tooling up for production at volumes for the aerospace industry.

Assuming it hits its milestones, VA has pre-orders for 250 VA-X4s from American Airlines, 310 from Avolon, and somewhere between 50-150 from Virgin Atlantic, plus there are options on the American and Avolon deals for 100 and 190 extra aircraft respectively. This brings the numbers up to 610 and 1,000 aircraft, all valued at up to $4 billion.

“If you think about transportation strategically this is the next big frontier,” Domhnal Slattery, chief executive of Avolon, the world’s third-largest aircraft leasing company, told Reuters in an interview.

“Whether it is airlines operating this as an add-on product or ride sharing businesses in different jurisdictions, I think it is going to take a lot of different forms over time.”

Artists impression of the VA-X4.

The VA-X4 is a reasonably standard eVTOL design, a fixed-wing, V-tailed aircraft seating one pilot and four passengers, with a bank of vertical lift props along the back of the wing and a bank of tilting propellers along the front. The VA-X4 uses eight propellers in a four-blade design that will scissor together and sandwich back into a two-blade configuration in horizontal flight to keep drag down while adding some extra lift.

The aircraft will carry four passengers and a pilot for about 100 miles (160km) on each charge. cruising at speeds up to 202 mph (325 km/h). VA is claiming its aircraft to be 100 times quieter and 100 times safer than a helicopter at one fifth the cost and vastly lower maintenance. VA plans to test fly VA-X4 later this year and obtain certification for the aircraft as early as 2024.

VA has put a number of key partnerships in place to help it deliver the aircraft, as well as to share the dizzying costs of certification. Honeywell will be handling flight control systems, the electric powertrain is being developed by Rolls-Royce, Solvay is handling composite materials for the lightweight airframe and GKN is responsible for the electrical harness.

Microsoft is also on board, working on fleet management software. That represents a lot of people pulling in the same direction, and it gives VA a good chance of achieving its objectives.

The SPAC deal is expected to bring in about $344 million if all goes well, putting around 14 percent of the company in public hands, and the current figures imply a total company valuation around $1.8 billion.

VA says it’s in the process of building its VA-X4 prototype, with a first flight expected later in 2021. The company hopes to achieve type certification with EASA by 2024, and has been working closely with the regulators there for some years now. It aims to build 50 aircraft in 2024, 250 in 2025, 1,000 in 2026 and to break 2,000 units a year by 2028.