American Airlines is investing in UK-based electric aircraft maker Vertical Aerospace and could order as many as 250 of the new planes for $1 billion, the airline said Thursday.
Vertical Aerospace plans to develop a zero-carbon aircraft that can carry four passengers and a pilot and fly at speeds of up to 200 mph with a range of 100 miles.
Vertical has also garnered investment support from Microsoft and Virgin Atlantic along with major aircraft suppliers such as Honeywell and Rolls-Royce.
It’s the first major leap by American Airlines into the electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVOTL) aircraft field, following a similar deal by rival United Airlines in February to order up to $1 billion in electric aircraft through a company called Archer Aviation.
“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 a statement from Derek Kerr, chief financial officer at American. “For years, American has led the industry in investing in newer, more fuel-efficient aircraft.”
Airline executives have sometimes dismissed electric aircraft because of the limited range and the decades it will likely take for them to carry a larger number of passengers over significant distances like commercial airliners do.
But airline executives have also been pushing for ways to reduce the carbon footprint of flying through technologies such as sustainable aviation fuel and more fuel-efficient engines.
American said the Vertical Aerospace aircraft could carry passengers “quickly around urban city centers and to airports.” Vertical said the planes will have the same standards as commercial airline jets and will be 100 times safer than helicopters.
Vertical is planning a test flight of its VA-X4 model for later this year and hopes to have the aircraft certified by 2024.
Vertical says it has pre-orders for as many as 1,000 of the planes at a value of as much as $4 billion. American said it will only order the planes if the aircraft can reach a set of milestones and specifications that will be set later. Aircraft leasing firm Avolon is also hoping to take orders for as many as 310 of the aircraft with the option for 190 more.
Vertical also announced on Thursday that it was merging with special-purpose acquisition company Broadstone Acquisition Corp. to form a publicly traded company worth about $2.2 billion. These types of special-purpose acquisition companies have grown in popularity during the last two years as investors have looked to invest in emerging technologies and fields.
“This is the most exciting time in aviation for almost a century; electrification will transform flying in the 21st century in the same way the jet engine did 70 years ago,” said a statement from Vertical CEO Stephen Fitzpatrick.