Could we see flying taxis in the skies around Osaka and Tokyo by the mid-2020s? If today’s announcement of a strategic partnership between Japan Airlines and aircraft lessor Avolon is anything to go by, then yes. JAL will take up to 100 Vertical Aerospace VA-X4 eVTOL aircraft in a move it hopes will spark an ‘air mobility revolution’ in Japan.
The electric vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) market will be lifting off for real within the next few years. Hailed as a solution to congested and polluting commutes, it could soon bring us closer to the airborne, multi-level urban highways of our sci-fi reading youth.
While there may be some time before electrical helicopters fly past the Empire State Building, the Burj Khalifa, or the Petronas Towers in silent file, they could soon be dotting skylines worldwide. By 2025, Japan Airlines intends to introduce one of the world’s first eVTOL ridesharing businesses.
Flying taxis in time for Osaka Kansai EXPO
The Japanese flag carrier has signed an agreement with Dublin-based aircraft lessor Avolon, the two announced today. Through the partnership, JAL will have the right to purchase or lease up to 50 Vertical VA-X4 eVTOL aircraft via Avolon. It will also have the option to purchase or lease an additional 50 units. Japan Airlines is targeting entry into service for the Osaka Kansai Expo, taking place over six months starting April 2025.
“Today’s announcement represents an important step towards the social implementation of Air Taxi at Osaka Kansai EXPO in 2025. Our partnership with Avolon lays out the pathway towards achieving Air Mobility revolution in Japan. The introduction of VA-X4 will also contribute to reducing our environmental impact, and we fundamentally believe that sustainability will be the engine for future growth across our business and region,” Tomohiro Nishihata, Managing Executive Officer of Japan Airlines, said Wednesday.
Unconstrained by borders
The strategic partnership will also see the leasing firm’s investment and innovation affiliate, Avolon-e, assist JAL in identifying and targeting local customers. It will also research infrastructure requirements, certifications, and commercial models related to ridesharing in the sky.
“We continue to identify partners who share the same vision to revolutionise air travel through zero-emissions eVTOL aircraft and shape the future of travel. (…) We believe JAL’s multi-decade experience will prove invaluable as Vertical seeks type certificate validation with the Japan Civil Aviation Bureau, demonstrating that the VA-X4 will be a global eVTOL, unconstrained by borders,” Avolon’s CEO, Dómhnal Slattery, commented.
Most pre-orders of any eVTOL vehicle
Japan Airlines is not the only major carrier interested in Vertical’s VA-X4. It is the most pre-ordered aircraft in electrical flight. Virgin Atlantic has signed up for up to 150. Across the Atlantic, GOL is looking to take 250 while American Airlines is down for as many as 350. Avolon has agreed to purchase a total of 500. Along with smaller deals, the VA-X4 has 1350 conditional pre-orders thus far.
As the name implies, the VA-X4 will have space for four passengers (plus the pilot). It will be capable of traveling over 200 mph with a range of 100 miles. It will also be 100 times quieter – and safer – than a helicopter. Vertical has scheduled the first piloted flight to take place in 2022 in Bristol, UK.