back to article American Airlines reserves 50 flying taxis

American Airlines has committed to making pre-delivery payments for 50 Vertical Aerospace VX4 electric VTOL aircraft. The commitment [PDF] comes just over a year after the aviation giant made a pre-order for 250 of the flying taxis, with an option for a further 100. Shares in Vertical Aerospace jumped as the news was …

  1. Potemkine! Silver badge

    Greenwashing

    Being electric, the aircraft will also have zero operating emissions, the company said.

    Unless electricity is made from coal or gas, that is 60% of the electricity made in the US in 2021.

    1. jmch Silver badge

      Re: Greenwashing

      Zero emissions at point of use is in any case a plus.

      And in any case less than 100% total energy use will generate CO2 / particulate / other emissions.

      Not to mention a significant reduction in noise pollution is always welcome.

      1. Potemkine! Silver badge

        Re: Greenwashing

        This is a new usage, so it's pollution added anyway.

        And in any case less than 100% total energy use will generate CO2 / particulate / other emissions

        Looking at the cost in CO2 to build batteries and the associate pollution, I'm not convinced there's a gain there. I have also to see the calculation of CO2 produced by gas and coal power stations and taking into account the different losses for electricity transportation and storage to agree there's a gain on that point.

        About particles, there's a thing called DPF which is really efficient - much more on that point than coal power stations.

        Generating enough electricity without producing CO2 is the key point. Replacing vehicles by battery-powered electrical ones without this is pointless. Adding vehicles without this is worsening the problem.

      2. badflorist Bronze badge

        Fatman's taxi.

        "Zero emissions at point of use is in any case a plus."

        Who cares, it's an overall increase, a MAJOR increase.

        First, it's a pollution rate of 0% to the X% rate created by VTOL taxis. It's hard to subtract via addition.

        Then the obvious... 100 mile range. At best, that's 50 miles from where ever the charging base is to the taxi fare then back to the charging base. So realistically, only fat rich CEO's will be using these in densely populated cities that have landing pads everywhere, or in other words for the USA, strictly the New York City metropolitan area. Of course there would be much less pollution if they would use any type of land vehicle and the elevator.

        Then there's still the discussion about create landing pads and charging/personnel stations solely for VTOL taxis... This will all be environmentally horrible, and all for the fat rich CEO.

    2. Charlie Clark Silver badge

      Re: Greenwashing

      Yes, but companies can choose where they buy their electricity and this has moved the dial a bit. It's quite possible that an airline could have its own solar supply for this kind of thing.

      Perhaps more important: will these be new journeys? Or what are they replacing?

      1. jmch Silver badge

        Re: Greenwashing

        "Perhaps more important: will these be new journeys? Or what are they replacing?"

        Impossible to know really without knowing hat the operating costs are. The manufacturer's website gives peak engine power and range but not battery capacity, so can't estimate electric power consumption/km. They say it's simple to drive/navigate, but before it's certified we don't know if it needs to be flown by an experienced captain or the air equivalent of an Uber driver. And there's also no word on maintenance requirements, although the basic idea with electric having less moving parts = less maintenance requirements probably holds true.

        Given the form factor of pilot + 4 passengers I'd say it's targeted to replace helicopters, but also given the less noise generated I'm willing to bet they want to expand helicopter taxi service into urban areas where helicopters are currently not allowed. Basically an executive taxi service, which will also be priced accordingly. It's unlikely to be of use as a delivery vehicle (given a 4-passenger limit it's likely that it's load limit is at most 500kg) except for high-value / low weight items - I'm thinking medical supplies / transplant organs and the like.

    3. Filippo Silver badge

      Re: Greenwashing

      That is correct. Operating a vehicle at true zero emissions is a puzzle of two pieces: the vehicle, and the power plant.

      Nevertheless, if you want to eventually complete the puzzle, you do have to have both pieces, so any progress on one of them is a good thing.

      1. Anonymous Coward Silver badge
        Thumb Up

        Re: Greenwashing

        Don't forget the manufacturing stage. That will consume a significant amount of energy that may not be particularly green.

        1. Filippo Silver badge

          Re: Greenwashing

          True, but I think most of that energy comes from the grid, so it's the same problem.

      2. Potemkine! Silver badge

        Re: Greenwashing

        so any progress on one of them is a good thing.

        Not if there's more pollution made to extract lithium and build batteries.

        The two pieces of the puzzle are not equal.

        There are much more gain in changing how electricity is made and it is a prerequisite for the second piece. Making new vehicles requires energy and resources to be built, it has a cost in term of pollution. When it is sold like being The solution, it's a marketing lie.

        There's a third piece: building a grid strong enough to be able to provide the energy for these new usages.

    4. DS999 Silver badge

      Re: Greenwashing

      So we should wait on electric cars, trucks, taxis, and planes until 100% of electricity production in the US is renewable?

      Point of use emissions matter too, especially in big cities where air quality is a concern. That and the reduced noise would make replacing helicopter use around cities a pretty big win even if the overall emissions are roughly the same as they were before.

      The grid will continue to become more renewable over time, making this cleaner over time even if you assume it is just taking random grid power, rather than the facility it flies out of installing solar panels to offset the power it uses for charging.

      Assuming they can deliver on what they're promising, of course.

  2. Graham Dawson Silver badge

    I see a lot of flash, but very little information about where they're going to put all the batteries necessary to provide that stated range, especially given VTOL requires a great deal more energy than a conventional runway landing. Current and near-future cell technology doesn't have the energy density necessary to get the sort of performance they're promising. Shades of the Nikola HGV scam, IMO.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Still.. it is a win win situation.

      American airlines gets into the news, and the manufacturer gets to tell impatient investors that they have "sales".

      There is a loooooong way from a working prototype to a certified product in series production.

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Surely we already have VTOL aircraft that can carry a small number of people for a short distance. It's called a helicopter.

    The maintenance and running costs mean that small aircraft are a very expensive way to move people about and as such their use is confined to very rich people, or terrain where no alternative exists.

    1. Mayday Silver badge
      Boffin

      Vs helicopter

      I’m a pilot. Shit pilot but pilot nonetheless

      A helicopter is a different aircraft category to this thing, being a “powered lift aircraft”. A helicopter is much more complex than a powered lift aircraft, where the pilot needs to operate cyclic, collective and tail rotors to drive the thing. Powered lift does not need much at all. Powered lift also has much less moving parts, less complexity in the machine and other lower maintenance requirements. Not to mention costs. A helicopter is around $2500USD per hour to operate. Can’t imagine this thing being close to that.

      Of course, the pilot would still need a commercial licence within the powered lift category to take passengers, and this is no place for a glorified Uber driver.

  4. Filippo Silver badge

    What's the usage scenario for this? Honest question.

    With a range of only 100 miles, I'm having difficulties thinking of a scenario where you would not be better off using a car. Just the drive to and from the airports, parking and getting to the actual vehicle, even with all the fast-tracking the very wealthy can get, would almost always take longer than just driving 100 miles door-to-door.

    Maybe if you're the kind of uber-rich that has a landing pad in their own garden, and you want to go to a party at some other uber-rich's place, that also has a landing pad in his garden, and happens to be more than 20 miles away (otherwise you're better off driving), but less than 100, and also happens to have the facilities to fast-charge the vehicle, so you can use it to fly back? Seems a bit contrived.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      100 mile range would get you to an island well into international waters...

      1. ICL1900-G3 Bronze badge

        Tracy Island!

    2. Richard 12 Silver badge

      Executive intra-city hops

      Same thing that most commercial helicopters are used for, outside of oil rigs.

      Presumably the key improvements are noise and glide slope (most cities have very strict rules about where helicopters may fly), running costs and pilot training, as VTOL aircraft training is simpler than helicopter pilot training.

      The intention will be for execs to fly into a major airport then take one of these to their final destination, instead of them having to potentially mix with those dirty "people" on the ground.

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