IDA in talks with Vertical Aerospace on setting up facility to make electric aircraft

Aircraft will carry four passengers and designed to fly distances of about 100 miles

A start-up company that hopes to manufacture vertical lift electric aircraft is in early-stage engagement with IDA Ireland about establishing a production facility in the Republic, according to leading Irish aircraft leasing executive Dómhnal Slattery, whose company Avolon has backed the venture.

Vertical Aerospace Group is a Bristol-headquartered engineering and aeronautical business founded in 2016 by Belfast entrepreneur Stephen Fitzpatrick. Its aim is to develop electric vertical take-Off and landing (eVTOL) aircraft.

The company is on course to list on the New York Stock Exchange on Friday via a so-called Spac merger with Broadstone Acquisition Corp.

Avolon has provided $15 million in equity for the business; other backers of the venture include Microsoft, Rolls Royce, American Airlines and Honeywell.

The eVTOL aircraft will carry four passengers, will be battery powered and will make virtually no sound. It is designed to fly distances of about 100 miles as a zero emission alternative to travelling by car or by other means.

Later iterations of the aircraft are expected to have a longer range and could be autonomous.

Vertical has characterised them as “flying taxis”, with plans to build vertiports to allow for takeoff, landing and the recharging of the aircraft in major cities around the world.

While still in the early phase of development, Vertical has secured conditional pre-orders for up to $4 billion and 1,000 eVTOL aircraft from Avolon (500) and American Airlines, as well as a pre-order option from Virgin Atlantic.

Speaking to The Irish Times, Mr Slattery, who is an adviser to the chief executive of the company, said the investment would probably amount to a $100 million if the plan were to take off.

“My vision would be to have a major production facility based in Ireland making these aircraft,” he said. “We have engaged with Martin Shanahan of the IDA and the IDA has embraced that potential.

“Vertical will be building at least one major production facility in Europe. That decision will be made next year.”

Initial facility

Mr Slattery said the options will “realistically” narrow to Britain, Northern Ireland or the Republic as the location for that initial facility. “The IDA have identified a significant site in Ireland and, for me, I think we are ideally positioned to win that bake off but it’s going to get intense.

“This is one of the new industries of the future. It is akin to high-end car manufacturing, making three or four of these a day. So you don’t need foundries or lots of steel.

“For me it would be a dream to have it located in Ireland. Now it’s not my decision but I will be doing everything I can to influence the best decision for the company.”

Vertical has targeted profitability and cash flow breakeven with annual sales of fewer than 100 aircraft. Commercial operations are planned for 2024, once it is certified under the European Union Aviation Safety Agency.

Vertical is expected to have a €1.82 billion equity valuation when it lists on the stock market this week, with Avolon having about 5 per cent holding when warrants are taken into account.

Ciarán Hancock

Ciarán Hancock

Ciarán Hancock is Business Editor of The Irish Times

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