Highways in the sky: Avolon to launch ridesharing network

Brazil’s Gol and Grupo Comporte to acquire 250 vertical take-off and landing aircraft

Dublin-based aircraft lessor Avolon has promised to build "highways in the skies" after experiencing "extraordinary" demand for its new ultra short-haul, vertical take-off and landing aircraft, with new deals with airlines in the Middle East and Asia "close".

Avolon announced details of its first deal for the VA-X4 electric, vertical take-off and landing (Evtol) aircraft on Tuesday. The vision for the aircraft is that they would operate like taxis and be affordable for average consumers.

Gol and Grupo Comporte, Brazil’s largest airline and leading transport operator respectively, are to buy or lease half of the 500 aircraft Avolon bought in June. Avolon would not disclose the financial details of the deal in Brazil, but it spent $2 billion (€1.7 billion) on the June transaction.

The VA-X4 is a piloted, zero emissions, aircraft capable of travelling more than 320 km/h (200mp/h), with a range of more than 100 miles and capacity for four passengers. It takes off vertically, like a helicopter, enabling it to operate in and out of cities and confined locations.


Safer than helicoptors

The aircraft, manufactured by Vertical Aerospace, is expected to enter operation in 2024. Avolon has said it is significantly safer than a helicopter as it operates with additional rotors, and is also about 100 times quieter.

The plan in Brazil is to commercialise one of the world’s first ridesharing platforms for aircraft in Sao Paolo, which is one of the densest cities in the world with a population of more than 22 million.

“Sao Paolo really fits that bill of a mega-city with huge congestion issues for use of this kind of aircraft,” Avolon chief commercial officer Paul Geaney told The Irish Times. “This will expand to other cities in Brazil like Rio, Fortaleza, Manaus – you can keep on going.

“We are really struck by the amount of interest we have seen from airlines around the world.

“We’ve seen Vertical do deals with American airlines, with Virgin Atlantic, so that covers Europe and North America. We now have Latin America. We’re in advanced negotiations with airlines customers in Asia.

“There has been an extraordinary amount of interest since we announced the purchase of 500 aircraft three months ago. This is going to become an important and strategic part of our business. Certainly we will be keeping our eyes open for more opportunities.

“We have more demand than we have supply. If you’d told us three months ago we would have been sitting here with an order like this and with what we know we have in the pipeline, we would have been incredibly surprised.

“Only two of the largest cities in the world are in the US. The vast majority of them are in Asia. That means there is a tremendous opportunity for us in Asia. The geographies of another of those countries really lend themselves to the aircraft type.

High-density cities

“We are close to other transactions and that is largely with an emphasis going east from Europe into the Middle East and Asia.”

Vertical chief executive Stephen Fitzpatrick said the aircraft “will transform how we travel around high population density cities that are clogged with traffic by taking to the skies with zero emissions aircraft”.

Speaking after the purchase of the aircraft in June, Avolon chief executive Dómhnal Slattery said Ireland was well-positioned to be a “global centre of excellence” in the ultra short-haul urban air industry.

"I've been in the game since 1989 and this is the single biggest thing that has excited me most since the first day I got a job working for Tony Ryan, " he said.

“Morgan Stanley is forecasting that this industry could be a $1 trillion business by 2040. Based on our work, demand for these types of aircraft globally could be exponential.”

Mr Slattery said the company wants to “democratise” the aircraft rather than have them become toys for the ultra-wealthy.

“We want to get this to a point where it will cost no more than twice what an Uber would have for the same journey,” he said. “People will be flying these things literally like they would take a car or a taxi today.”

Colin Gleeson

Colin Gleeson

Colin Gleeson is an Irish Times reporter