Air-Taxi Startup Vertical to Pause Flight Tests After Crash

The crash of Vertical Aerospace Ltd.’s only electric air-taxi prototype this week will force the startup to pause flight tests until regulators complete an investigation.

(Bloomberg) — The crash of Vertical Aerospace Ltd.’s only electric air-taxi prototype this week will force the startup to pause flight tests until regulators complete an investigation. 

The VX4, a five-person tilt-rotor craft, crashed on Aug. 9 during a flight test at Cotswold Airport, the UK company said in a regulatory filing this week. The exercise was meant to test maneuverability during a staged motor failure, a key requirement to progress to crewed operations. 

The incident leaves Vertical without an operable aircraft as it seeks to progress toward commercialization of its air taxis and raise more money later this year. Ground tests are likely to continue. 

Photos from the scene “depicted the vehicle as having incurred significant damage,” with the nose and at least one of the tilt-rotors making hard contact with the ground, Canaccord analyst Austin Moeller wrote in a research note. 

He said it’s likely the company will need to conduct additional testing, raising its research spending and its cash burn above the £80 million ($102 million) it’s budgeted over the next 12 months. 

“Moreover, the accident could likely also have the impact of pushing manned test flights of the second prototype to the right, which may also impact the timing of type certification” required for commercial operations, Moeller wrote. Vertical has targeted type certification by year-end 2026 

The company declined comment beyond the Aug. 9 filing. 

“An accident involving a UAS at Cotswold Airport has been reported to the AAIB,” the UK’s Air Accidents Investigation Branch said in an email, using the common acronym for an unmanned aircraft system. “An investigation has been launched and we have begun making enquiries.” 

The UK’s Civil Aviation Authority declined to comment.  

Vertical said in a shareholder letter posted prior to the crash that it planned to raise more capital this year.

In the Aug. 3 letter, Vertical said the VX4 had completed a remote flight campaign and was progressing to “further enhanced mission profiles, including returning a pilot to the aircraft.” 

The second prototype is being built at a facility run by partner GKN Aerospace, according to the letter. Vertical had planned to start testing the newer model after the crewed flight tests of the first prototype later in the year. 

Vertical is working closely with the relevant authorities, it said in this week’s filing. The flight tests are “designed to establish the limits of the aircraft’s performance,” the company said. 

Vertical is among startups working to get electrically-powered vertical takeoff and landing aircraft, or eVTOLs, to market by the middle of the decade. The company began flight tests with the first prototype in September 2022, aimed at demonstrating it can meet stringent aviation safety norms. 

The Bristol-based company has lost more than half its value this year. The shares were up 2% to $1.56 as of 11:41 a.m. Friday in New York. 

–With assistance from Kate Duffy.

(Updates with AAIB statement in eighth paragraph)

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