Air Greenland has committed to buying or leasing a fleet of Vertical Aerospace’s VX4 eVTOL aircraft from leasing company Avolon as part of an agreement to form a working group to identify local infrastructure and certification requirements for advanced air mobility (AAM) in the region. The airline said it would define the size of its planned XV4 fleet at the conclusion of the working group’s assessment of the scale of the market opportunity.
“In Greenland, we see the effects of climate change every day and, as a company, we want to be at the forefront of the climate revolution,” said Air Greenland CEO Jacob Nitter Sørensen. “The VX4 aircraft will have many uses for Air Greenland and, through our partnership with Avolon, we look forward to welcoming our first travelers onboard in the near future—flying our guests to Ilimanaq Lodge to show the visible impacts that climate change is having on our country and planet.”
Last June, Avolon ordered 500 VX4s valued at $2 billion from Vertical Aerospace. Since announcing that order, Avolon placed 250 of the aircraft with Gol and Grupo Comporte in Brazil, up to 100 with Japan Airlines, and a minimum of 100 aircraft with AirAsia. Avolon has now placed up to 90 percent of its initial order book with committed operators.
UK-based Vertical Aerospace has also signed provisional sales agreements covering another 800 of the four-passenger aircraft that is expected to enter service in 2024. Prospective customers include American Airlines (with commitments for 350 units), Virgin Atlantic Airways (150), Iberojet (100), and Japan's Marubeni group (200). American and Virgin Atlantic are also investors in the manufacturer.
Vertical Aerospace is preparing to make a first test flight with a full-scale prototype of the VX4. It is aiming to certify the aircraft initially under EASA rules but has yet to confirm whether this might include approval for flights into the known icing conditions which it will certainly encounter in Greenland, which straddles the Arctic Circle. It may opt to develop a variant of the baseline aircraft adapted to take account of cold weather operations.
Air Greenland was founded in 1960 and operates a fleet including Airbus A330-200 airliners, Dash 8 twin turboprops, and four different types of helicopters. It operates both domestic and international services, as well as charter flights.
“Since our initial order, we have seen airlines all over the world make a commitment to the zero-emissions travel by selecting the VX4 aircraft as the first step in their decarbonization journey,” said Avolon CEO Dómhnal Slattery. “Today’s announcement with Air Greenland means we are taking zero-emissions travel to where climate change is having its most pronounced impact. We look forward to working with Air Greenland to bringing the zero-operating emission VX4 aircraft to where it matters the most.”
Avolon views existing airlines as strong candidates to become early adopters of what it believes will become a massive new market for air taxi services. In a recent interview with FutureFlight, Marc Tembleque, project leader of Avolon’s new AAM unit, pointed to their large existing customer bases, strong operational experience, and access to airports crying out for alternatives to ground transportation as the main factors behind this contention.
Avolon expects to lease eVTOL vehicles to other types of operators as well. The Avolon team has begun detailed planning on how the new business model will work, and it might adapt lease terms to reflect differences in operating models. “We’re convinced that demand will greatly exceed supply,” Tembleque said, explaining why it has decided to make early commitments to buy an aircraft that has yet to fly or progress beyond the early stages of flight certification.
Pressed as to why Ireland-based Avolon opted to support Vertical Aerospace, in which it also now an investor, Tembleque noted the strong aerospace pedigree of the UK-based start-up's key partners, including propulsion system provider Rolls-Royce and avionics group Honeywell. He said that Avolon also feels that the company’s decision to seek type certification through Europe’s EASA agency involves less risk from a safety and marketing perspective.
Tembleque said that Avolon decided directly invest in Vertical to maintain a stronger partnership with the manufacturer, and retain a “direct role in developing the eVTOL ecosystem and infrastructure to make sure that it works.”