Vertical Nets 50 Preorders From South Korea’s Kakao Mobility

Vertical Aerospace CEO Stephen Fitzpatrick (left) and Kakao Mobility CEO Alex Ryu. 

Credit: Vertical Aerospace

UK electric air taxi startup Vertical Aerospace has signed an agreement with Kakao Mobility of South Korea for 50 preorders of its VX4 electric-vertical-takeoff-and-landing (eVTOL) vehicle, expanding Vertical’s ongoing focus on Korea and the Asia-Pacific region. 

A subsidiary of South Korean internet giant Kakao Corporation, Kakao Mobility is the operator of the country’s most-popular ride-hailing app, with more than 30 million registered users, the company said. Kakao plans to use the piloted, four-passenger VX4 to “create a seamless air-to-ground passenger journey” for urban commuters. 

In addition to the preorders, the two companies signed an agreement creating a joint working group to explore issues related to advanced air mobility (AAM) in South Korea, including network and fleet planning, infrastructure requirements, regulatory development and public awareness. 

The joint working group expands on Bristol, UK-based Vertical’s existing consortium partnership with Kakao Mobility, wireless carrier LG Uplus and construction and engineering firm GS E&C–as well as continued engagement with Korea’s Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport–related to the planned K-UAM Grand Challenge in 2024-25.

Speaking to the AAM Report, Vertical CEO Stephen Fitzpatrick said he sees South Korea as a ripe market to become an early adopter of urban air mobility (UAM) and electric air taxis. 

“In Korea, there is real societal enthusiasm for urban air mobility, and if you’ve ever been to Seoul, you’ll understand why,” Fitzpatrick says. “The traffic there is really among some of the worst I’ve ever seen, so the time savings that we could bring with eVTOL could be a game-changer … I definitely think Korea wants to be right at the cutting edge and among the first cohort of countries that launch UAM.”

Fitzpatrick said the K-UAM Grand Challenge—a series of UAM demonstration flights organized by Seoul’s metropolitan government for 2024-25—is a good example of the kind of “holistic thinking” that can draw together stakeholders from across the industry to demonstrate the vision of AAM to regulators and the general public. 

“I think seeing something like this government challenge—where the national government and the Ministry of Transport are coordinating all the relevant stakeholders toward one specific aim and putting a deadline against it—that’s the kind of initiative you need to get social acceptance and drive a sense of urgency,” Fitzpatrick said.

In March Vertical Aerospace became the first eVTOL startup to receive its Design Organization Approval (DOA) from the UK Civil Aviation Administration (CAA). It was a key step toward certification, as UK and European companies cannot hold a type certification without a DOA. 

But the company recently pushed back its target certification date to late 2026 from 2025, which it attributed to the decision to flight test full-scale piloted aircraft from the onset of its flight test program. This will require a greater up-front time investment than for remotely-piloted or subscale demonstrators. 

Fitzpatrick says he is not worried about the delay, adding that he actually expects to see more timeline delays announced across the AAM sector in the coming months as the complex realities of type certification and commercialization come into clearer focus.

“We expect other electric aircraft and UAM businesses to start to see the challenges in bringing together their supply chains in a short time … You have a few single technologies that are perhaps a little bit behind schedule, and before you know it the whole timeline is slipping,” Fitzpatrick says. “As the deadlines start to loom very close on the horizon, I think we’ll see more of these delays across the industry.” 

Ben Goldstein

Based in Washington, Ben covers Congress, regulatory agencies, the Departments of Justice and Transportation and lobby groups.