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United Airlines Places $10 Million Downpayment On Flying Taxis

Date: August 11, 2022

BYLINNEA AHLGREN, Simple Flying

When it comes to sustainability and investing in various decarbonization strategies, some airlines are pushing harder than others. The latest move along United Airlines' ambitious sustainability strategy is to get serious about acquiring zero-emission urban air mobility (UAM) vehicles. On Wednesday, the carrier put down a $10 million downpayment for 100 flying electric taxis from Archer Aviation.

Electric vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) startup Archer Aviation first acquired United as a customer in January 2021. The airline then placed an order worth $1 billion from the Palo Alto-based company. Options were included for aircraft worth an additional $500 million. The agreement will allow United to operate as many as 200 of Archer's eVTOLs. Customer deliveries are planned to begin in 2024, pending regulatory approval.

United Airlines will be the launch customer for the four-seater eVTOL that Archer is currently developing. Yet to be mass-produced, the vehicle, called Maker, is currently undergoing flight testing. It will be able to travel for up to 60 miles on a single charge at speeds of 150 miles per hour. You can already catch a glimpse of it in the air in the video shared by the company's CEO below.

United committing to eVTOL technology

Michael Leskinen, President of United Airlines Ventures, the airline's branch for investing in sustainable innovation and technology, commented on the new vote of confidence in the eVTOL-maker,

“This announcement marks a new important phase in our relationship with Archer, and our commitment to eVTOL technology. We are witnessing an inflection point where consumers, businesses, and policymakers are all aligned to prioritize technology that reduces the impact of climate change. (...) We believe eVTOLs have the potential to both help achieve carbon-neutral travel and serve as an innovative new tool to change how United customers experience comfort, convenience, and efficiency during their commutes within cities across the globe.”

Mr Leskinen further told the Wall Street Journal that United has begun making more concrete plans for where it will deploy its eVTOLs. Most likely, the airline will even announce the routes "in the coming months." The idea is for operations to begin in the congested cities where United has its main hubs, although it hasn't yet decided which ones.

If you think the carbon-neutral mode of transport will only be for those who can already afford a helicopter ride to their private jet waiting at the airport, think again. Prices, Leskinen says, will be comparable to those of an Uber Black service (around $120 for a Manhattan to a NY airport ride), with fares predicted to come down over time.

Signal of confidence in Archer's roadmap

Adam Goldstein, Archer’s CEO, commented,

“I am incredibly proud of the entire Archer team as we reach this milestone in our partnership with United Airlines. To receive a cash deposit is validation of Archer’s achievements to date, not only with flight testing and product development, but also a great signal of confidence in our roadmap to commercialization”

f course, there is more that needs to go into developing the UAM market besides the aircraft (although they are pretty essential components). Earlier this year, United and Archer formed a joint eVTOL advisory committee chaired by Archer’s VP of Engineering, Dave Dennison, and Mauricio Angel, United’s Managing Director, United Express TechOps Strategy and Operations. The committee will help develop systems and features for maintenance and operational aspects of bringing Maker to market.

Source: The Wall Street Journal

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