Edited by: Fern Sidman
United Airlines thinks that in a few years, plenty of big-city customers will pay $100 or more for a one-way ride to the airport in a four-seat, electric-powered air taxi, as was reported by the Associated Press on Thursday.
The Chicago-based airline said Thursday that it invested $15 million in a startup manufacturer, and signed a “conditional” agreement to buy 200 of the tiny aircraft with options for 200 more, the report indicated.
It’s hard to judge United’s commitment to the deal, since it wouldn’t provide terms for the order, the AP reported. A spokesman said the conditions are standard when buying an aircraft that hasn’t been certified by regulators, and they cover “a number of United’s business objectives.”
The stake in Eve amounts to less than 5% of United’s second-quarter profit.
According to a report on Friday on the Engadget.com web site, the company says its investment was spurred by both its confidence in the urban air mobility market and Eve’s working relationship with Embraer. According to United, Embrarer is “a trusted aircraft manufacturer with a proven track record of building and certifying aircraft over the company’s 53-year history.” Embrarer previously worked with Uber on a flying taxi project that the latter eventually ditched.
Engadget.com also reported that Eve’s flying taxi has conventional fixed wings, rotors and pushers with a design that United says favors safety, efficiency, reliability and certifiability. It’s said to have a range of 60 miles and United added that the vehicle can “reduce noise levels by 90 percent compared to current conventional aircraft.”
Also on Friday, TheVerge.com web site reported that Eve may have to meet certain benchmarks before fulfilling its order with United, as the airline described it as a “conditional purchase agreement.” Delivery of Eve’s first aircraft, which has a range of 60 miles, is expected in 2026.
The investment will come from United’s venture arm, United Airlines Ventures, which the airline is using to further its goal to reach net zero emissions by 2050 without the use of traditional carbon offsets, according to the report on TheVerge.com web site.
The AP also reported that the deal fits United’s pattern of announcing interest in startups that are trying to build and win regulatory approval for air taxis, like Archer, and supersonic planes, like Boom.
Mike Leskinen, president of United’s venture-funding arm, said the eVTOLs — electric vertical takeoff and landing aircraft — will be ideally suited for traffic-clogged cities where United flies, including New York, Chicago and San Francisco, the AP reported. He said air taxis will be faster than driving to the airport and produce fewer emissions, and trips will cost $100 to $150 each way.
“It will take time for consumers to adopt this. People are going to have some hesitancy at first,” Leskinen said, according to the AP report. “It will feel a lot similar to a helicopter ride, it might be scary for some, but this is going to change the way we work and live.”
The Eve aircraft is envisioned to have a range of 40 to 60 miles (65 to 100 kilometers). The AP also reported that future designs might be slightly bigger than the currently planned four-seater, but they would not replace any planes that United flies from one airport to another, so they won’t reduce carbon emissions produced by the airline’s regular fleet.