United, Electrified

Banner airline strikes deal for $1B worth of electric air taxis

United Airlines, the country’s third largest flight provider, announced Thursday that it has completed an agreement to work with air mobility company Archer “as part of the [commercial] airline’s broader effort to invest in emerging technologies that decarbonize air travel,” per the February 10 press release.

The Chicago-based airline declares the deal as its industry slowly attempts to recover from a year of ravaging drops in revenue and cutbacks stemming from the pandemic. The aforementioned “broader effort” to combat climate change was spearheaded by a December 10 declaration that United would reduce greenhouse gas emissions 100% by 2050. Financial pundits are calling the two subsequent announcements “a big bet on the future”:

archer electic aircraft – YouTube

Rather than relying on traditional combustion engines, Archer’s electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) aircraft are designed to use electric motors and have the potential for future use as an ‘air taxi’ in urban markets. Air taxis, though early in their development and implementation, are intended to be used for shorter flights between regional airports (think Newark to JFK, Van Nuys to LAX).

While this is not the first instance of electric air travel, it may be the most consequential we’ve seen yet. The announcement likely confirms recent speculation that Archer will go public as a company. Siemens has been working on air taxi technology for over a decade, and has a deal with Airbus for new models, as well as a separate partnership with Bye Aerospace. Likewise, WEG has a similar deal with Embraer, reached in 2019.

Under the terms of the agreement, United will contribute its expertise in airspace management to assist Archer with the development of battery-powered, short-haul aircraft. Once the aircraft are in operation and have met United’s operating and business requirements, United, together with Mesa Airlines, would acquire a fleet of up to 200 of these electric aircraft that would be operated by a partner and are expected to give customers a quick, economical and low-carbon way to get to United’s hub airports and commute in dense urban environments within the next five years.

With today’s technology, Archer’s aircraft are designed to travel distances of up to 60 miles at speeds of up to 150 miles per hour and future models will be designed to travel faster and further. Archer’s aircraft said to be capable of saving individuals time on their commute, and United also estimates that using Archer’s eVTOL aircraft could reduce CO2 emissions by 47% per passenger on a trip between Hollywood and Los Angeles International Airport (LAX), one of the initial cities where Archer plans to launch its fleet.

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