United Airlines is committing to flying taxis, the first company to place a deposit down for a purchase.
The top U.S. airline recently plunked down a $10-million deposit for 100 aircrafts developed by Archer Aviation Inc.
While other airlines have expressed interest in the aircraft, United’s deposit is the first cash commitment to a deal. The planes have not yet received approval from regulators to fly passengers.
American Airlines has made a verbal agreement with Vertical Aerospace, another electric-plane developer, but has not yet made payments.
Archer’s current four-passenger model is able to take off and land vertically, like a helicopter, making it ideal for travel around cities. Passengers would avoid heavy traffic by using the flying taxis and reduce pollution by using electric-powered transportation.
United will be Archer’s launch customer for the aircraft, The Wall Street Journal reports.
Archer still has a few hurdles to overcome before the electric plane can become a reality. Regulators are still investigating how to safely integrate the planes into current flight patterns as well as what requirements pilots will need.
The Federal Aviation Administration says that some companies should receive approval by 2024. Archer anticipates that it will be among these companies and hopes to start operating in 2025.
United venture-capital president Michael Leskinen has started to plan routes the flying taxis will follow and expects the routes will be announced in a few months. United has not yet decided in which cities they will deploy the flying taxis.
Leskinen says that prices will be comparable to Uber Black, around $110 to $120, though those prices could eventually come down.
Flying taxis will be another step toward reducing carbon emissions in cities. San Francisco recently approved driverless taxi service. Cruise to operate without a safety driver in the city limits. The self-driving cars are fully electric. In early June, Cruise obtained the first permits for self-driving taxis in San Francisco. Reuters reports that Cruise plans to launch 30 vehicles in the upcoming weeks.
Previously, driverless vehicles were permitted in the city, but a safety driver had to be present. Now, the vehicles can operate without this precaution, though they still have strict regulations limiting speed and location.
Google parent company Alphabet has Waymo, a driverless-taxi service that has been ferrying people around Phoenix, Arizona, since 2018, and has been driving its employees around San Francisco since March of this year, Reuters reports.
Hawaiian Airlines has invested in a Boston-based company that seeks to bring all-electric airplanes into commercial service, providing fast, efficient, and low-cost travel for regular, short-duration routes.