United Airlines is partnering with air mobility company Archer to develop and eventually use aircraft with electric motors that would serve as "air taxis" in urban markets.
Per the agreement, United is providing "expertise in airspace management" as the Palo Alto, Calif.-based Archer develops battery-powered, short-haul aircraft with vertical takeoff and landing capabilities. Once the aircraft are operational and meet United's standards, the carrier and Mesa Airlines, a regional carrier among those operating United Express flights, will acquire up to 200 of those aircraft.
Current technology would enable Archer's aircraft to travel distances of up to 60 miles at speeds of up to 150 miles per hour, and the company is working to increase both speed and distance capabilities, according to United. They could provide faster commutes with a smaller carbon footprint to and from airports in large cities. For example, the aircraft would cut carbon emissions by 47 percent per passenger on a trip between Hollywood and Los Angeles International Airport, one of Archer's first target markets, compared with driving, according to United.
United expects it could be using the aircraft within five years. Archer plans to unveil its first full-scale aircraft of the type this year and begin production in 2023, with consumer flights beginning the next year.
Archer co-CEO and co-founder Brett Adcock in a statement said the partnership with United "will accelerate our timeline to market as a result of United's strategic guidance around [U.S. Federal Aviation Administration] certification, operations and maintenance." United's test pilots and environmental teams also are working with Archer, co-CEO and co-founder Adam Goldstein added.
United CEO Scott Kirby in a statement said the partnership is part of United's climate change strategy in "embracing emerging technologies that decarbonize air travel." In December, United announced an investment in 1PointFive, which is developing a plant that removes carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, and the carrier also has invested in sustainable fuel development over the past several years.
"By working with Archer, United is showing the aviation industry that now is the time to embrace cleaner, more efficient modes of transportation," according to Kirby. "With the right technology, we can curb the impact aircraft have on the planet, but we have to identify the next generation of companies who will make this a reality early and find ways to help them get off the ground."
In a research note regarding the partnership, Cowen and Co. said that "carbon emissions will be a major focus for airlines in the next two decades, and United is positioning itself to be a leader in this area."