United Airlines eyes 200-strong air taxi fleet

US airline United is partnering with startup Archer Aviation on the development and roll-out of a fleet of up to 200 electric air taxis.


Archer is one of several players in the emerging ‘urban air mobility’ segment, looking to shake up short-hop city transport using eVTOL (electric vertical takeoff and landing) aircraft. Its four-passenger vehicle ‘Maker’ has a range of around 100km and can fly at speeds up to 240km/h using six five-blade tilt rotors and six two-blade VTOL-only rotors. Archer claims Maker will be able to fly from Manhattan to JFK Airport in seven minutes at a cost of just $50 per passenger.

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United, alongside Phoenix-based regional airline Mesa, has placed a provisional $1.1bn order for ‘up to’ 200 Makers, with an option for an additional $500m spend. According to United, the fleet will allow it to link passengers to its main airport hubs more rapidly and with zero tailpipe emissions. It expects the first vehicles to be in operation within five years.

"Part of how United will combat global warming is by embracing emerging technologies that decarbonise air travel,” said United CEO Scott 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. Archer's eVTOL design, manufacturing model and engineering expertise has the clear potential to change how people commute within major metropolitan cities all over the world."

Founded less than a year ago in May 2020, Silicon Valley-based Archer is one of the first eVTOL companies to have a major order on its books. This week it announced that it was merging with Atlas Crest Investment Corp, a special purpose acquisition company that will eventually see Archer publicly listed on the New York Stock Exchange. As well as financial support, the agreement with United will see the airline sharing technical know-how and aiding the start-up in areas such as certification and regulatory approval.

"This deal represents so much more than just a commercial agreement for our aircraft, but rather the start of a relationship that we believe will accelerate our timeline to market as a result of United's strategic guidance around FAA certification, operations and maintenance,” said Brett Adcock, co-CEO and co-founder of Archer.