There’s a new aircraft that United Airlines is so excited about that last week they plunked down a $10 million deposit towards a $2 billion purchase. The planned order is for 100 aircraft. Last year UAL and manufacturer Archer inked that, together with an option to buy even more. If all goes as planned and the plane is eVTOL (electric vertical takeoff and landing vehicle) certified by the FAA, it hopes to deliver its first aircraft in two years.
Will these “flying taxis” have a place in Hawaii?
In Hawaii’s new travel paradigm, we will see many visitors who want to get to their resorts in a reasonable amount of time. Have you tried driving recently between Maui’s Kahului Airport and the West Maui resorts of Kaanapali and beyond? We experienced driving that has taken as much as two hours, which isn’t fun. Enters UAL’s Archer eVTOL, which can quickly and easily get passengers to West Maui’s Kapalua Airport.
It isn’t clear how these planes will be FAA regulated. Safety questions remain, as well as where they will fit into the airline paradigm. Or will these run like Uber? And yet this isn’t as far-fetched as it may seem. The aircraft is said to offer safe, quiet, and cheap transportation, comparable in some ways with helicopter transport.
Intended for short on-island fights, like Kahului to West Maui or Hana, or Lihue to Princeville, or Kona to Waimea or Hilo, and to nearby islands like Lanai and Molokai, these planes will have a range of about 60 miles and travel up to a top speed of 150 miles per hour. These are designed specifically to help avoid road traffic, such as on Maui. The plane can reach a maximum altitude of 2,000 ft.
At this point, the manufacturer’s and United Airlines’ agreement is preliminary. It may materialize into something big, but United will wait to see more. It isn’t clear if these aircraft will be limited to using existing airports or if they will be able to land in other airfields. It is unknown how FAA may regulate these, as they aren’t typically proactive in such ventures. There are many other unknowns.
The company was founded four years ago and is building its own aircraft and batteries. The first version is designed to carry four passengers and will be piloted. A future version might even be pilotless.
In the past year, Archer entered into strategic partnerships with United Airlines and with the US Air Force. The first launch cities will be Los Angeles and Miami. FAA also signed off on the company’s G-1 certification basis. That establishes the requirements related to airworthiness and environmental considerations. The company, which is now in the design stage of production aircraft, has designed, built, unveiled, and preliminary flight-tested its first Maker full-scale aircraft.
eVTOL and the FAA
The FAA is getting ready to certify a number of new eVTOLs, with passenger flights planned within the next 24 months. FAA said in June that they’re on track for that, pending any safety issues. There have been a number of unmanned eVTOL crashes, which depending on your point of view is serious. Industry spokespeople say that this is just a normal part of eVTOL evolution. Only time will tell.
Two hundred companies are now in the eVTOL market.
The marketplace has taken off, and many new designs are in development for everything from passenger flights to delivery vehicles. Deloitte says that eVTOL is set to become a $4 billion market by 2025 and a $57 billion a year market by 2035.