United Airlines is betting big on electric vehicles in the sky.
The airline agreed to purchase 200 electric air taxis from Eve Air Mobility for $15 million, and the deal also gives United the option to purchase 200 more air taxis, or electric vertical take-off and landing vehicles (eVTOLs), in the future.
"Our agreement with Eve highlights our confidence in the urban air mobility market and serves as another important benchmark toward our goal of net zero carbon emissions by 2050 — without using traditional offsets," United Airlines Ventures (UAV) President Michael Leskinen said in a statement. "Together, we believe our suite of clean energy technologies will revolutionize air travel as we know it and serve as the catalyst for the aviation industry to move toward a sustainable future."
Backed by Brazilian aerospace company Embraer, Eve Air Mobility, an urban air mobility company that made its debut on the New York Stock Exchange in May, designs and produces electric vertical takeoff and landing aircraft, which are intended to provide emissions-free air taxi services in urban markets. Eve Air also provides maintenance and support services, and manages urban air traffic to allow the vehicles to operate safely in densely-populated urban environments.
The Eve Air deal follows United Airlines' $1 billion investment and purchase agreement last year in California-based air taxi maker Archer Aviation, according to CNBC.
"Today, United is making history again, by becoming the first major airline to publicly invest in two eVTOL companies," Leskinen said in a statement.
Although some of the technology at play in electric taxis from Eve and Archer will likely resemble what could eventually be used in electric airliners, Leskinen and United Chief Sustainability Officer Lauren Riley said the investment is about expanding United’s offerings and decarbonizing the trip to and from the airport, not replacing the airline’s existing routes or carriers.
"We don't anticipate eVTOLs, at least first or second generation, to replace any of our regional route," Leskinen said on a call with media. "This is about that commute to and from the airport."
United anticipates rolling out the Archer taxis as soon as 2024 or 2025 and the Eve taxis closer to 2026. When they eventually do roll out, they won’t be accessible to all consumers. Leskinen said he expects trips to cost anywhere from $100 to $150 for a one-way trip, "similar to an Uber Black."
"The more we have studied this market, the more we've learned about it," Leskinen said. "The more we've seen progress by Archer and now Eve in bringing these aircraft to certification, the more convinced we are that it's going to revolutionize the commuter experience."
The investment comes through United Airlines Ventures, the airline’s venture capital fund, which Leskinen called "a first of its kind enterprise within the aviation industry" during a call with media. UAV prioritizes investments in sustainability, with a goal of achieving net zero emissions by 2050, innovative aircraft development in the aerospace field, and cutting edge technologies like automation, artificial intelligence and robotics. Prior to the Eve deal, the fund invested in a series of small- to medium-sized companies that demonstrate innovation and growth potential including TSA automation company Clear, hydrogen-electric engine-maker ZeroAvia and Boom Technology, which is developing supersonic airliners.
United’s ongoing investments come at a time when airlines, still reeling from the economic challenges of COVID-19, are still contending with labor shortages, employee strikes and flight delays and cancellations.