United Airlines seems confident eVTOLs — electrically powered vertical take-off and landing vehicles — will be the future of short-haul, urban flights.
On Thursday, United announced it has paid $15 million to secure a conditional prepurchase agreement for 200 electric flying taxis being developed by Eve Air Mobility (EAM), the startup founded by Brazilian planemaker Embraer.
United expects to receive the first deliveries of the electric Eve by 2026, despite the fact the eVTOL is yet to be certified by aviation regulators.
Certification will be a complex process as the urban air mobility industry still lacks regulatory oversight, robust infrastructure, and an air traffic management plan, among other hurdles.
“You’re operating at lower levels,” Simon Whalley of Skyports, a UK startup working to develop a network of vertiports, told Insider.
“You’re close to people, you’re close to buildings,” he continued. “So, you’re dealing with things like visual and sound blight, for example. All those things are going to have to be taken into consideration by the industry.”
However, the Federal Aviation Administration and the United Kingdom Civil Aviation Authority have started “discussions focused on facilitating certification and validating new eVTOL aircraft, production, continued airworthiness, operations, and personnel licensing.”
Thursday’s announcement makes United the first major airline to invest in two separate eVTOL companies, Michael Leskinen, president of United Airlines Ventures, said in a press release.
The vehicles are designed to travel at low altitudes on short-haul flights in urban areas, and designers expect airlines and tour operators to use them to transfer passengers between city hubs and airports.
Eve is being designed to travel distances of up to 60 miles and fly up to 150 miles per hour, according to the company. The flying taxi will cover 99% of intra-metro travel, EAM’s David Rottblatt told news outlet eVTOL in February.
The cabin can seat up to four people in two rows facing each other.
The cockpit is separate from the passenger seats.
The mockup had limited flight controls, like a display screen…
…and a small control stick. However, the company told Insider that the design is likely to change after flight testing.
Aerospace company Thales will develop the avionics, flight controls, navigation, and other systems in Eve.
Eve also has the potential to reduce noise levels by as much as 90%, United said in a statement.
While the cabin on display was a mockup, Eve will use feedback from companies operating the vehicle to fine-tune the final design, Flavia Ciaccia, Vice President of User Experience and Market Intelligence at Eve, told Insider.
With an order book now exceeding 2,000 orders, the New-York listed Eve Air Mobility leads the way compared to other eVTOL makers.
EAM is hoping to start deliveries of the eVTOL by 2026 and receive certification before then, Ciaccia told Insider.