Personal flying cars remain a dream mostly relegated to science fiction, but the introduction of “air taxis” above our heads is starting to look far more likely—for better or worse. Last week, The Wall Street Journal reported United Airlines is moving forward with an initial $10 million down payment on 100 airborne commuter vehicles from Archer Aviation. The investment is only a small portion of last year’s $1 billion partnership announcement between the major airliner and much buzzed-about startup, but it’s a major milestone within a burgeoning industry, one that indicates the new transportation option may be much more than mere vaporware.
“There’s a lot of talk about orders in the industry, a lot of talk about paper commitments, but this is the first real cash commitment,” Archer Aviation CEO Adam Goldstein said in a statement.
United’s major investment into private air taxi partnerships is only one of multiple, similar deals within the aviation world. Last year, American Airlines pledged $25 million towards a team-up with Archer Aviation competitor Vertical Aerospace, while Wisk and Boeing are currently working together on their own plans for autonomous, electric vehicles. If all goes according to plan, United and Archer intend to move forward with manufacturing consumer aircraft sometime next year.
Building air taxis while generating consumer interest is one thing, but convincing federal regulators to sign off on the idea is another issue entirely. So far, no aviation company has received the Federal Aviation Administration’s blessing to begin commercial services, and there remain a host of areas to shore up, such as pilot requirements and how to to integrate these new transportation options within the current airspace environment. Still, the WSJ reports the FAA is confident that at least some of these hurdles can be cleared as early as 2024, with companies like Archer on track to begin taking commuters to the sky soon afterwards.
Transportation alternatives are coming to the forefront of public discussions as airliners face increasing pressure to address their impacts on climate change. United, for example, claims it is pledged to become 100-percent carbon neutral by 2050, and heavy investment in supposedly eco-friendly projects like air taxis could potentially help its image. Of course, issues of accessibility, affordability, and safety are still huge areas of concern with aero-commuting. Noise pollution, infrastructure requirements, and criticism of the vehicles’ actual environmental viability need to also be taken into consideration as the industry moves forward.