Boeing Investing $450 Million Into Air Taxi Joint Venture
Air-Taxi Business Is Growing, and Boeing Hopes to Soar
Boeing is investing an additional $450 million into its air-taxi venture Wisk that aims to develop small, pilotless aircraft for short trips in urban settings. Started in 2019 with Google (GOOGL) co-founder Larry Page’s Kitty Hawk Corporation, Wisk is part of the rapidly growing air-taxi sector. Billions of dollars have gone into related ventures in the last year alone.
Wisk has aircraft in development that take off and land vertically similar to a helicopter, permitting three to four passengers per trip. Analysts expect a larger version will eventually be rolled out for commercial use. For the Silicon Valley-based venture, starting out completely pilotless is the key.
To Pilot or Not to Pilot? That’s The Air-Taxi Question
The key distinction in the air-taxi business is the use of piloted aircraft vs. autonomous or pilotless aircraft. It’s not clear when the technology will become safe enough to satisfy regulators, and the consensus is that piloted-craft will get the green light first. But there’s no denying interest in the product. Airbus SE (EADSY), Embraer SA (ERJ), and the US Air Force are all reportedly developing air taxis.
Boeing is bypassing the use of piloted aircraft altogether, admitting its Wisk products will not be the first to hit the market as a result. Rivals such as Vertical Aerospace Group (EVTL) and Joby Aviation (JOBY) have opted to develop piloted craft. The UK-based Vertical predicts pilotless air taxis won’t be approved until 2030 at the earliest. Boeing argues it’s vital to begin focusing on autonomous vehicles from the beginning.
Boeing Acquired The Software Before Pursuing Pilotless Path
Industry observers note Boeing acquired software and prototypes during its pursuit of autonomous flight. Executives say Wisk’s air taxis could be used in cargo and military applications in addition to passenger service. Boeing reports Wisk will be the owner-operator for all craft rather than selling them off or operating a hybrid model.
Executives have not disclosed the extent of Boeing’s ownership in Wisk, other than to say it holds a majority stake. During 2021 five air taxi ventures went public, and Wisk competitor Joby Aviation was recently valued at $2.7 billion. American Airlines (AAL) and United Airlines (UAL) are reportedly interested in acquiring aircraft. The amount of time it takes for regulators to approve pilotless technology in particular could prove vital for Boeing and the rest of the industry’s players.
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