United Airlines has pledged to buy up to 200 electric flying taxis to help customers get to the airport.
The US airline said it will help electric aircraft start-up Archer develop an aircraft capable of helicopter-style, vertical take-offs and landings. Archer hopes to deliver its first aircraft in 2024, if it wins certification from the Federal Aviation Administration.
United said once the aircraft are flying, it and partner Mesa Airlines will acquire up to 200 that would be operated by another company.
According to an Archer presentation to investors, the orders are worth $1 billion with an option for $500 million more.
Archer’s aircraft are designed to fly on battery power for up to 97 kilometres at speeds of up to 240 kilometres per hour.
The company plans to launch service in congested areas close to airports. United estimated the air taxis could shuttle people from Hollywood to Los Angeles International Airport at about half the carbon emissions per passenger.
Cowen analyst Helane Becker said United could use Archer’s aircraft between New York City and Newark Liberty Airport in New Jersey, or from downtown Chicago to O’Hare Airport, allowing customers to avoid traffic.
Chicago-headquartered United portrayed the move as part of a broader plan to invest in technology behind cleaner modes of air travel. Chief executive Scott Kirby said Archer’s design “has the clear potential to change how people commute within major metropolitan cities all over the world".
Many airlines including United have made investments in biofuel, but limited supplies are likely to hinder wider use of such alternatives to jet fuel for many years.
In December, United pledged to offset all its carbon emissions by 2050, in part by investing in technology to remove carbon from the air and bury it.