United building fleet of small electric aircraft
United Airlines says it will buy up to 200 small electric aircraft to help customers in urban areas get to the airport.
The airline said it will help electric aircraft start-up Archer develop an air taxi-type craft capable of helicopter-style, vertical take-offs and landings. Archer hopes to deliver its first aircraft in 2024, if it wins certification from the US Federal Aviation Administration.
United said once the short-flight aircraft are flying, it and partner Mesa Airlines will acquire up to 200 that would be operated by another company.
Archer, which is based in Palo Alto, California, announced separately that it has agreed to a merger with Atlas Crest Investment Corp, with shares of the combined outfit listed on the New York Stock Exchange. Archer and Atlas valued the deal at US$3.8 billion.
Archer’s aircraft are designed to fly under battery power for up to 60 miles (97 kilometres), at speeds of up to 150 mph (240kph).
The company plans to launch service in congested areas close to airports, including Los Angeles International. Cowen analyst Helane Becker said United could use Archer’s aircraft to operate between New York City and United’s hub operation at Newark Liberty Airport in New Jersey, or from downtown Chicago to O’Hare Airport, allowing airline customers to avoid traffic.
Chicago-based United portrayed the move as part of a broader plan to invest in technology behind cleaner modes of air travel. CEO Scott Kirby said Archer’s design “has the clear potential to change how people commute within major metropolitan cities all over the world”.