By Fangzhong Guo
This Week in Sustainable Flying: Delta and American Make Moves
It has been a busy week in the world of sustainable aviation. Delta Air Lines made its first investment in the air taxi sector, while American Airlines added hydrogen to its portfolio.
Delta, Joby Aviation Partner
Delta announced an equity investment in Joby of $60 million, with a total investment of up to $200 million possible as the startup achieves further milestones. The partnership also includes the eVTOL company operating air taxi services from Los Angeles and New York on behalf of the Atlanta-based airline after certification.
The deal is a first-of-its-kind arrangement. Instead of buying and taking ownership of new airplanes, Delta will take on Joby as a partner. The Santa Cruz, Calif.-based company will operate flights on Delta’s behalf while the airline integrates the service into its network. The startup secured its part 135 operating certificate earlier this year and planned to use a Cirrus aircraft to refine systems and procedures before launching the eVTOL service.
Initially, the eVTOL company targeted a 2024 launch date. However, during the latest interview, the CEO refused to commit to a new launch date. The lack of commitment is not surprising, given the public consensus of technology immaturity and the company’s crash in February 2022. Although it suffered a total loss of its test aircraft, the company is still one of the most mature programs, with more than 1,000 test flights completed.
The attitude is refreshing compared to the rest of the industry, where every company tries to commit to aggressive schedules. In addition, its test program also displayed great caution since it has been operating the airplane remotely. While the eventual goal is to fly autonomously, the company plans to have piloted flights at launch.
This partnership also leaves Wisk Aero the only company without a major airline partner. Despite securing funding from Boeing, Wisk has yet to disclose airplane orders or investments from airlines. It is also the only eVTOL company pursuing autonomous flying right off the bat, which could have played a factor.
Delta is the last of the U.S. 3 to invest in this segment. In comparison, American placed an order for 250 Vertical VX4 in July 2021, while United holds two orders from Archer Aviation and EVE Air Mobility dating back to February 2021. The Atlanta-based didn’t jump on the supersonic hype train either, which made this partnership more of a vote of confidence in the air taxi business model.
American Airlines Makes Investment in Universal Hydrogen
On October 10, 2022, American Airlines announced its strategic equity investment in Universal Hydrogen. This investment makes American the first U.S. airline to make two direct investments focused on developing hydrogen-electric propulsion technology and the future of hydrogen distribution logistics.
Universal Hydrogen’s fuel distribution network uses modular hydrogen capsules like cargo, eliminating the need for new fueling infrastructure at airports and speeding up fuel-loading operations. Although the clean-energy company is working on its own hydrogen conversion kit, the American deal mainly focuses on its fuel distribution network. The Dallas-based airline holds an order of 100 hydrogen engines from ZeroAvia.