By Fangzhong Guo
United Invests Another $15 Million in Electric Flying Taxi
United, on September 8, announced a $15 million investment in EVE Air Mobility. In addition, it made a conditional purchase agreement for 200 four-seat electric aircraft plus 200 options. The airline is expecting the first deliveries as early as 2026.
EVE Air Mobility is an Embraer-backed startup that spun off from Uber Elevate after Joby Aviation took control of the program. The Melbourne, Fla-based company is designing a four-seat electric Vertical Take-off and Landing(eVTOL) aircraft capable of flying up to 60 miles. While the company showed a cabin mockup at the Farnborough Airshow, its plane has yet to take its maiden flight.
Even though EVE does not have a flying aircraft, it plans to conduct an eVTOL dry run from September 14 to September 30 in United’s home city, Chicago. The dry run would gather data about operations to optimize its Urban Air Traffic Management(UATM) offering. The company aims to complement its eVTOL platform with UATM when it’s ready to scale up.
Since the company does not have a certified aircraft yet, it’s leveraging its relationship with Blade Air Mobility for the operation. The consortium will offer $150 flights to and from Chicago Vertiport to two suburbs outside the city in a helicopter. Testing out of Chicago may appear to cater to United’s appetite, but the real reason is probably more mundane due to Blade’s existing involvement at the vertiport.
Blade Air Mobility currently offers helicopter and seaplane rides in New York and Los Angeles. One of its key markets is shuttling passengers between Manhattan and the New York airports. Therefore an air taxi fits perfectly in its business model. The New York-based company has an agreement with Eve for up to 60,000 hours of flight time per year from 2026, equating to about 60 aircraft on Blade’s platform.
The idea of a dry run is not new to the eVTOL industry. Joby Aviation also planned on gathering operation data with a Cirrus aircraft since its plane won’t be ready until 2024.
The investment from United comes only a month after the company placed a $10 million deposit for Archer Aviation’s similarly sized air taxi. This move also makes United the first airline to publicly invest in multiple air taxi startups.
The Chicago-based airline has a similar purchase agreement for 200 four-seat Archer Midnight plus 100 options. Although the two aircraft have nearly identical ranges and capacities, the architectures are vastly different. Archer’s midnight features six tilt and six VTOL-only rotors. At the same time, EVE’s latest concept utilizes eight VTOL-only motors and two propeller motors.
The diversified investments will give the Chicago-based airline a higher chance of bringing Urban Air Mobility(UAM) into reality. It also aligns with the company’s strategy in the fuel sector, as it has a diverse investing profile in hydrogen-electric, battery-electric, and sustainable aviation fuel.
Most of the US-based eVTOL programs have their bases in California and Florida. It makes sense since both places have less concentrated skyrises and large city footprints. However, UAM needs to work in other traffic-congested cities to provide more value for humanity.
Chicago could be the pilot in this category since its airspace is not as restricted as other high-density markets such as New York or DC. When Republic Airways announced its non-binding agreement to purchase 100 EVE aircraft, it received its rendering with Chicago in the backdrop. The latest interest from United and Blade’s alliance with Chicago Vertiport might be the catalyst to bring more UAM efforts to Windy City.