United Airlines believes that in a few years, many metropolitan customers will pay $100 or more for a one-way trip to the airport in a four-seat, electric-powered air taxi.
The Chicago-based airline said Thursday it invested $15 million in a startup manufacturer and signed a “contingent” deal to buy 200 of the tiny planes with options for 200 more.
United said it expects to receive the first taxis — which will take off and land vertically, like helicopters — from Eve Air Mobility as soon as 2026.
It is difficult to judge United’s commitment to the agreement, as it would not provide terms for the order. A spokesman said the conditions are standard when buying an aircraft that is not certified by regulators and that they cover “a number of United̵[ads1]7;s business objectives”.
The ownership stake in Eve accounts for less than 5% of United’s profit in the second quarter.
But the deal fits United’s pattern of announcing interest in startups trying to build and win regulatory approval for air taxis, like Archer, and supersonic planes, like Boom.
Mike Leskinen, president of United’s venture funding arm, said the eVTOLs — electric vertical takeoff and landing aircraft — would be ideally suited to congested cities where United flies, including New York, Chicago and San Francisco. He said air taxis would be faster than driving to the airport and produce fewer emissions, and trips would cost $100 to $150 each way.
“It will take time before consumers adopt this. People are going to hesitate at first, Leskinen said. “It will feel a lot like a helicopter ride, it might be scary for some, but this is going to change the way we work and live.”
The Eve aircraft is thought to have a range of 40 to 60 miles. Future designs may be slightly larger than the currently planned four-seater, but they won’t replace any planes that United flies from one airport to another, so they won’t reduce carbon emissions produced by the airline’s regular fleet.
Eve Holding Inc. is a publicly traded company formed this year from a combination of a specialty buyout company called Zanite and a unit of Brazilian aircraft maker Embraer. It is based in Melbourne, Fla.