United Airlines and Archer Aviation announced plans last week for commercial eVTOL service between O’Hare International Airport and Vertiport Chicago, a downtown heliport, beginning in 2025. Previously, the two companies had announced plans for an air taxi route between Newark Liberty International Airport in New Jersey and the Downtown Manhattan Heliport, also slated for a 2025 start. Joby Aviation, which, like Archer, is a California-based eVTOL developer, has inked deals to bring air taxi operations to South Korea and Japan.
Electrically-powered aircraft that can take off and land vertically like a helicopter and fly forward like an airplane, eVTOLs — which stands for electric vertical takeoff and landing — are the aircraft that entrepreneurs plan to use as “flying taxis” on short routes between downtown destinations and nearby airports or other cities. As these and other new aircraft, including drones and highly-automated aircraft, take to the skies, Congress and the White House are weighing in.
“What was once considered aviation technology of the distant future is happening now, and these innovative technologies are rapidly emerging in U.S. skies,” said Rep. Rick Larsen, D-Wash., speaking Thursday at a hearing of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. The Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation held a meeting on the same topic Wednesday.
The White House laid out its aviation priorities this month in a 19-page document, stating that “the U.S. Government will prioritize the comprehensive integration of new aeronautics technologies, with the potential to transform aviation, in both urban and rural communities, creating new industries and jobs.” The Federal Aviation Administration is expected to release an implementation plan for eVTOL aircraft by May, according to acting Administrator Billy Nolen, speaking at an Aero Club luncheon last November.
As soon as next year, eVTOL aircraft will be making test flights. “You’ll start to see not just one plane, but a lot of planes flying around,” said Archer Aviation CEO Adam Goldstein, in an interview. “You’ll start to see people going on these planes, which I think is a pretty exciting thing.”
Goldstein told Smart Cities Dive that Archer worked closely with Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot, Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker and ComEd, a northern Illinois power utility that will supply power for charging the battery-powered aircraft, as the Chicago plan came together. “This exciting new technology will further decarbonize our means of transportation, taking us another step forward in our fight against climate change,” Lightfoot said in a press release about the planned eVTOL service.
Both Archer and Joby are moving forward with the certification process the Federal Aviation Administration requires and expect to be ready to fly commercially in 2025. Archer is nearing completion of its first production aircraft at a factory in San Jose, California, that can build “tens of planes,” Goldstein said. This first aircraft will be used only for company testing, he said. As many as 650 aircraft a year could be manufactured at a new 350,000-square-foot facility Archer is building with automaker Stellantis in Covington, Georgia.
Joby Aviation founder and CEO Joeben Bevirt said in prepared remarks for the House committee hearing that eVTOLs have “the potential to bring people and goods closer together than ever before, in both rural and urban communities.”