Boeing (BA) said on Monday it has agreed to invest $450 million in the air taxi startup, Wisk Aero, to fund the development of a fully autonomous, electric aircraft that could one day fly millions of commuters in the world’s busiest cities. The funding around is one of the largest in the nascent eVTOL (electric vertical-takeoff-and-landing vehicle) industry.
Wisk was created in 2019 as a joint venture between Boeing and a unit of Kitty Hawk, the flying company founded by Google cofounder Larry Page that was developing an autonomous two-seater eVTOL called Cora. Cora is currently being tested as Wisk’s fifth-generation eVTOL. The investment from Boeing will fund the company’s development of the sixth-generation aircraft, a larger vehicle designed to seat three to four passengers, Wisk said.
Wisk seeks to certify the sixth-generation vehicle for urban taxi use in the U.S., Europe and Asia, CEO Gary Gyson told Observer in an interview last year.
The certification process could take years, however, especially for an unpiloted aircraft like Wisk’s. Wisk declined to disclose its estimated timeline for obtaining the FAA flight approval, but acknowledged that it may come after piloted eVTOLs get certified.
“We recognize that our self-flying first approach means that we will not be first to market. We’re ok with that,” a Wisk spokesperson told Observer. “However, our progress to-date and our leadership in autonomous flight means that we will be first to market with a fully autonomous, scalable, and accessible eVTOL air taxi.”
Wisk said it aims to operate one of the world’s largest urban air taxi fleets within five years following the certification of the 6th-generation eVTOL. “In this timeframe, Wisk anticipates close to 14 million annual flights bringing time savings to over 40 million people across 20 cities—all with zero emissions,” the company said in a press release on Monday.
The eVTOL space is obviously a playground for startups—in 2021, five electric urban aircraft companies went public through SPAC mergers at valuations between $1 billion and $2 billion—but it’s also increasingly a game for traditional plane makers and carriers. Boeing’s industry rivals Airbus SE and Embraer SA are both building their own electric air taxis. Even the U.S. Air Force is developing flying taxis for military use, according to The Wall Street Journal.
Airlines, from American to United, have signed deals to potentially purchase hundreds of eVTOLs from startups like Archer Aviation and the U.K.’s Vertical Aerospace—on the condition that they receive regulators’ green light to fly and mass produce.
“We are incredibly fortunate to have Boeing as not only an investor but a strategic partner, which provides us with access to a breadth of resources, industry-leading expertise, a global reach, extensive certification experience, and more,” Wisk CEO Gysin said in a statement on Monday. “As we enter this next stage of our growth, this additional funding provides us with capital while allowing us to remain focused on our core business and our number one priority, safety.”
“With this investment, we are reconfirming our belief in Wisk’s business and the importance of their work in pioneering all-electric, AI-driven, autonomous capability for the aerospace industry,” said Boeing’s chief strategy officer Marc Allen. “Autonomy is the key to unlocking scale across all AAM applications, from passenger to cargo and beyond. That’s why straight-to-autonomy is a core first principle.”