Boeing: Air taxi company backed by Boeing & United plans to bring urban air mobility to India before 2030

NEW DELHI: A leading California-based electric air taxi company, Archer Aviation, that is backed by the likes of Boeing, United Airlines and auto major Stellantis plans to provide urban air mobility (UAM) in Indian cities before the end of this decade. Its pilot plus four-passenger electric vertical take off and landing (eVTOL) vehicle Midnight that has a range of about 150 km is expected to enter commercial service in 2025 in the US. Nikhil Goel, Archer’s Indian origin chief commercial officer, says the country will be one of the biggest markets for UAM. And that apart from having its eVTOLs operating here, Archer will consider making them here to lower the cost to ensure affordable city flying.
“Lakhs of commuters spend hours stuck in traffic daily in congested cities like Bengaluru, Delhi and Mumbai. The eVTOLs can operate from top of buildings and parking garages. A chopper ride can cost hundreds of (US) dollars. From Day One, an eVTOL’s cost should be less than half that cost,” Goel told TOI over the phone from California. Some other companies are also planning to bring UAM to India in the next few years.
Goel, who started his career with NASA woking on the Ares rocket, had led Uber’s emerging market business with focus on India and was a co-founder of Uber Elevate (UAM wing that was acquired by another company in 2020). Giving the example of Bengaluru that is notorious for crawling traffic, he said: “The city centre and the airport are about 33 km apart. While going by road can take a long time, an electric taxi will over the distance in 10-15 minutes. The cost per passenger initially will be around $100 or Rs 8,000, which will subsequently drop to $35 or around Rs 3,000, more or less as an Uber or Ola. Over time as the supply chain (read component manufacturing and final assembly) moves to India, the cost of production will reduce. Along with emergency of autonomous vehicles (that don’t require pilot), the fare should drop further to as low as $20 for that same airport trip, or Rs 1,500.” Passengers will be able to take a carryon on board the eVTOL and not big check-in bags.
“At Uber, I played a significant role in growing the India business and spent a lot of time in the country. India is poised to potentially be the largest UAM market in the world. There is a massive potential to leapfrog from sitting in cars for hours daily in traffic to direct UAM. We intend to build a big business in India. In had the good fortune meeting PM Modi in 2019 when I presented our vision for urban air mobility here,” said Goel, who was born in the US. When pressed for timelines to be in the country, he said: “I can’t imagine we are not in several Indian cities sooner than later by the end of the decade. I think bringing in supply chain to India makes lot of sense to lower operating costs.”
Archer is aiming to get certification from the US aviation regulator next year for its eVTOL Midnight after which it may enter commercial service in 2025. Then it plans to ramp up production to 2,000 units annually between 2025 and 2028, after which it will enter the high volume manufacturing of what could be autonomous air taxis.
Goel joined Archer in 2020 as an advisor-investor, then in 2023 as their chief commercial officer, after stints in NASA, Google, Microsoft, Mckinsey and Uber among others. “Archer has raised around $1.2 billion so far. The major investors include United that apart from equity investment has placed a firm order for 200 eVTOLs worth $1 billon (Rs 8,000 crore) and has an option to order 100 more. Boeing is on board and is bringing in autonomous technology for our future gen eVTOLs. Stellantis (Amsterdam-based automotive manufacturing company formed by merging of the Italian–American Fiat Chrysler and the French PSA Group) has also invested and is helping bring in best practices for high volume manufacturing,” Goel said. Archer and United have jointly announced their first route that will connect Downtown Manhattan and Newark Liberty International Airport.

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Incidentally Boeing is developing its own eVTOIL Wisk that is the airspace major says will be the “world’s first self-flying, (autonomous) all-electric, four-seater air taxi.” While autonomous air taxis are a while away, possibly towards the end of this decade, manned eVTOLs like the ones Archer is developing are aiming for an entry into service within the next two years.

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