Commercial air travel dates back over a hundred years, when the Wright brothers gained credit as inventors of the airplane. The method of transportation is mainstream today, but would take a few decades to gain traction - picking up during the 1920s shortly after World War I.
A decade after World War II, commercial air flight saw an array of new technology and public attention, marking this period as the golden age of travel with advances in luxury and exclusivity.
Fast forward to today. Airplanes have bathrooms, beds, movies, small kitchens, and space enough for hundreds of passengers. Individuals around the globe can travel by air more comfortably than ever.
But there is always room for advancement. And one area of air travel that has seen a push of innovation is air taxis.
The air taxi industry experienced a significant surge in popularity over the last decade, the sector gaining an estimated $13 billion in funding. Another estimate suggests that, by 2030, over 20,000 people will be taking air taxis every day.
The Electric Chauffeur
Wisk Aero was founded in 2010 under the name Zee Aero before they were acquired in a 2019 joint venture between the Boeing Company and Kitty Hawk. The company's goal is to become the leader of autonomous air taxis, to "address the growing urban mobility crisis in an effective, accessible, and sustainable way."
By 2017, Wisk was the first in the U.S. to fly a fully autonomous aircraft. To date, the company has flown over 1,500 test flights.
Wisk is again making headlines due to Boeing's $450 million investment.
Boeing's Chief Strategy Officer, Marc Allen, stated, "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... Autonomy is the key to unlocking scale across all advanced air mobility applications, from passenger to cargo and beyond."
The money will go toward streamlining Wisk Aero's sixth-generation eVTOL, or electrical vertical takeoff and landing craft, helping achieve certification from the United States Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). The investment has made the company "one of the most well-funded advanced air mobility (AAM) companies in the world."
A recent article on its website expands on its goals after certification:
"Within five years following the certification of its 6th generation aircraft, Wisk intends to operate one of the industry's largest fleets of AAM eVTOL aircraft. The scale of this fleet is enabled by the company's autonomous technology, a competitive differentiator and industry-recognized key to scaling services and maximizing safety. In this timeframe, Wisk anticipates close to 14M annual flights bringing time savings to over 40 million people across 20 cities – all with zero emissions."
The craft will include a built-in parachute for emergencies, 12 independent motors, and intelligent computers that improve safety and eliminate the constant need for a pilot.
Additionally, Wisk's eVTOL will rely on a rechargeable battery, lowering greenhouse gas emissions and becoming an eco-friendlier form of travel.
The craft is designed for vertical take-off, like a helicopter, and handle like a plane. So far, Wisk Aero's prototypes have a range of about 25 miles, can reach altitudes of 1500-5000 ft, and move at up to 100mph.
Though the concept is unusual and enticing, Wisk Aero isn't the first to tinker with eVTOLs. Various entities have invested in this design over the years, including NASA and the U.S. Army.
A Greener Alternative
eVTOL's could provide a greener and quicker way to short-distance travel, potentially alleviating the increasing number of congested roadways in major cities. Packed roads create a ripple effect of lost time, emit carbon dioxide, and create noise pollution.
The National Center for Sustainable Transportation suggests traffic congestion can threaten public health. A 2014 study found an increase in "morbidity and mortality for drivers, commuters, and individuals living near major roadways." Findings are situation-based and can vary depending on many factors. But overall, traffic congestion results in adverse effects.
Air taxis could have a positive outcome across many fronts: reducing commute time, alleviating stress, reducing emissions, even improving public health.
As the race to move eVTOL's into the commercial market is growing, we can expect to see more companies investing in these ventures and even creating their own aircrafts. The world of travel is an ever-evolving industry and can yield some innovative outcomes, ultimately benefitting travelers and the environment.