Flying cars got another step closer to reality when a prominent player in the space pledged to create an Urban Air Mobility network over California’s largest city by 2024. Archer, which is designing and developing electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) aircraft that can carry passengers for 60 miles at speeds of up to 150 mph while producing minimal noise, is partnering with the City of Los Angeles on the project.
The testbed is well-chosen. Southern California has severe mobility challenges, including consistently gridlocked traffic, under-utilized or poorly developed mass transit, and a seemingly inability to make solutions like high-speed rail a reality. Those conditions have left a wide-open space for a technology class that in just the past couple of years has leapfrogged out of science fiction to become a promising alternative to terrestrial intracity travel.
“In identifying our first city partnership, it was critical to have a shared vision when it comes to how people will move around more seamlessly and with less impact on the environment around them,” says Brett Adcock, co-Founder and co-CEO of Archer. “Working with Urban Movement Labs will be invaluable as we collectively advance our programs ahead of our first customer flights in 2024.”
Morgan Stanley estimates sustainable air mobility will be $1.5 trillion by 2040. As I wrote last month, Archer and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) recently entered into a supply chain agreement to enable Archer to benefit from access to FCA’s low-cost supply logistics, as well as advanced composite material know-how and engineering experience. That access is critical in Archer’s bid to manufacture high-volume, composite, electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) aircraft.
Archer bills its platform as a way to move people throughout cities in a fast, safe, sustainable, and cost-effective manner by utilizing air space that currently sits empty. Recent advances in battery technology have given rise to fully electric vertical takeoff and landing aircraft that developers say can be made much quieter than conventional aircraft.
But local governments have been caught off guard before by innovative transportation companies, and Urban Air Mobility will certainly be the subject of intense debate as stakeholders lay out cases for and against. Early partnerships with cities eager for transportation solutions, such as the one Archer has formed with Los Angeles, could be an important component in a larger adoption strategy and a critical proof-of-concept testbed. Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti has been bullish on flying cars, rolling out the Urban Air Mobility Partnership initiative late last year to make Los Angeles the unmistakable leader on Urban Air Mobility.
From a business standpoint, Archer has daisy-chained a string of important successes, including the FCA supply chain agreement, a recently announced merger with Atlas Crest Investment Corporation, and a whopping $1bn commercial order from United Airlines. Those moves have put Archer, a company few outside the sector have heard of, in a surprisingly central position to shape urban transportation. According to its press materials, Archer believes its current valuation is a whopping $3.8 billion.
As part of the Los Angeles project, the City of Los Angeles and Urban Movement Labs, a collaboration between local government in LA and mobility innovators, plan to develop the design and access of what is known as “vertiports,” the network of physical locations where people can go flying on an urban air mobility aircraft.
“Our vision is to improve mobility, reduce congestion, create employment, and promote healthier communities through public and private sector collaboration,” says Lilly Shoup, Executive Director of Urban Movement Labs. “Working with companies like Archer which are at the forefront of technological innovation in the emerging UAM space delivers a unique opportunity to take the perspective of our programs beyond just the two dimensions of roads and railways, and into the skies.”