Boeing on Monday announced it was investing an additional $450 million in California-based Wisk Aero, making Wisk “one of the most well-funded AAM [advanced air mobility] companies in the industry.”
The deal offers further evidence that Boeing supports Wisk’s business plan of moving directly to self-flying, automated air taxis instead of electric vertical takeoff and landing aircraft (eVTOL) with on-board pilots.
“Where this whole market goes—where you actually get to scale—is once you get to self-flying and you’re not relying on a pilot in a cockpit,” said Wisk CEO Gary Gysin in a virtual news conference Monday. “It’s much safer and will allow us to scale and allow us to price this affordably.”
The company says autonomous flight is safer because it removes human error from the equation, which Wisk says is the primary cause of most general aviation accidents. Autonomous systems are projected to result in reliable, predictable outcomes on a consistent and repeatable basis, according to Wisk.
“With self-flying, we can drive operating costs lower, therefore, we can charge a lower price, therefore, we can scale faster, therefore, we can reach a larger audience and we can reach the everyday commuter, instead of this only being a premium service.”
Eventually, Wisk says it plans to operate an automated air taxi service as a 14 CFR Part 135 airline, flying nearly 14 million annual flights and transporting 40 million passengers per year across 20 cities—all with zero emissions. Wisk says its fleet will be the largest in the industry.
Gysin and Boeing declined to provide details on how much total investment Boeing has made in Wisk so far.
“Since we established the joint venture we’ve really been working together across almost every engineering discipline,” said Brian Yutko, Boeing vice president and chief engineer, sustainability and future mobility. “This is truly Wisk’s airplane, it’s Wisk’s system. With Boeing, our mindset is: how do we support and enable Wisk’s mission as best we can? We’ll bring the very best of Boeing’s capabilities and technology and engineering as it best makes sense.”
Gysin said Wisk feels “extremely confident and good about the partnership with Boeing because of their extensive expertise in certifying aircraft, which we’re bringing to bear on this particular project.”
Until now Wisk—backed by Google co-founder Larry Page—has been largely silent about its work since it was formed in 2019. Currently working on its sixth-generation eVTOL, Wisk says it is “approaching 1,600 test flights without incident,” since the company launched.
However, Wisk isn’t saying much about its timeline for certification and entering service. “Our mantra on this is: We’ll fly when it’s safe, and we’re ready, and it’s certified.”
Neither Wisk nor Boeing would offer details of the sixth-generation aircraft, expected to be revealed this year, but a few details have been revealed in court documents of a lawsuit between Wisk and California-based rival Archer Aviation.
The company faces stiff competition from other eVTOL outfits, such as California-based Joby Aviation and Germany-based Volocopter, which also plan to manufacture eVTOLs in addition to operating air taxi services.
Why Not a SPAC?
Boeing’s investment in Wisk calls attention to the eVTOL firm’s strategy to remain private and not pursue a merger with a special purpose acquisition company (SPAC)—as Archer, Joby, and others did last year.
“We are quite happy to be private,” Gysin said. “We think at the end of the day there are going to be very few [companies] that actually survive this journey. There will be those that are incredibly well-funded that have been able to adapt to both regulatory and customer feedback and then make that journey and get certified.”
Gysin said developing an eVTOL aircraft, along with building and operating a new airline, can be extremely expensive. “A rough estimate is a billion and half dollars in funding before you enter into service—and sometimes more.”
“We intend to remain private,” Gysin said. “It is definitely our strategy to do so and to not go public too early in the process before the market has fully developed.”
Wisk’s roots date back to 2010, when it started as Zee Aero, before merging with Kitty Hawk and then spinning off into its current company.
It has already made eVTOL history with the “first flight of an all-electric, autonomous, eVTOL aircraft designed for passenger use, in the U.S.”
Gysin said Monday that five years after Wisk launches its air taxi service he expects a bit more than 2,000 Wisk aircraft will be in service.
“This is going to happen,” he said. “You can debate on exactly which year it will happen but the demand is too strong. Our infrastructure is crumbling.…We need to take to the sky.”