Wisk is pursuing development of a larger eVTOL air taxi to succeed its two-seat Cora, according to CEO Gary Gysin.
Gysin mentioned the development in a June 26 webinar organized by the Vertical Flight Society, although he declined to share any details about the aircraft other than its relative size and target range — 40 to 60 miles (65 to 95 kilometers), compared to the 25-mile (40-km) range of the fully electric Cora.
A Wisk spokesperson later confirmed to eVTOL.com that while the company is “currently considering the next generation of aircraft . . . that doesn’t necessarily mean more seats. The future aircraft will meet global certification requirements and include additional improvements, such as more onboard sensors, room for small baggage, and additional customer comforts.”
In the webinar, Gysin said that while Wisk is “not opposed” to the idea of more seats, it believes that a two-passenger air taxi is “a sweet spot in terms of demand” and will allow the company to achieve profitability “pretty quickly after launch” of a commercial service.
He added that Wisk has identified the city in which it will launch urban air mobility operations in the U.S., but is not yet ready to reveal that, either.
“We’re not announcing what the launch city is yet, but we know what it’s going to be, we know where we’re going to fly, and that’s very squarely our target,” Gysin said. He did note that the city, which Wisk is calling its “North Star,” is “a challenging area and a congested area to fly in.”
Established last year as a joint venture between Kitty Hawk and Boeing, Wisk currently has seven full-scale Cora aircraft conducting flight testing in Hollister, California, and Tekapo, New Zealand. Well before it launches commercial operations in the U.S., the company expects to carry passengers in its self-flying Coras under an Airspace Integration Trial with the New Zealand government.
“The current aircraft, which is called Cora, will fly in New Zealand first, so that is absolutely our first step,” Gysin said in the webinar. From those early scheduled operations — which Gysin suggested will complement New Zealand’s established adventure tourism industry — Wisk expects to gain insights that will help it grow its operations in New Zealand and beyond.
“Because that’s going to happen fairly soon, we’re going to get that real, live operator experience . . . before some of our other colleagues in the eVTOL space will get it by going straight to the U.S., because it will obviously take longer to get FAA [Federal Aviation Administration]-certified,” Gysin said.
“So we think that’s a big asset for us, that we are going to get that direct experience and we can fine tune what we’re going to do in the U.S.”
Gysin told moderator Charles Alcock that Wisk plans to function initially as both an original equipment manufacturer (OEM) and operator of its air taxis in order to maintain control of the customer experience.
“We’re not trying to say we’re better [at operations] than someone that’s been doing it for 50 years, but for this particular technology — because it’s new, and obviously we know the aircraft better than anybody — we think we can create an experience that’s the best for our customers as we start this thing.”
Creating a positive customer experience will be especially critical because Wisk’s aircraft will fly themselves, without a human pilot on board to allay passengers’ anxieties. Initially, Wisk plans to have each flight monitored by a dedicated remote pilot with the ability to select alternate flight plans and input commands into the aircraft’s automatic flight control system if necessary.
Eventually, as the company gains experience and confidence in autonomous operations, Wisk expects that one operator will be able to safely monitor multiple flights.
“Today, the aircraft flies itself, and in response to most failures the aircraft will execute the appropriate emergency action without pilot invention,” explained Wisk chief technical officer Jim Tighe, who joined Gysin for the webinar.
“As we go forward, we’re working on incorporating things like automated collision avoidance [and] in-flight routing changes, all under the watchful eye of the operator… but [these] still [serve] as technologies that will allow you to have many aircraft for a single operator,” Tighe continued. “That of course has its own challenges, which is why a lot of our efforts right now are focused on airspace integration activities.”
As for whether Wisk will eventually join an ecosystem like Uber Elevate, Gysin indicated that it was likely — but he was cautious about linking Wisk to Uber specifically (even though Boeing is an Uber Elevate vehicle partner through its subsidiary Aurora Flight Sciences).
“They are the type of player that we would partner with,” Gysin acknowledged of Uber, while pointing out that there are other “credible” players interested in the space, including airlines and automotive companies. Wisk already has an established relationship with Air New Zealand, which in 2018 entered into an agreement with Wisk New Zealand’s predecessor, Zephyr Airworks, to explore a commercial air taxi service using Cora.
“We’re keeping our cards close to the vest, if you will, but who we partner with for that end customer engagement . . . we’re still working through that,” Gysin said.
Meanwhile, he confirmed that Wisk will not be taking part in the U.S. Air Force’s Agility Prime initiative to accelerate development of the commercial eVTOL industry, as “our mission is to be purely commercial and we’re going to keep it that way.” However, he said that would not necessarily preclude Boeing from using Wisk aircraft for non-commercial purposes.
“Obviously they [Boeing] have got a very large defense organization,” Gysin explained. “And so part of the partnership allows for us to. . . build aircraft, and they can pursue different markets: military, cargo, emergency services — those sorts of things.”