The Boeing-Kitty Hawk joint venture Wisk will operate up to 30 eVTOL aircraft for Blade Urban Air Mobility under an agreement announced May 5.
Wisk is the developer of the self-flying Cora eVTOL and is now at work on a sixth-generation model that will also be autonomous. Under its agreement with Blade, Wisk will own, operate, and maintain the aircraft, which Blade will charter at an hourly rate, much as the seat-booking service does with helicopters today.
The companies plan to deploy Wisk aircraft on short-distance routes between Blade’s network of dedicated terminals throughout the U.S. once they’re certified by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). Exactly when that certification will happen, however, is an open question.
Wisk’s autonomous air taxis are expected to be more complex to certify than piloted models such as Beta Technologies’ Alia, which Blade expects to deploy starting in 2024. Wisk CEO Gary Gysin has repeatedly declined to commit to a target certification date, although he recently told eVTOL.com that the company is “confident in where our timelines are, and our path of self-flying and working with the FAA and other regulators.”
As part of their agreement, Wisk and Blade will form a working group “to assist in the deployment of technologies necessary for aircraft charging and next-generation air traffic management.” The companies said the working group will also leverage Blade’s six years of experience with urban air mobility (UAM) services in congested markets like New York City to inform future Wisk design principles.
“This arrangement validates that UAM is the future of mobility,” Gysin stated in a press release. “To date, we have been focused on developing an aircraft and customer experience that is efficient, accessible, and — most importantly — safe. The combination of our expertise as an autonomous eVTOL aircraft manufacturer and operator, with the operational expertise of Blade, will help usher in an even greater level of safety and service.”
Will Heyburn, CFO and head of corporate development for Blade, described the arrangement as “a perfect fit” for Blade’s asset-light model. “Backed by Boeing’s deep aerospace experience, Wisk will own, operate and maintain their aircraft as part of our network, allowing Blade to focus on delivering a great experience to our fliers,” he stated.
To date, Wisk has performed around 1,500 test flights across its various experimental prototypes at sites in California and New Zealand. The company said it plans to begin initial test flights in key Blade service areas when possible.
Blade and Wisk said they are both committed to an “open-network approach” to urban air mobility, with Wisk intending to provide aircraft to multiple customer-facing platforms, and Blade expecting to use a variety of electric vertical aircraft based on mission requirements. Wisk’s deployment of its aircraft on Blade routes is subject to the parties entering into definitive agreements.