The Future of Advanced Air Mobility

Boeing Takes Full Control of Autonomous eVTOL Developer Wisk Aero

Boeing has assumed full ownership of eVTOL aircraft developer Wisk Aero, which has been run as a joint venture with Kitty Hawk, an advanced mobility start-up formed by Google co-founder Larry Page and Google executive Sebastian Thrun. Speaking at a media briefing in South Carolina on May 31, Wisk CEO Brian Yutko announced the change of ownership while not providing any details about financial terms for the transaction between Boeing and its former partners.

Kitty Hawk, which had been working on the Heaviside autonomous eVTOL vehicle, closed down in September 2022. At the time, Wisk said that the move did not impact its ownership and that Kitty Hawk’s backers would remain investors in its plans to bring a four-seat, passenger-carrying autonomous eVTOL vehicle to market later in this decade.

As a wholly owned subsidiary of the Boeing group, Wisk will continue to operate as an independent company with oversight by the Boeing board. A spokesman told FutureFlight that Boeing will continue to provide additional support through access to talent and expertise. 

Boeing is now focusing most of its efforts to break into the advanced air mobility sector on Wisk, having made a $450 million investment in the company in early 2022. Its rival, Airbus, is developing its own four-passenger eVTOL aircraft called the CityAirbus NextGen.

In October 2022, Wisk unveiled what it describes as its sixth-generation eVTOL design at its headquarters in Mountain View, California. The all-electric aircraft features 12 wing-mounted propellers, six of which tilt. Yutko told reporters that the projected range will be up to around 100 miles, which is slightly more than the 90 miles announced last year, with a cruise speed of 120 knots at altitudes between 2,500 and 4,000 feet.

With earlier technology demonstrators, including the fifth-generation Cora vehicle, Wisk has made more than 1,600 test flights in California and New Zealand, where it has conducted some early development work. Yutko said the company now employs 700 people and collaborates closely with engineering teams from Boeing and its Aurora Flight Sciences subsidiary.

In early May, Japan Airlines (JAL) signed a memorandum of understanding with Wisk to jointly work to introduce air taxi flights to Japan. The carrier, which is the first to publicly partner with Wisk, has not committed to buying any of its eVTOL vehicles but is providing support in areas such as operations and maintenance. JAL has previously committed to adding Vertical Aerospace’s VX-4 four-passenger, piloted eVTOL vehicle to its fleet.

Autonomy or Bust Is Wisk's Path To Unlocking Advanced Air Mobility's Potential 

Initially, Wisk intends to be the sole operator for its eVTOL aircraft as the company seeks to prove the viability of autonomous operations for commercial passenger services. It has not yet set a timeline for type certification—in part, because the regulatory path to this is not yet fully defined—but Yutko indicated that the company expects to secure the required Part 135 operators certificate fairly soon.

According to Wisk, autonomy is critical to scaling up advanced air mobility services to unlock the cost structures that it and other pioneers believe could transform air transport. “There’s a misnomer in the industry that this is about removing the pilot,” he told reporters. “It’s not about that. That’s not actually where the value of autonomy comes from. It comes from ‘unconstraining’ the aircraft from what it has to carry.”

Giving the example of cargo operations, Yutko said that many aircraft are chronically underutilized. “They’ll fly out in the morning to a remote location and there they have to wait for an airworthy pilot and the cargo to be in the same place at the same time to bring it back to the hub,” he maintained. “If you were to unconstrain that system, you could move that aircraft around more to increase utilization, increase the flexibility of the network. So that’s what we see as the actual value in terms of scalability and improved economics of autonomy.”