Could air taxi fares one day be equivalent to an Uber X ride? That’s the stated end goal of Wisk CEO Gary Gysin, speaking at the Farnborough Air Show this afternoon.
Gysin hopes to achieve that affordability and accessibility goal by betting on autonomous flight, Wisk’s aircraft do not have an on-board pilot, something Gysin does not see as being economically viable.
Instead, human intervention will be possible via ground stations that will resemble ATC Centres. Here, operators will be able to activate a number of pre defined emergency scenarios (such as a sick passenger on board).
Despite 90% of flight currently already being automated, gaining wider acceptability for autonomous aircraft is of course a challenge. The technology is not the same, but the popular imagination will inevitably conjure up images of the mishaps with Tesla’s ‘autopilot’ feature.
As a result, a key task according to Gysin, is to work with communities in convincing them that autonomous or pilotless air taxis are completely safe. This is also why Gysin said he doesn’t want to put artificial deadlines on the company’s engineers, so that there is no compromise on safety.
Right now Wisk has carried out 1600 test flights and is on it’s fifth generation aircraft. The sixth generation will have four seats, in line with other competitors on the market.
Gysin wouldn’t commit to a definite go live passenger date, saying that this was largely up to the regulator, but the aim is for Wisk to fly with passengers in the current decade.
Wisk is currently in discussion with 20 cities worldwide, but the only one Wisk was prepared to name was Long Beach, California
Long Beach, along with the wider LA metropolitan area, is in fact setting itself up as an urban air mobility centre, with other eVTOL firms such as Odys Aviation also basing themselves there.
Of course an air taxi system will require shared infrastructure and air space, or corridors, and Wisk is working with other air taxi companies and the relevant authorities on this.
That’s because eVTOLs will follow pre defined routes and land at specific landing points. Contrary to what was shown in the cartoon show ‘The Jetsons’, Gysin said that these aircraft will not in fact be landing in your back yard.
Unlike Urban Mobility, Lilium and Archer Aviation, Wisk has no publicised airline tie-ups, though Gysin said that airport transfers are a clear use case for the company’s aircraft.
Initially Wisk sees themselves as operating the actual aircraft on behalf of partners, though this could change in the medium term.
Two billion dollars required to bring these aircraft to market
Finally, Boeing’s $450 million investment in Wisk is obviously key, and it makes Wisk a good bet for it to be one of the urban mobility companies to still be around after the inevitable sector consolidation happens.
Gysin mentioned that to bring an aircraft like Wisk to the point where it carries passengers represents a $2 billion cost, which is of course one reason why many of the urban mobility companies currently testing their models will not last the course.