Boeing Co is investing a further $450 million in Wisk Aero to support development of future pilotless flying taxis, the US aerospace giant said on Monday.
California-based Wisk, owned by Boeing and Kitty Hawk — the air vehicle firm launched by Google co-founder Larry Page — is one of dozens of electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) makers but differs in focusing its efforts on autonomous flight.
"Our view is that is the big strategic advantage of Wisk, going straight to a self-flying aircraft, building those principles in at every level of the design and development," Boeing's Chief Strategy Officer Marc Allen told Reuters.
The decision to leapfrog a generation of piloted eVTOL aircraft being developed by independent startups and some aerospace groups entails a later entry to service than the target date of 2024 envisaged by most competitors.
Boeing declined to give a date for what it terms the sixth-generation Wisk passenger vehicle, but industry sources said the idea was to present it for certification in around 2028.
Boeing said it would be the first autonomous passenger-carrying vehicle to be certified in the United States.
In a statement, Wisk said the $450 million investment from Boeing would make it "one of the most well-funded" companies of its type, but gave no further details.
The fundraising follows a spate of billion-dollar SPAC mergers by competitors in a trend that has cooled recently.
Analysts say the timetable for certification remains the key source of uncertainty surrounding the industry, whose debuts include California-based Joby and Archer and European rivals Lilium and Vertical Aerospace.
Boeing owns an undisclosed majority stake in Wisk.
It is not the only aerospace company teaming up with Silicon Valley to share development costs and foster an agile approach to innovation as simultaneous leaps in electric, materials and processing technology bring aviation within reach of startups.
"The kinds of constant demand shifts that will accompany these emerging industries really do require broad collaboration across those in industry who bring different capabilities together," Allen said in an interview.
Beyond that, the debt-laden US aerospace giant is seen as selectively more willing to co-develop know-how on broad capabilities like autonomy and advanced production processes, rather than controlling all high-end technology in-house.
Asked if there could be other partnerships within Boeing's core aerospace activities, Allen said: "Wisk is just one great example. I am sure it will not be the only example."
Boeing's investment in the company could yield improvements that could be applied across Boeing's portfolio, he added.