The New Zealand government has cleared the way for Wisk — a joint air company between Boeing and Kitty Hawk — to begin a trial run of its air taxi fleet, reports said. New Zealand’s aviation authority, however, still needs to approve Wisk’s Cora aircraft. Once the regulatory approval is in place, the company can transport customers in and around the Canterbury region of the country.
Kitty Hawk was founded by Google’s Larry Page, and is managed by Sebastian Thrun, the developer behind Google’s self-driving car unit.
Wisk’s central idea is that a Cora air taxi can be summoned by a phone app. No pilots are aboard the aircraft with the passengers. Instead, it is controlled by autopilots and a remote pilot. Boeing’s NeXt division is involved in the partnership, and drives the strategy behind shared airspace safety.
With room for two passengers, Cora is an electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) aircraft, initially envisioned in 2018 by Kitty Hawk. The aircraft’s flight system features 12-rotors that provide redundancy and vertical lifts. The vehicle is engineered for short-range travel (around 25 miles currently), but Wisk’s strategic goal and long-term business model is to have the planes maneuver in traditional cities and heavily populated urban areas to reduce pollution and dangerous ground traffic.
The Wisk air taxi trial is the first significant initiative of this kind anywhere in the world. If the Cora aircraft rollout is successful, it will constitute the first substantive achievement toward a sustainable, commercial “short hop” air travel service.
Analysts have cautioned that the proposed business model might not be sustainable, though, and could ultimately become a novel way for the 1 percent to avoid traditional street-level traffic.