Posts with «airline industry» label

Hitting the Books: AI is already reshaping air travel, will airports themselves be next?

The holiday travel season is once again upon us! It's the magical time of the year that combines standing in airport security lines with incrementally losing your mind as the hands of your watch perpetually tick closer to a boarding time that magically moved up 45 minutes since you left the house and the goober in front of you is in the year of our lord 2022 still somehow confused about why we have to take our shoes off in security and goddamit dude stop arguing with the TSA and untie your laces already these tickets are nonrefundable.

Ai can help fix this. It can perhaps even give regular folks a taste of the effortless airport experience that more well-heeled travelers enjoy — the private jet set who don't ever have to worry about departure times or security lines like the rest of us schmucks stuck flying Spirit. 

In their latest book POWER AND PREDICTION: The Disruptive Economics of Artificial Intelligence, University of Toronto economists and professors Ajay Agrawal, Joshua Gans, and Avi Goldfarb examine the foundational impact that AI/ML systems have on human decision making as we increasingly rely on automation and big data predictions. In the excerpt below, they posit what the airports of tomorrow might look like if AI eliminates traffic congestion and security delays. 

Harvard Business Review Press

Reprinted by permission of Harvard Business Review Press. Excerpted from POWER AND PREDICTION: The Disruptive Economics of Artificial Intelligence by Ajay Agrawal, Joshua Gans, and Avi Goldfarb. Copyright 2022 Ajay Agrawal, Joshua Gans, and Avi Goldfarb. All rights reserved.

Ajay Agrawal, Joshua Gans, and Avi Goldfarb, economists and professors at University of Toronto's Rotman School of Management. Their previous book is PREDICTION MACHINES: The Simple Economics of Artificial Intelligence.


The Alternative Airport Universe

Before considering the threat AI prediction may pose to airports, as with everything, there is an alternative system that can show us what the other side looks like. One example is the alternative universe of the very, very wealthy. They don’t fly commercial and so have no occasion to deal with either the old or newly designed public airport terminals. Instead, they fly privately and go through private terminals. Normally, glitz, glamour, nice restaurants, and art galleries are going to be where the very rich are. But in the world of airports, private terminals are positively spartan.

The reason there is no investment in making private terminals better places is that the very uncertainty that plagues the rest of us doesn’t plague the rich. With a commercial plane, you are tied to a schedule, and those planes will leave late passengers behind. With a private plane, the schedule is more flexible or even nonexistent. If the passengers aren’t there, the plane doesn’t leave until they arrive. If the passengers are there earlier, the plane leaves then. The whole system is designed so there is no waiting—at least, on the part of the passengers. No waiting means no need to invest in making waiting more pleasant. At the same time, the rich don’t have rules about when they need to leave for the airport. They leave when they want. If more people could have that experience, then surely the optimal terminal would be more spartan than cathedral.

You don’t have to be rich, however, to see this alternative universe. Instead, just compare the world on the other side of the arrival gates to those at departure. When arrival areas are separated from departure areas, they are spartan. You might find some light food outlets, but everything else is designed to get you out of the airport. The critical issue is how close the taxi and parking facilities are, even though you may not be in a stressful rush. Do you even remember any details of arrivals at your regular airport, other than how best to get out?

The AI Airport Threat

Airports are no strangers to AI. Air traffic control has adopted AI-based systems to better predict aircraft arrivals and congestion. At Eindhoven Airport, a new AI baggage-handling system is being piloted whereby passengers simply photograph their bags, drop them off, and pick them up at their destination—no labels required. Subject to privacy requirements, it hopes to do the same with people. All this will help you get to your flight more quickly.

None of these things, however, hit at the key drivers of uncertainty in your travel to your flight — traffic and security. Change, however, is already here with regard to traffic. Navigational apps such as Waze account for traffic conditions and can reasonably estimate how long it takes to get to any airport based on the time of day. The apps aren’t perfect, but they keep getting better.

The apps free passengers from having rules that tell them how early they need to leave for the airport. Instead, they can add that flight time to their calendar, and an app tells them the best time to depart and schedule their time accordingly. Even better, in the near future, the uncertainty in the actual time a flight leaves will be taken into account. Rather than just telling you when you need to leave based on a scheduled departure, the app will tell you when to leave depending on the flight’s predicted actual departure. Again, there is residual uncertainty, but the leap from having no information to having more precise information could save hours of waiting time. Similarly, many Uber riders who previously thought they wouldn’t care about knowing the predicted arrival time of their taxi now cite that information as one of the most valuable features of the service. Uber uses AI to make that prediction. AI could also predict security line wait times. Put it all together, and you can use the AI to decide when to leave for the airport rather than rely on rules. As with everything, there will be some who leap at this possibility ahead of others. At Incheon and many other airports, waiting isn’t bad anymore, so maybe you don’t need to make an informed decision.

Those developing an AI-driven navigation app or flight departure predictor have no direct interest in the earnings of in-terminal airport activities. However, the value of their AI applications depends critically on how many people do not want to wait at airports. Thus, if airports are currently less costly to wait in, the value of those apps is diminished. The security line prediction is another matter. Airports claim that they want to improve security times and reduce uncertainty. But as economists, we don’t think their incentives are aligned with passengers. Yes, improving security times leaves more time to spend at the facilities past security. But, at the same time, it will reduce uncertainty and cause people to tighten their airport arrival times. Combined with AI that solves the other uncertainty for passengers in getting to the terminal, will the airports want to eliminate the uncertainty under their own control?

Accommodating Rules

Our broader point is not about airports but about rules. Rules arise because it is costly to embrace uncertainty, but they create their own set of problems. The so-called Shirky Principle, put forth by technology writer Clay Shirky, states that “institutions will try to preserve the problem to which they are the solution.” The same can be said of businesses. If your business is to provide a way to help people when they wait for a plane, what’s the chance you are going to ensure they don’t have to wait for planes?

If you want to find opportunities by creating new AI-enabled decisions, you need to look beyond the guardrails that protect rules from the consequences of uncertainty and target activities that make bearing those costs easier or to reduce the likelihood of bad outcomes that the rules would otherwise have to tolerate.

We can see this in the long-standing protection farmers employ in England — building hedgerows. A hedgerow is a carefully planned set of robust trees and plants that serve as a wall between fields. It is extremely useful if your field is full of farm animals, and you do not want to employ a person to ensure they do not wander off. It is also useful if you do not want heavy rainfall to erode soil too quickly or if you want to protect crops from strong winds. Given all this protection against risky events, we are not surprised that this practice was the origin of the term “hedging,” which evolved to have a broader insurance meaning.

But hedgerows come at a cost. By dividing farmland, they make it impossible to use certain farming techniques — including mechanization — that are only efficient for large swathes of land. After World War II, the British government actually subsidized the removal of hedgerows, although in some cases, that removal was excessive, given their role in risk management. Today, there is a movement to restore hedgerows, led most prominently by the Prince of Wales. In many situations, costly investments are made to cover or shelter a would-be decision-maker from risk. Miles of highways are cocooned with guardrails to prevent cars from going down embankments, hills, or into oncoming traffic. Most are, fortunately, never used, but each allows a road to be built in a way that might have otherwise not been sufficiently safe, given the fallibility of human drivers.

More generally, building codes precisely specify various measures to protect those inside buildings from uncertain events. These include fire, but also damage from weather, weak building foundations, and other natural phenomena like earthquakes.

What these protection measures have in common is that they typically generate what looks like over-engineered solutions. They are designed for a certain set of events — the once-in-a-lifetime storm or the once-in-a-century flood. When those events occur, the engineering seems worthwhile. But, in their absence, there is cause to wonder. For many years, Freakonomics authors Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner pointed out how life vests and rafts on aircraft — not to mention the safety demonstrations of each — appeared wasteful, given that no aircraft had successfully landed on water. Then, in 2009, Captain Sullenberger landed a US Airways plane with no working engines on the Hudson River. Does that one example of a low-probability event make the precautionary life vests worth it? It is hard to know. But we cannot conclude that the absence of a possible outcome causes us to assess the probability of that outcome at zero.

Levitt and Dubner’s main point, however, is that while it is often possible when protection measures are employed to assess the likelihood or change in the likelihood of underlying uncertainty over time, it is not possible to measure whether the investments made to reduce the probability of a consequence are excessive, as the very risk management strategy employed takes away that information. It is entirely possible that too much is wasted on something that, for other reasons, is no longer high risk at all.

Pentagon unveils B-21 Raider aircraft with advanced stealth technology

The US military has unveiled the B-21 Raider, its first new stealth bomber in 30 years. Northrop Grumman, which developed the aircraft, first showed us a silhouette of the plane covered by a shroud way back in 2015. Now, the Pentagon has officially presented the B-21 at an event at Northrop Grumman's plant in Palmdale, California, but most of its details still remain a secret. Prior to the event, though, the company called it the "world’s first sixth-generation aircraft," which means it's a lot more technologically advanced than the military jets in service today.

According to ABC News, US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said during the event that "no other long range bomber can match [the B-21's] efficiency." Austin also said that "fifty years of advances in low observable technology" have gone into the aircraft and that even the most sophisticated air defense systems will have a hard time detecting a B-21 in the sky. 

The aircraft was designed using next-generation stealth technology so that it can remain undetectable even to advanced radars and air defense systems, Northrop Grumman said in a previous announcement. A Northrop Grumman official also said that the B-21 can fly in full stealth mode every day, according to Air and Space Forces Magazine, unlike the current model that needs hundreds of hours of maintenance between missions. The aircraft will use a cloud-based digital infrastructure that's cheaper and easier maintain, and the military can also roll out rapid upgrades for separate components so that it's always protected against evolving threats. 

Northrop Grumman is currently working on six B-21 units, which are in various stages of production, but the Air Force is expected to order at least 100 of them. The military will start testing the stealth bomber in California sometime next year before the first units go into service by mid-2020s.

Take a closer look at the B-21 Raider — the world’s first sixth generation aircraft. This changes everything. #DefiningPossible#RiseoftheRaiderpic.twitter.com/rZIINucOug

— Northrop Grumman (@northropgrumman) December 3, 2022

Airbus is building a hydrogen fuel-cell engine for aircraft

As part of its goal to have zero-emission aircraft enter service by 2035, Airbus has announced the development of a hydrogen fuel-cell engine designed to for airplanes. Unlike Rolls-Royce's recently announced jet engine that burns hydrogen directly, it would use an electric motor just like fuel-cell cars, while emitting only H20. It could eventually be employed in commercial aircraft that could carry up to 100 passengers around 1,000 nautical miles (1,150 miles), the company said.

Airbus plans to test the engine by the middle of the decade on its A380 MSN1 aircraft, "currently being modified to carry liquid hydrogen tanks," it said. However, the technology appears to be designed for smaller, regional type aircraft that use more efficient propeller, rather than jet engines. 

"Fuel cells are a potential solution to help us achieve our zero-emission ambition and we are focused on developing and testing this technology to understand if it is feasible and viable for a 2035 entry-into-service of a zero-emission aircraft," said Airbus VP for zero-emission aircraft, Glenn Llewellyn. 

The company didn't provide any more details, but fuel-cells are a well-known technology for cars. They're far less efficient than battery electric vehicles (BEVs) if you count fuel production and conversion to electricity. However, they have more range, are faster to refuel and lighter — with the latter, of course, being essential for aircraft.  

As mentioned, Rolls-Royce just announced the successful test of a jet engine powered by burning hydrogen directly, another possible technology for future air transport. The company converted a Rolls-Royce AE 2100-A, a regional aircraft engine used in turboprop commuter planes, to work with the novel fuel source. However, the tech could theoretically be scaled up for larger planes.

There are still some major hurdles to overcome before hydrogen could ever be used to power airplanes. It takes four times as much hydrogen as regular fuel by weight for the same range, and the fuel must be kept under pressure. And of course, hydrogen is highly explosive, so aircraft systems for storage and distribution would need to be extremely reliable and durable — again adding weight. Still, it might be the only option available for aircraft in the near future, as battery technology is still much too heavy unless used for very short flights.

The best gifts for travelers in 2022

Be it for work or play, many people are taking trips again, which makes travel-related gifts an excellent idea. Whether your loved ones are globetrotters or frequent business travelers, it’s time to look into upgrading their existing on-the-go kit. We’ve curated a list of various items your friends and family will appreciate. Things like sleep masks and packing cubes are essential, and tech gear like battery packs and noise-canceling headphones can make the hectic parts of traveling a bit less stressful. We’re sure at least one of these will help make your loved ones’ next adventure a lot more enjoyable.

Anker 622 Magnetic Battery

Will Lipman Photography for Engadget

Anker’s 622 MagGo will make a great gift for anyone with an iPhone 12 or newer. The 5,000 mAh magnetic battery pack will adhere and charge any MagSafe-compatible device, which means they no longer need to worry about carrying charging cables when they’re out and about. It’s also super slim at 0.5 inches and is about the size of a deck of cards so it won’t add any extra bulk either. And there’s a bonus: It has a built-in foldable kickstand that will prop their iPhone up at a comfortable viewing angle, making it perfect for long flights. — Nicole Lee, Commerce Writer

Buy Anker 622 battery at Amazon - $60

Ostrich Pillow Hot & Cold Eye Mask

Ostrich

Sleep masks are a travel essential. They help you get precious z’s on long flights or when you’re suffering from jet lag. But not all sleep masks are the same. The really good ones don’t just fully cover the eyes, but also have enough layers to ensure complete darkness when worn. We also prefer padded models that mold to your face for added comfort and security.

The Ostrich Pillow Hot & Cold Eye mask meets all of those requirements and more. It has a clay bead core that applies gentle pressure to your eyelids for extra stress relief, and it even offers heat and cold therapy (warm it up in the microwave or place it in the freezer). This helps soothe away tense facial muscles or reduce eye strain, which is always welcome after a stressful travel day. — N.L.

Buy eye mask at Ostrich - $39

Sony WH-1000XM5

Will Lipman Photography for Engadget

If you know someone who always complains about crying babies and chatty neighbors on flights, they’ll likely appreciate a pair of noise-canceling headphones. Sony’s WH-1000XM5 is one of Engadget’s favorites, easily making the best wireless headphones list this year. Senior Editor Billy Steele says it’s comfortable to wear for long periods, has an impressive 30-hour battery life, excellent sound quality and stellar ANC. It also has a combination of touch and physical controls, which means your giftee won’t have to reach for their phone every time they want to switch tracks. — N.L.

Buy WH-1000XM5 at Amazon - $398

Kobo Libra 2

Will Lipman Photography for Engadget

Instead of spending your time scrolling on your phone while you wait for your delayed flight to take off, pick up an e-reader like the Kobo Libra 2. It lets you bring your whole digital library with you wherever you go, so you can catch up on your favorite cozy mystery series instead of swiping aimlessly through Instagram during every idle moment. Plus, Kobo devices have direct integration with Overdrive, and that means you can access your local library’s e-book offerings from the Libra 2. So even when your digital pile of e-books isn’t appealing to you, you can borrow a new read from the library in just a few seconds.

Additionally, we like the Libra 2 for its seven-inch E Ink display with brightness adjustment, blue light reduction and optional Dark Mode, and its ergonomic design that includes page-turn buttons. If you want the latter on a Kindle, you’ll have to shell out $250 for the Kindle Oasis, so the Libra 2 is an affordable alternative. If you do prefer the Kindle ecosystem and the perks that come with programs like Kindle Unlimited, we recommend the latest Kindle, which comes in at $100. — Valentina Palladino, Senior Commerce Editor

Buy Kobo Libra 2 at Amazon - $180

Incase Accessory Organizer

Engadget

One of the challenges of traveling is having to corral all of your various cables and chargers, especially if you plan on bringing more than one electronic device. Incase’s Accessory Organizer, however, makes that whole process a lot easier. Made from sturdy lightweight nylon, the bag has lots of room for not just your phone but also a ton of accessories. It has several loops for holding pens and chargers, zip and mesh pockets for battery packs and cables, a padded faux fur pocket that’s ideal for storing your phone without scratching the screen, and more. The whole thing is just the size of a paperback book and it lies flat, so it’s easy to stow away in your backpack. Unlike a lot of other similarly-priced accessory organizers on the market, the Incase organizer is also water-repellent, which is an important factor in keeping your gear free from damage. — N.L.

Buy accessory organizer at Incase - $50

Bellroy Tech Kit

Engadget

For a more stylish take on the accessory pouch, consider the Bellroy Tech Kit, which is made out of a combination of leather and a water-resistant woven fabric. It’s as functional as it is handsome, with a magnetic slip pocket that’s wide enough to fit a power bank or a mouse and several elastic loops to hold pens, cables and chargers. Plus, the zip opening hinges out to provide full access to the pouch’s contents, making it easy to access everything quickly. — N.L.

Buy Tech Kit at Bellroy - $60

Peak Design Packable tote

Will Lipman Photography for Engadget

It’s always a good idea to bring a reusable bag with you while traveling. It gives you flexibility and will prevent you from attempting to stuff a bunch of essentials into your main carry-all at the last minute. There are thousands of options out there, but we like Peak Design’s Packable tote because it doesn’t have the typical reusable bag design and it remains affordable at only $20. It’s made of 100-percent recycled ripstop nylon, which is resilient and as well as water resistant, and it has a zip closure, which is something most other reusable bags don’t have. It’ll keep your items more secure thanks to that, and it’s easier to carry in different ways thanks to its single shoulder/hand strap that sports microfiber padding for extra comfort. We also like that it has an interior pocket that can hold a phone, wallet or keys, and it takes up a surprisingly little space when it’s packed into itself. — V.P.

Buy Packable Tote at Peak Design - $20

July Carry On

Engadget

A travel must-have is a reliable piece of carry-on luggage, and the July Carry On certainly fits that bill. It has a built-in ejectable power bank that sits conveniently underneath the handle. It has a 10,000 mAh battery with one USB-C, one microUSB and two USB-A ports that’s able to charge not just your loved one’s phone but their laptop too. And since it’s ejectable, they can easily take it out in order to be compliant with airline flight regulations.

Additionally, the bag itself is very well-designed. It’s made out of a crush-proof polycarbonate shell, is outfitted with anodized aluminum bumpers and quiet spinner wheels, and it has a Y-Strap compression system that lets them fit in more clothes. It also comes in a variety of eye-catching colors. — N.L.

Buy carry on at July - $295

Foldable electric kettle

Engadget

Not every hotel room comes with a coffee machine or some way to boil water, and the same goes for AirBnBs. If you have a friend or family member who simply must have their morning cup of tea everywhere they go, that’s a problem. A foldable electric kettle like this one from Loutytou is the perfect solution. It folds down to a compact, portable size when not in use, but expands to a full-size kettle that holds about 600ml of water. Just plug it into a power outlet, flip the switch, and they’ll have hot water in about six minutes. On a recent road trip, I used it not just for tea but also for making instant cup noodles in the middle of the night. It proved to be a savior for not just my sanity but those pesky midnight cravings as well. I also appreciate that the power cord and handle are detachable, making it easier to stow away. — N.L.

Buy foldable electric kettle at Amazon - $50

Anker PowerCore 65W 2-in-1 power bank

Will Lipman Photography for Engadget

If you’re looking for the mother of all chargers to take with you on your next trip, Anker’s 733 2-in-1 power bank is the one to get. It’s both a 65W wall charger and a 10,000mAh portable battery in one, allowing you to charge pretty much anything at full speed no matter where you are. Flip out the built-in prongs and plug it in to power up your laptop, or use it on a flight when your smartphone needs a top-up. It has two built-in USB-C ports and one USB-A port, so not only do you have a variety of charging options, but it can handle powering up three devices simultaneously. Plus, it has Anker’s PowerIQ 4.0 technology for higher efficiency and ActiveShield 2.0 for improved temperature monitoring. — V.P.

Buy Anker PowerCore power bank at Amazon - $100

Newvanger travel power adapter

Engadget

An adapter like Newvanger’s isn’t the sexiest gift ever, but it’s something all international travelers will want to keep in their bags. This model has the detachable input plugs that will work with European, UK and Australian outlets, making it an essential for anyone who wants to use their existing electronics while they’re traveling. It also has two USB-A ports built in, so you can power up a couple of mobile devices while you’re also using the main plug for things like your laptop or Nintendo Switch. Plus, it has built-in fuse protection so you won’t have to worry about your gadgets getting fried when you’re in a foreign country. — V.P.

Buy travel power adapter at Amazon - $20

SpaceX aims to put 350 Mbps satellite internet on planes with Starlink Aviation

SpaceX has revealed the official details of its Starlink satellite internet service for aviation, and it promises to deliver speeds of up to 350 Mbps for each airplane. Delta Chief Executive Ed Bastian admitted earlier this year that the airline conducted "exploratory tests" of Starlink's internet technology for its planes. Hawaiian Airlines also announced that it will start deploying Starlink internet with "select" aircraft in 2023 around the same time. Shortly after that and after launching Starlink for RVs, the Federal Communications Commission authorized the company to provide satellite internet services to vehicles.

Starlink Aviation, according to the company's FAQ page, will be available worldwide, as long as the plane equipped with its Aero Terminals has an unobstructed view of the sky. The service's satellites are moving in Low Earth Orbit, so there's almost always one or a few overhead. SpaceX says that means passengers will have consistent access to the internet, whether the plane is over land or water and even while it's taxiing or landing. 

If Starlink Aviation can truly deliver on SpaceX's promises, that would make it a lot faster than other satellite options that only offer speeds of up to 100 Mbps per plane at most. The company claims the service will allow passengers to do things they couldn't do so mid-flight, such as making video calls, playing online games and using VPN.

The service will initially be available for select airplanes, but the company plans on developing support for more airframes in the future. SpaceX intends to start deliveries for the Starlink Aviation Aero Terminal kits in 2023, so the first airlines to offer the service as an in-flight WiFi option will likely announce it in the coming months. 

With Starlink, passengers will be able to access high-speed, low-latency internet from the moment they walk on their plane → https://t.co/bcn8jvpKgipic.twitter.com/mDDQou1ZA3

— SpaceX (@SpaceX) October 19, 2022

FAA says Apple AirTags are allowed in checked baggage

Don't worry that you might not be allowed to slip an Apple AirTag into your luggage for your next flight. As The Points Guy notes, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has stated that AirTags are allowed on checked baggage. Any item tracker whose battery has under 0.3g of lithium is clear to fly. You can track your suitcase without fear of the airline taking action.

The clarification comes after worries Lufthansa might ban active AirTags in baggage. There were concerns the German carrier would interpret the International Civil Aviation Organization's (ICAO) guidance to forbid any lithium-powered tracker that can't be turned off, including AirTags. There was speculation Lufthansa wanted to forbid the tags to mask problems with lost luggage and other air travel problems. However, ICAO can only issue guidelines — it's up to officials to adopt and enforce rules, and there are none pertaining to these devices in Germany or the US.

Lufthansa issued its own statement clarifying that Apple's devices are allowed on flights. Both the airline and German regulators have determined that item trackers with small batteries and low power "do not pose a safety risk." The company added that it sought exemptions for AirTags and similar tags for checked luggage restrictions.

The FAA and Lufthansa statements theoretically settle the matter. While we wouldn't completely rule out governments or airlines altering their stance, there haven't been any reports of fires or other incidents that would prompt a change of heart. You can safely use AirTags, Tile trackers and similar find-my-stuff products to provide some reassurance during your next vacation.

Delta invests in air taxi startup Joby to enable home-to-airport flights

Flying taxi startup Joby Aviation just landed a deal that could make your ride to the airport much more enjoyable. Delta is investing a total of up to $200 million in Joby in exchange for a home-to-airport flight service. Instead of hailing a car or paying for parking, you can have an eVTOL (electric vertical takeoff and landing) aircraft take you to the terminal without the usual traffic hassles.

The service will initially be available to Delta passengers travelling through New York City and Los Angeles, and will operate for at least five years after launch. It will exist alongside Joby's regular airport service in "priority" areas.

This represents a significant boost for Joby. It was the first eVTOL company to get key FAA certifications for airworthiness and carrier service, and now it's signing a "first-of-its-kind" (according to the companies) agreement with a US airline. The move could give Joby an edge over rivals like Archer and Wisk Aero that are waiting for FAA certifications or major commercial partnerships.

Joby has also been growing quickly compared to many competitors. It received $394 million from Toyota in early 2020, and bought Uber's air taxi business late that same year. NASA began flight testing the firm's eVTOLs in summer 2021. Simply put, it's in a good position to make flying taxis a practical reality.

Wisk Aero's latest flying taxi has four seats and can fly itself

Wisk Aero has unveiled its 6th-generation semi-autonomous air taxi, calling it the "first-ever candidate for type certification by the FAA of an autonomous eVTOL." The design looks like a substantially updated version of the "Cora" air taxi we first saw fly and hover in New Zealand back in 2018. However, the company didn't show any flight or detail the certification progress.

According to Wisk, the four-seat aircraft can cruise between 110 and 120 knots (138 MPH) at a height of 2,500 to 4,000 feet above ground level. It's a VTOL (vertical takeoff and landing) aircraft with a 12-propeller design, featuring tilting propulsion units in front and fixed units aft for lift. It offers up to 90 miles of range and has improved control and efficient energy management over previous versions, according to the press release. 

The promotional video (above) shows passengers buckling in with shoulder harness-style seatbelts and going through a safety procedure demonstration using touchscreens. Wisk says there are "fewer moving parts, no hydraulics, no oil and no fuel," promising a safer flying experience. It also notes that it's "designed to exceed today’s rigorous aviation safety standards of a one-in-a-billion chance of an accident."

The company emphasized the autonomous technology, saying they believe that it's the "key" to air mobility. To that end, they aim to have improved sensors to detect and avoid obstacles, along with "multi-vehicle supervisors that provide human oversight of every flight," and can take control if needed. 

Wick said the new vehicle is a candidate for FAA certification that would allow it to fly passengers in the US. However, getting that coveted piece of paper is an arduous chore even for established airplane manufactures like Boeing using standard aircraft designs — let alone a new company with a brand new type of aircraft that's never flown passengers before. 

Aviation company Kittyhawk founded by Google co-founder Larry Page recently announced that it was shutting down, a strong indication of the challenges in this sector. Wick essentially sprang from that company, after Kittyhawk partnered with Boeing on the 5th-generation Cora aircraft.

Wick isn't the only company determined to see this air taxi thing through. Joby received FAA authorization for its air taxi services earlier this year, allowing it to operate commercially. However, that only allows it start testing its services — it still needs FAA certification for its prototype aircraft before it can actually transport people. 

Boom's supersonic jet is facing a lack of interest from engine suppliers

Boom recently lost its jet engine partner for the Overture supersonic jet, and other major engine manufacturers aren't interested in the project either, Insider has reported. After Boom signed an "engagement agreement" with Rolls-Royce for supersonic jet engines back in 2020, the latter announced last week that it had left the project. Now, other major jet engine manufacturers including Pratt & Whitney, GE Aviation, Honeywell and Safran Aircraft Engines have told FlightGlobal they're not currently interested in supersonic aircraft.

Boom said that the project is still on track, though, and that it will soon announce an engine partner. "We can reconfirm our intention to announce Boom's selected engine partner and transformational approach for reliable, cost-effective, and sustainable supersonic flight, later this year." Boom told Insider. The company has 20 airplanes on order from American Airlines and 15 from United. It plans to build build a factory in California and start flying passengers by 2029.

For its part, Rolls-Royce said that "after careful consideration... [we] have determined that the commercial aviation supersonic market is not currently a priority for us and, therefore, will not pursue further work on the program at this time."

After careful consideration, Rolls-Royce has determined that the commercial aviation supersonic market is not currently a priority for us and, therefore, will not pursue further work on the program at this time.

There are a limited number of other manufacturers capable of developing a supersonic jet engine, and all of the biggest ones said that it's not in their plans. Honeywell, Safron and GE shut down the idea, while Pratt & Whitney stated that supersonic travel is "tangential" to its business.

Pratt & Whitney cited efficiency as an issue for supersonic jets, and other manufacturers said they're focused on reducing fuel-burn. That's the primary direction for the industry right now, given criticism of air travel's contribution to global warming. In addition, the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) recently criticized supersonic travel, noting in a report that it would use 7-9 times more fuel per passenger, per kilometer, than subsonic jets. 

Boom has said that it would offset its carbon output through the use of sustainable aviation fuel (SAF). However, the ICAO report said that would be a poor use of scarce SAF fuels, given the high fuel burn compared to a regular jet. It also noted that "the high cruise altitude of supersonics increases the residence time of emissions significantly."

United Airlines plans to buy up to 500 electric flying taxis

United Airlines is moving deeper into the flying taxi business. Not only has the airline plowed $15 million into Eve Air Mobility, it ordered 200 flying taxis and has an option for another 200. United expects to start receiving Eve's four-seater electric vertical take-off and landing vehicle (eVTOL) as soon as 2026.

The company says its investment was spurred by both its confidence in the urban air mobility market and Eve's working relationship with Embraer. According to United, Embrarer is "a trusted aircraft manufacturer with a proven track record of building and certifying aircraft over the company's 53-year history." Embrarer previously worked with Uber on a flying taxi project that the latter eventually ditched.

Eve's flying taxi has conventional fixed wings, rotors and pushers with a design that United says favors safety, efficiency, reliability and certifiability. It's said to have a range of 60 miles and United added that the vehicle can "reduce noise levels by 90 percent compared to current conventional aircraft."

This isn't the first time United has reached an agreement with an eVTOL company. Last month, it put down a $10 million deposit with a different California-based one for 100 flying taxis. As such, the company has lined up as many as 500 flying taxis to add to its fleet.

United has set up a corporate venture fund with the aim of bolstering its ambition to reach net zero emissions by 2050 without relying on traditional carbon offsets. Through the United Airlines Ventures fund, it has also invested in hydrogen fuel cell engines and sustainable fuel.

"Today, United is making history again, by becoming the first major airline to publicly invest in two eVTOL companies," United Airlines Ventures president Michael Leskinen said in a statement. "Together, we believe our suite of clean energy technologies will revolutionize air travel as we know it and serve as the catalyst for the aviation industry to move toward a sustainable future."