Major Airline Places Massive Bet On Electric Planes
Image via United Airlines

United Airlines announced a deal to buy up to 400 electric aircraft from Eve Air Mobility coupled with a $15 million investment in the startup.

According to a Thursday press release, United Airlines Ventures — a corporate fund created to jumpstart green energy solutions ahead of the company’s goal to reach net zero emissions by 2050 — signed a purchase agreement to buy 200 four-seat electric planes and options to buy as many as 200 additional vehicles. The first deliveries could occur as early as 2026.

“United has made early investments in several cutting-edge technologies at all levels of the supply chain, staking out our position as a leader in aviation sustainability and innovation,” United Airlines Ventures President Michael Leskinen remarked. “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.”

United intends to leverage the new aircraft as taxis in urban environments and as offerings for passengers traveling to hub airports. The startup’s “electric vertical take-off and landing vehicle” (eVTOL) uses electric motors rather than combustion engines and has a range of 60 miles.

“United’s investment in Eve reinforces the trust in our products and services and strengthens our position in the North American market,” Eve co-CEO Andre Stein added.

Last year, United also committed to spending $10 million on 100 eVTOLs from Archer Aviation, which will include software to permit autonomous takeoff and landing.

United’s most recent announcement comes as Democratic lawmakers encourage a shift toward electric vehicles. The Inflation Reduction Act, which President Joe Biden signed last month, greenlit $7,500 tax credits for the purchase of new electric cars.

Meanwhile, the California Air Resources Board issued rules requiring 35% of new vehicles to produce zero emissions by 2026 — a standard that will rise to a 68% benchmark by 2030 and a 100% level by 2035. The legislatures of Massachusetts, Washington, and Virginia have previously passed laws conforming their states to standards approved by the agency.

Experts have warned, however, that the nation’s power grid will require significant upgrades to manage a rapid transition away from gas-powered vehicles. “Today, most people charge their electric cars when they come home in the evening — when electricity demand is typically at its peak,” an article from researchers at Cornell University’s College of Engineering said. “If left unmanaged, the power demanded from many electric vehicles charging simultaneously in the evening will amplify existing peak loads, potentially outstripping the grid’s current capacity to meet demand.”

The Golden State’s efforts to pivot away from gas vehicles came under further scrutiny once the California Independent System Operator told residents to avoid charging their electric cars during certain times to protect the electric grid during a heatwave.

As Europe faces an energy crisis amid its rapid transition away from fossil fuels, Tesla CEO Elon Musk recently cautioned that rushing renewable energy adoption endangers the global economy. “Realistically I think we need to use oil and gas in the short term, because otherwise civilization will crumble,” the executive told reporters at a summit in Norway. “One of the biggest challenges the world has ever faced is the transition to sustainable energy and to a sustainable economy. That will take some decades to complete.”

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