Delta Is the Latest Airline Looking to Electrify Air Travel, Sort Of

Delta is investing $60 million in startup Joby Aviation to make vertical, electrified, ‘home-to-airport’ travel a reality. Will the idea fly?

As electric cars and trucks continue to replace vehicles powered by the internal combustion engine and fueled by gasoline, the inevitable question is when — and how — electrified aircraft might also become a viable alternative to noisy, stinky, gas-guzzling, carbon-spewing helicopters and jets.

United Airlines  (UAL) – Get United Airlines Holdings Inc. Report last week shared preliminary plans to get an electric fleet of planes airborne. Also last week, Alice, the world’s first all-electric, plug-in, rechargeable, battery powered plane developed by Israeli company Eviation, completed its first test flight, and has plans to seek FAA approval.

Now it’s Delta Air Lines’  (DAL) – Get Delta Air Lines Inc. Report turn. The company on Tuesday said it is investing $60 million in startup Joby Aviation  (JOBY) – Get Joby Aviation Inc. Report, which is planning to build and operate an electric vertical takeoff and landing aircraft, or eVTOL, that it says will eventually be able to shuttle passengers from their front doors to the airport.

In a statement, Delta said it is “…deepening its commitment to transform the future of travel,” embarking on a multi-year, multi-market commercial and operational partnership with Joby “…to deliver transformational, sustainable home-to-airport transportation service to Delta customers.”

As part of the first-of-its-kind arrangement, the companies will work together to integrate a Joby-operated service into Delta’s customer-facing channels, providing customers who travel with Delta through New York and Los Angeles the opportunity to reserve a seat for seamless, zero-operating-emission, short-range journeys to and from city airports when booking Delta travel, according to the statement.

‘A Time-Saving, Uniquely Premium, Home-to-Airport Solution’

Delta has the opportunity to expand the total investment up to $200 million as the partners achieve substantive milestones on the development and delivery of the service. Delta also will have an exclusive five-year partnership with Joby operating eVTOLs as part of the Delta network.

“This is a groundbreaking opportunity for Delta to deliver a time-saving, uniquely premium home-to-airport solution for customers in key markets we’ve been investing and innovating in for many years,” Delta CEO Ed Bastian said in the statement.

The two companies will work together to create a “…differentiated, premium experience for Delta customers featuring seamless booking, simplified transit and greater time savings.”

The partnership will be mutually exclusive across the U.S. and U.K. for five years following commercial launch, with the potential to extend that period. No price tag was given for the potential service. 

Is Electrification Coming to Aviation?

Joby’s aircraft is designed to fly fast, quiet and sustainable trips in and around cities. The aircraft has flown more than 1,000 test flights, demonstrating its range, speed, altitude, and low noise profile.

The company was the first eVTOL company to be granted a G-1 (Stage 4) Certification Basis for its aircraft by the FAA and recently received its Part 135 Air Carrier Certification.

The idea of making commercial planes that run on batteries and even solar panels isn’t entirely new. Companies including Joby, Eviation and others have been working on developing different types of aircraft that don’t require engines to lift off and run.

Source: Eviation 

Icelandair Group ICE recently flew an electric airplane, manufactured by Pipistrel, with the Iceland’s president and prime minister on board. Plane maker Airbus, meantime, has been working on a hybrid-propulsion aircraft called the EcoPulse. 

United is also deep into aviation-electrification game. The airline last year bought 100 battery-powered planes that can seat 19 passengers and purportedly recharge in under half an hour from Swedish startup Heart Aerospace.

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