Tech Insights

Flying the Friendly (Electric) Skies

April 11, 2023 by Kevin Clemens

United Airlines is teaming with Archer Aviation to create electrically powered commuter flights from downtown Chicago to O’Hare Airport. 

Chicago and its suburbs comprise the third biggest city in the United States and are home to 35 Fortune 500 companies. Chicago O’Hare International Airport is the world's fourth-largest airport and United Airlines' headquarters. So it makes sense that United Airlines and Archer Aviation recently announced plans to develop a new, sustainable mode of transportation in the Chicago area.


United Airlines eVTOL aircraft. Image used courtesy of Archer Aviation


The companies are creating an electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) aircraft to shuttle commuters between downtown Chicago and O'Hare International Airport (ORD). The production aircraft, called “Midnight” by Archer, has a cruising altitude of 2,000 feet and a range of up to 20 miles. It is designed to carry over 1,000 pounds, four passengers, and a pilot. The Midnight craft is much quieter than a traditional helicopter—it is propelled by 12 small spinning propellors instead of the one large helicopter rotor.

The commuter service is expected to launch in 2024, pending regulatory approval. The eVTOL aircraft will be able to transport passengers between Chicago O’Hare and Vertiport Chicago, North America’s largest vertical aircraft takeoff and landing facility. It is located in the Illinois Medical District near the Chicago Loop. The trip is expected to take just 15 minutes, compared to the current travel time of 45 minutes or more by car. This will save commuters time and reduce traffic congestion on the city's roads. After this initial route has been established as a trunk route, additional branch routes to surrounding suburbs will be created. Charging time for the zero-emission craft at an airport is expected to take just 10 minutes, and ComEd, the Midwest’s largest utility company, is working with United and Archer to create the power infrastructure needed to charge the eVTOL aircraft in the Chicago Metropolitan Area. 


Building the eVTOLs

Last year, Archer Aviation signed an agreement to build a manufacturing facility in Covington, Georgia.  The company says it will invest $118 million over ten years to build a plant near Atlanta that will eventually hire 1,000 people to build its battery-powered eVTOL aircraft. The 350,000-square-foot site will be capable of producing up to 650 aircraft per year once production starts at the end of 2024, according to the company. The site is big enough to scale up to as many as 2,300 aircraft per year, according to Archer.

In addition to the commuter service, the companies plan to explore other potential applications for the eVTOL aircraft. This could include transporting cargo or providing emergency medical services in hard-to-reach areas.

United Airlines was one of Archer’s early customers, with a $10 million deposit to buy 100 Archer aircraft for a total price of $1 billion. Previously United had announced plans to use the craft as a taxi service, flying between downtown Manhattan and the United hub at Newark Airport. 


The eVTOL aircraft represents a major leap forward in aviation technology, and its potential to transform urban transportation is significant.


The eVTOL aircraft represents a major leap forward in aviation technology, and its potential to transform urban transportation is significant. Michael Leskinen, President of United Airlines Ventures, indicated in a news release that the service will offer commuting customers a more convenient and cost-effective way to reach the airport. By combining their resources and expertise, the two companies are poised to revolutionize how people travel in urban areas and pave the way for a more sustainable aviation industry.