United Airlines and Archer Reveal First Air Taxi Route in Chicago

 - March 23, 2023, 8:30 AM
United Airlines plans to start flying passengers from Chicago O'Hare Airport and the city's only downtown heliport. (Image: United Airlines)

United Airlines and Archer Aviation plan to launch an aerial ridesharing service in Chicago using Archer’s Midnight eVTOL air taxi, the companies announced on Thursday. 

The commercial air taxi route, scheduled to launch in 2025, will transport passengers between O’Hare International Airport and Vertiport Chicago, the city’s only downtown heliport facility. Vertiport Chicago lies about 12 miles (19 kilometers) southeast of the airport, in Chicago’s Illinois Medical District. 

According to Archer, the trip will take about 10 minutes via air taxi, whereas the same trip might take as long as an hour or more by car during rush hour traffic. The California start-up says it aims to make urban air mobility (UAM) a “cost-competitive” alternative to ground transportation, with the price of a flight being comparable to what someone might pay to use a premium ridesharing service on the ground, such as Uber Black. Archer previously has said it plans to charge a rate of between $3 and $4 per passenger per mile.

The Chicago route is the second such air taxi route that Archer and United have announced. In November they revealed a planned air taxi route between Newark Liberty Airport in New Jersey and the Downtown Manhattan Heliport in New York City. Archer also has previously committed to launching operations in Los Angeles and Miami, but it hasn’t yet identified specific routes in those cities. 

United Airlines, which is an investor and customer of Archer’s, has eight major hubs across the U.S., including ORD, EWR, and Los Angeles International Airport (LAX). The airline already has placed a $10 million down payment for the first 100 of up to 200 Midnight aircraft it aims to use for transporting passengers between its main hubs and city centers. 

"We’re thrilled to add Chicago to our growing list of initial launch cities as we continue to solidify our UAM network plans,” said Adam Goldstein, Archer’s founder and CEO. “We’re looking forward to working with state and city leaders to bring an innovative transportation solution to the City of Chicago and its surrounding communities.”

“This exciting new technology will further decarbonize our means of transportation, taking us another step forward in our fight against climate change," added Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot. “I'm pleased that Chicago residents will be among the first in the nation to experience this innovative, convenient form of travel.”

With FAA type certification expected by the end of 2024, Archer says it plans to begin operations in select cities in 2025. Once the initial “trunk routes” between airports and city centers open, the company plans to expand its network to connect smaller communities in surrounding areas. 

Midnight, which Archer revealed in November, is a fully electric, fixed-wing aircraft with a 47-foot (14 meters) wingspan. Twelve motors mounted on the wings provide a combination of vertical lift and forward thrust. It can seat up to four passengers plus one pilot. While Archer has said the aircraft will fly to a range of up to 100 miles (160 kilometers) on a single charge, United plans to use it primarily for shorter, successive flights of around 20 miles (32 km).