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Boeing NeXt To Close, Raising Doubts over eVTOL Activities

Boeing NeXt To Close, Raising Doubts over eVTOL Activities

Boeing is closing its Boeing NeXt innovation division just over two years since it launched the venture at the Farnborough Air Show in July 2018. The move, confirmed by a Boeing spokesperson on September 17, raises questions about the future of the company’s shareholdings in eVTOL aircraft developers Wisk and Aurora Flight Sciences. Also now in doubt is whether Boeing will continue its investment in Aerion and its AS2 supersonic business jet program.

Boeing NeXt v-p and general manager Steve Nordlund announced the move to staff in an internal letter on September 15 and indicated that the decision had been taken in response to heavy financial losses sustained in the wake of the 737 Max grounding and the Covid-19 crisis. “Our goal is to move to a full pause as swiftly as possible,” he explained. “Organizations like these only have the privilege to exist when you have a healthy core business.”

Boeing NeXt, which is based in St Louis, Missouri, has been working on two eVTOL prototypes—one designated as a Passenger Air Vehicle and another a Cargo Air Vehicle. Through its Wisk joint venture formed in 2019 with Kitty Hawk, it is developing a two-seat eVTOL design called Cora.

The NeXt business unit also includes the SkyGrid joint venture that Boeing launched with SparkCognition in November 2018. This is focused on developing software for air traffic management of autonomous aircraft.

A Boeing spokesperson issued the following written statement in response to questions from AIN about the future of its urban air mobility activities: “Aurora will remain a subsidiary and will continue to be part of NeXt for the remainder of the year. Management is assessing several options regarding when this talented organization can make a meaningful and productive impact. In the meantime, it continues to run its business as usual. Our continued investment in and participation with Wisk is being evaluated and no decisions have been made.” She added that the same situation applies to Boeing’s investment in Aerion.

In June, Wisk announced that it had resumed flight testing of the Cora at its facilities in New Zealand and California. Aurora Flight Sciences has yet to confirm the status of its development of the Passenger Air Vehicle, after a June 2019 accident in which an early prototype was damaged at its facility in Virginia.

Boeing announced the Wisk joint venture with eVTOL startup Kitty Hawk in December 2019 but had formed it earlier last year in stealth mode. Last October, the U.S. aerospace giant also announced a partnership with German automobile group Porsche to develop what it described as luxury eVTOL designs, apparently signaling a strong commitment to this rapidly emerging sector.

In a written statement, a spokesman for Wisk told AIN: “Wisk is a healthy, independent company with a committed vision, mission, and go-to-market plan. We are in a strong financial position with an exceptional team, and we continue to execute on our current roadmap. As an investor, Boeing’s relationship with Wisk has not changed.”

In February 2019, Boeing announced a partnership with Nevada-based Aerion Supersonic to help develop the AS2 supersonic business jet. It reportedly invested several hundred million dollars for a 40 percent stake in the company and appointed two out of the five board positions.

Aerion is projecting the Mach 1.4 AS2 will enter service in 2027. The program is backed by several major aerospace prime contractors, including Honeywell, Spirit AeroSystems, GE Aviation, Safran, and GKN Aerospace.

Announcing results for the second quarter of 2020 on July 29, Boeing reported a $2.96 billion operating loss, equating to a loss per share of $4.20. Revenues for the quarter were 25 percent down on the same period in 2019, at $11.8 billion. The company said it continued to be “significantly impacted” by the Covid-19 pandemic and by the ongoing grounding of the 737 Max airliner following two fatal accidents.

This story comes from the new FutureFlight.aero resource developed by AIN to provide objective, independent coverage and analysis of new aviation technology, including electric aircraft developments.

 

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