Archer, Kakao Mobility partner to bring electric air taxis to South Korea in 2026

Archer Aviation is partnering with ride-hailing and parking company Kakao Mobility to bring electric air taxi flights to South Korea starting in 2026, if the company can get its aircraft developed in time.

The move to South Korea is part of an international strategy that will also see Archer commercially launch in the United Arab Emirates and India that same year. Competitor Joby Aviation is also targeting South Korea in partnership with SK Telecom and UT, a ride-hailing joint venture between Uber and T Map Mobility that integrates air and land travel.

Per the terms of Archer’s latest deal, Kakao Mobility plans to own and operate Archer’s Midnight electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) aircraft so it can offer air taxi rides to the more than 30 million registered users on its Kakao T mobile app, starting in Seoul.

Archer says the Midnight aircraft has a 100-mile range and is designed for urban environments where the average trip is around 20 miles. The vehicle has an expected payload of more than 1,000 pounds and can carry four passengers in addition to the pilot. However, the vehicle is still in development and has not received an FAA certification yet.

“The vision is clear – reduce the hours lost in traffic and elevate everyday travel with an electric air taxi service that features Archer’s Midnight aircraft,” said Christopher SungWook Chang, senior vice president of Kakao Mobility, in a statement.

Kakao also signed a similar deal with British eVTOL startup Vertical Aerospace, which includes Kakao purchasing up to 50 VX4 eVTOLs for the South Korean market.

Kakao and Archer are also jointly participating in the K-UAM (Korea Urban Air Mobility) Grand Challenge, an initiative led by the South Korean government to develop and test UAM commercial technologies that can address issues like traffic congestion and air pollution. The culmination of that challenge will be a public demonstration of Archer’s aircraft in South Korea in late 2024.

To help Archer’s early commercialization efforts in Korea, Kakao is providing the company with $7 million this year, with a second installment planned for the first quarter of 2025.

In total, Kakao has agreed to purchase up to 50 Midnight aircraft, worth approximately $250 million, including pre-delivery payments. Archer didn’t provide more details about when it expects to fulfill all 50 orders, or even the first few. The startup turned SPAC has an agreement with automaker Stellantis to mass-produce its eVTOLs and grant the company access to up to $150 million in additional capital. That said, Archer still has to incur all of the costs associated with that collaboration.

In the first quarter of 2024, Archer spent $83.5 million in R&D expenses. Since its inception, the company has incurred around $807.4 million in losses, per regulatory filings. Those losses will only continue to mount as Archer aims to deliver vehicles and build air taxi networks -- which won’t be profitable for some time -- over the next few years.

Archer has also shared plans to launch air taxi services in Miami and San Francisco in 2025 in partnership with United Airlines and fixed-base operator Atlantic, but the company has not provided TechCrunch with updates on those planned launches.

Update: Kakao Mobility and Vertical Aerospace confirmed their ongoing partnership. This article was originally published May 30, 2024 at 3:00 a.m. PT.