Why Wisk is not alarmed by troubles at Boeing

Deep Dive

The history of regime change at Boeing sets a precedent for tough times ahead for any non-core business – especially funding wise. 

Recent examples range from the scrapped joint venture with Embraer – that would have seen Boeing take an 80% stake in the Brazilian OEM’s commercial aircraft business – to the failure of electric aircraft startup Zunum that blamed Boeing for its demise in a fallout which ended up in court. Don’t forget the shutdown of Boeing-backed supersonic aircraft startup Aerion too.

But here is why Wisk could be the outlier.

It was only last year that Boeing became the sole owner of the autonomy-first eVTOL developer after buying out Kitty Hawk. The acquisition followed a $450m investment in the autonomous eVTOL startup in January, 2022. Way more than it ever pumped in to Zunum and Aerion (although financial terms of the Aerion deal were never disclosed).

Also, a report from Bloomberg last month revealed Boeing has been exploring the sale of at least two of its defence businesses in an effort to boost the balance sheet.

However, Boeing is a company that looks a long way off into the future. It produces 20-year market forecasts, you can bet it plans that far ahead too at least. (Despite the closure of its corporate strategy department last year leaving that up to individual departments).

A source close to both companies who wished to remain anonymous told Revolution.Aero: “Boeing sees Wisk as a core business because it intends to leverage the autonomous technology it produces for use in a broad range of other applications. Despite the ongoing situation Boeing has in its commercial aircraft segment, Wisk’s relationship with its parent has not changed and the joint vision of both remains the same.”

Exactly where Wisk’s autonomous technology could be deployed would be speculation, but defence and commercial aviation are the likely business lines. While the eVTOL is a groundbreaking feat of engineering and the scaled market could influence how large portions of society move around, it is unlikely to ever become Boeing’s biggest moneymaker. So there is an argument to be made that the eVTOL was in the right place at the right time and Boeing decided it would be the best incubator for its autonomy technology which it then leverages in more profitable business lines.

It could also be argued that in all the chaos Boeing has been distracted. “I cant imagine Boeing being even remotely interested in AAM right now. There are too many problems to fix with their core air transport business,” Richard Aboulafia, MD of AeroDynamic Advisory tells us.

Aboulafia believes the current situation at Boeing’s upper levels is a recipe for paralysis. “You have the decapitation of the most important and most troubled business unit, commercial jets, with an uncertain and perhaps interim replacement,” says Aboulafia.

“We may have passed Boeings low point. Im actually kind of optimistic. The right leadership, sending the right internal and external messages, can turn the company around. It will take most of this decade, but it certainly can be done. Just look at GE. Perhaps the new Boeing leadership team, when it arrives, if it is any better, will have an understanding of the future. But the current one has been trying to give the company a lobotomy.”

A full recovery by the early 2030s would be good news for Wisk if new leadership remains on board with the autonomy play. The developer has an entry into commercial service timeline of 2030. Successfully meeting that target could leave the door open for increasingly wider use of autonomy across Boeing’s product range. It is a technology that would usher in a new revolution for aviation.

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