The age of electric planes may still be years away, but the fight for that market is already heating up.
Wisk Aero, a start-up developing an electric aircraft that takes off like a helicopter and flies like a plane, on Tuesday sued another start-up, Archer Aviation, accusing it of stealing trade secrets and infringing on Wisk’s patents.
The lawsuit brings into public view a dispute between two little-known companies in a business that has become a playground for billionaires. It also entangles giants of aviation and technology. Wisk is a joint venture of Boeing and Kitty Hawk, which is financed by Larry Page, who co-founded Google. Archer’s investors include United Airlines, which is a major Boeing customer and plans to buy up to 200 aircraft from the start-up.
The niche market for electric vehicles and planes has become frenzied in recent months as so-called blank check companies, which have little more than a stock market listing and a pot of cash, have snapped up fledgling businesses with little or no revenue, let alone profits. Investors in the blank-check firms — formally known as special purpose acquisition companies, or SPACs — are hoping to acquire businesses that they believe could follow Tesla’s recent trajectory on the stock market. To entice those investors, start-ups like Archer promise top-notch technology and optimistic business plans.
the lawsuit accuses two engineers of downloading thousands of files containing confidential designs and data before leaving Wisk to join Archer. Wisk accused a third engineer of wiping history of his activities from his computer before leaving for Archer.
“Wisk brings this lawsuit to stop a brazen theft of its intellectual property and confidential information and protect the substantial investment of resources and years of hard work and effort of its employees and their vision of the future in urban air transportation,” the lawsuit says.
Archer denied wrongdoing.
“It’s regrettable that Wisk would engage in litigation in an attempt to deflect from the business issues that have caused several of its employees to depart,” Archer said in a statement. “The plaintiff raised these matters over a year ago, and after looking into them thoroughly, we have no reason to believe any proprietary Wisk technology ever made its way to Archer. We intend to defend ourselves vigorously.”
Archer also said it had placed an employee accused in the suit on paid leave “in connection with a government investigation and a search warrant issued to the employee, which we believe are focused on conduct prior to the employee joining the company.” Archer said it and three employees who had worked with the individual had been subpoenaed in that investigation and were cooperating with the authorities.
accused one of its former employees and Uber of stealing trade secrets to gain an advantage in the race to develop autonomous cars. The companies settled the case in 2018, and the former Waymo employee, Anthony Levandowski, a onetime confidant of Mr. Page’s, was sentenced in 2020 to 18 months in prison. Former President Donald J. Trump pardoned Mr. Levandowski in January.
Archer announced its merger in February with a SPAC, Atlas Crest Investment, in a deal that valued the company at $3.8 billion. Wisk said its suspicions were confirmed at that time when Archer released a presentation that contained designs similar to those in a Wisk patent filing.
when announcing the transaction.
“We had 35, 40 people on this — and we attacked this like venture growth would or anybody else,” Mr. Moelis said. “And we did it fast, too.”
A spokeswoman for Moelis declined to comment.
Other companies trying to make electric aircraft include Joby Aviation, which announced a $6.6 billion deal with a SPAC led by the LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman in February, and the German start-up Lilium, which went public last month by merging with a SPAC led by a former General Motors executive, Barry Engle.
according to SPAC Research — more than in all of 2020.
But regulators and some investors say more scrutiny is needed. The Securities and Exchange Commission published two notices last month warning companies considering merging with SPACs to ensure that they are ready for all the legal and regulatory requirements being a public company entails. Many investors known as short sellers, who specialize in betting that share prices of companies are bound to fall, have targeted SPACs like Atlas Crest, which is among the 20 most-shorted SPACs.
The market for electric aircraft is in its infancy but holds huge promise. The prospect of “Jetsons”-like flying vehicles has inched closer to reality in recent years thanks to advances in battery and aircraft design. A high-stakes race to build the first viable electric plane is underway, and some airlines are betting that such vehicles can help them reach their goals of eliminating or offsetting their greenhouse gas emissions.
Scott Kirby, the chief executive of United, said the Archer aircraft were unlikely to be used for commercial flights but were ideal for short trips to and from an airport.
“They’re not only more environmentally friendly, they’re far quieter than a helicopter,” Mr. Kirby said Tuesday during an event hosted by the Council on Foreign Relations. “And, because they have 12 rotors, they’re, I believe, going to ultimately be safer.”
Still, widespread use of electric air taxis is likely years away. Such aircraft may never become more than a luxury used by very rich people because businesses and governments may come up with far cheaper ways to transport people without emissions.
Air France on Tuesday said it would receive a new bailout from the French government worth 4 billion euros ($4.7 billion) to help the beleaguered airline cope with mounting debts as a third wave of pandemic lockdowns around Europe prolong a slump in continental air travel.
The support comes on top of €10.4 billion ($12.3 billion) in loans and guarantees that Air France and its partner, the Netherlands-based KLM, received from the French and Dutch governments last year.
Air France-KLM chief executive, Benjamin Smith, citing an “exceptionally challenging period,” said the funds would “provide Air France-KLM with greater stability to move forward when recovery starts, as large-scale vaccination progresses around the world and borders reopen.”
Bruno Le Maire, France’s finance minister, said Tuesday that the new aid is taking the form of a state-backed recapitalization, which involves converting €3 billion in loans the government granted the airline last year into bonds with no maturity, as well as €1 billion in fresh capital through the issuance of new shares.
Delta Air Lines announced it would add more passengers and start selling middle seats for flights starting May 1, more than a year after it decided to leave them empty to ensure social distancing.
By contrast, Europe’s vaccine rollout has faltered and infections of new variants of the virus have gained ground, prompting renewed travel restrictions in France and neighboring countries. That is slowing a recovery in travel and leaving major flagship air carriers, including Air France-KLM, Lufthansa of Germany, and Alitalia of Italy, struggling.
The French government recently cut its economic growth forecast for 2021 to 5 percent, down from a 6 percent forecast before the new lockdown.
struck a deal over the terms of strengthening the carrier’s balance sheet.
The Dutch government is holding separate talks with European regulators over converting a €1 billion loan to KLM into hybrid debt in return for slot concessions at the Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam.
Air France employs tens of thousands of workers in France and is considered too big to fail. Still, Mr. Le Maire said the aid was not a “blank check” to the company, which he said would have to “make efforts on competitiveness” in exchange for the support and must continue to reduce its carbon emissions.
To conform to European competition rules, Air France was forced to relinquish 18 slots per day, representing nine round-trips, to competing airlines at Orly, Paris’ second-largest airport after Charles de Gaulle.
Americans who are fully vaccinated against Covid-19 can safely travel at home and abroad, as long as they take basic precautions like wearing masks, federal health officials announced on Friday, a long-awaited change from the dire government warnings that have kept many millions home for the past year.
In announcing the change at a White House news conference, officials from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention stressed that they preferred that people avoid travel. But they said growing evidence of the real-world effectiveness of the vaccines — which have been given to more than 100 million Americans — suggested that inoculated people could do so “at low risk to themselves.”
The shift in the C.D.C.’s official stance comes at a moment of both hope and peril in the pandemic. The pace of vaccinations has been rapidly accelerating across the country, and the number of deaths has been declining.
Yet cases are increasing significantly in many states as new variants of the coronavirus spread through the country. Just last Monday, Dr. Rochelle P. Walensky, the C.D.C. director, warned of a potential fourth wave if states and cities continued to loosen public health restrictions, telling reporters that she had feelings of “impending doom.”
suggested such cases might be rare, but until that question is resolved, many public health officials feel it is unwise to tell vaccinated Americans simply to do as they please. They say it is important for all vaccinated people to continue to wear masks, practice social distancing and take other precautions.
Under the new C.D.C. guidance, fully vaccinated Americans who are traveling domestically do not need to be tested for the coronavirus or follow quarantine procedures at the destination or after returning home. When they travel abroad, they only need to get a coronavirus test or quarantine if the country they are going to requires it.
coronavirus test before boarding a flight back to the United States, and they should get tested again three to five days after their return.
The recommendation is predicated on the idea that vaccinated people may still become infected with the virus. The C.D.C. also cited a lack of vaccine coverage in other countries, and concern about the potential introduction and spread of new variants of the virus that are more prevalent overseas.
Most states have accelerated their timelines for opening vaccinations to all adults, as the pace of vaccinations across the country has been increasing. As of Friday, an average of nearly three million shots a day were being administered, according to data reported by the C.D.C.
The new advice adds to C.D.C. recommendations issued in early March saying that fully vaccinated people may gather in small groups in private settings without masks or social distancing, and may visit with unvaccinated individuals from a single household as long as they are at low risk for developing severe disease if infected with the virus.
Travel has already been increasing nationwide, as the weather warms and Americans grow fatigued with pandemic restrictions. Last Sunday was the busiest day at domestic airports since the pandemic began. According to the Transportation Security Administration, nearly 1.6 million people passed through the security checkpoints at American airports.
But the industry’s concerns are far from over. The pandemic has also shown businesses large and small that their employees can often be just as productive working remotely as in face-to-face meetings. As a result, the airline and hotel industries expect it will be years before lucrative corporate travel recovers to prepandemic levels, leaving a gaping hole in revenues.
And while leisure travel within the United States may be recovering steadily, airlines expect it will still take until 2023 or 2024 for passenger volumes to reach 2019 levels, according to Airlines for America, an industry group. The industry lost more than $35 billion last year and continues to lose tens of millions of dollars each day, the group said.
the country’s government said
The C.D.C. on Thursday also issued more detailed technical instructions for cruise lines, requiring them to take steps to develop vaccination strategies and make plans for routine testing of crew members and daily reporting of Covid-19 cases before they can run simulated trial runs of voyages with volunteers, before taking on real passengers. The C.D.C.’s directives acknowledge that taking cruises “will always pose some risk of Covid-19 transmission.”
Some destinations and cruise lines have already started requiring that travelers be fully vaccinated. The cruise line Royal Caribbean is requiring passengers and crew members 18 or older to be vaccinated in order to board its ships, as are Virgin Voyages, Crystal Cruises and others.
For the moment, airlines are not requiring vaccinations for travel. But the idea has been much talked about in the industry.
Niraj Chokshi contributed reporting.
“We just believe we’ve got more embedded growth, we’ve also got lower costs, and we believe we’ve got a great brand that positions us well in the low-fare space,” Mr. Biffle said.
The airline claims it is unique among low-cost airlines. While Spirit tends to serve more-crowded markets and Allegiant Air less-crowded ones, Frontier is more evenly distributed. The airline said it kept planes moving for more hours every day than most other major airlines and offers some flights only a few days a week, allowing it to serve smaller cities. In addition to Denver, Frontier has a big presence in Orlando, Fla., and Las Vegas.
Frontier also claims to be more fuel-efficient than its peers, which it hopes will appeal to environmentally conscious consumers.
The airline earned $251 million in 2019 before losing nearly as much last year. It has about $1 billion in cash or cash equivalents and employs about 5,000 people.
Deregulation of the U.S. airline industry in 1978 paved the way for the growth of low-cost carriers, which tend to operate direct, point-to-point flights, often to secondary airports in major cities — an approach pioneered by Southwest. That strategy makes it easier to put planes and crews to efficient use, allowing the airlines to offer relatively low fares. The more traditional hub-and-spoke model used by American, United and Delta is more expensive to maintain but easier to grow once established.
The ultra-low-cost model is a more recent creation, one that Europe’s Ryanair is often credited with popularizing. Companies that use it are much more aggressive about keeping costs low and maximizing revenue. These airlines tend to use their planes an hour or two more each day than other airlines and tend to cram more and smaller seats into planes. They also charge for lots of services that even many conventional discount airlines include in the ticket price, such as seat selection or printed boarding passes.
But larger airlines are unlikely to easily cede ground to Frontier and its ilk. In March, for example, United, which operates the most flights at the Denver airport, announced plans to add dozens of nonstop flights between small Midwestern cities and a handful of tourist destinations. Even before the pandemic, United and other large airlines were copying ultra-low-cost companies by offering lower fares and charging for more services.
BANGKOK — Nearly three months after Sriwijaya Air Flight 182 crashed into the Java Sea, Indonesian officials announced Wednesday that they had recovered the memory module of the aircraft’s cockpit voice recorder by pumping up mud and sand from the seafloor.
The crucial memory unit, which apparently broke loose from the cockpit voice recorder on impact, could reveal the final words of the pilot and co-pilot as the Boeing 737-500 plummeted into the sea on Jan. 9.
The module was recovered Tuesday night and brought to shore Wednesday by a Coast Guard ship. Officials said they believed the module was still functional and that it would take three days to a week to download and read its data.
The aircraft crashed minutes after taking off from Soekarno-Hatta International Airport near Jakarta, the Indonesian capital, killing all 62 people aboard, including six active crew members.
difference in the level of thrust between the plane’s two engines might have contributed to the aircraft rolling over before it plunged into the sea.
A difference in the level of thrust — the force of the engines that propels the aircraft forward — can make planes difficult to control, but it is unclear why that problem may have occurred during the Sriwijaya flight.
Officials hope that the recovered memory module will shed some light on why the pilot and co-pilot were unable to recover control of the plane, which plummeted more than 10,000 feet in less than a minute.
“Without the cockpit voice recorder, it would be very difficult to know the cause in this Sriwijaya 182 case,” Mr. Soerjanto said.
The Sriwijaya aircraft was the third to crash into the Java Sea in just over six years after departing from airports on Java, one of Indonesia’s five main islands.
In December 2014, Air Asia Flight 8501 crashed into the Java Sea off the coast of Borneo with 162 people aboard as it flew from the Indonesian city of Surabaya to Singapore. Investigators eventually attributed the disaster to the failure of a key component on the Airbus A320-200 and an improper response by the flight crew.
nose-dived into the Java Sea northeast of Jakarta minutes after taking off for Pangkal Pinang with 189 aboard. Investigators concluded that the anti-stall system malfunctioned on the Boeing 737 Max, a newer model than the Boeing that crashed in January.