Boeing Buys Company That's Developing Flying Taxis

Boeing said on Thursday it would buy Aurora Flight Sciences Corp to advance its ability to develop autonomous, electric-powered and long-flight-duration aircraft for its commercial and military businesses. Terms of the deal were not disclosed.

Boeing executives described the deal as a move to align itself with future trends in aviation technology.

“This really represents a new chapter for the Boeing company because the aerospace industry is going to be changing as the it moves into the future,” said Greg Hyslop, Boeing’s senior vice president of engineering, test and technology. He declined to go into detail about how Aurora’s technologies would be integrated into Boeing’s business.

Based in Manassas, Virginia, Aurora specializes in the design of unmanned aircrafts. The Pentagon in 2016 awarded Aurora with an $89 million contract to continue developing its X-Plane, a Vertical Take-Off Landing (VTOL) aircraft that's being developed to achieve a two-fold speed increase over helicopters.

There’s a lot of safety work to be done before pilotless airplanes take hold, said Greg Hyslop, Boeing’s chief technology officer. “But technology is moving us in that direction,” he said. “The world is going to be about more automation and how artificial intelligence enables that, and (Aurora is) a part of that picture,” Hyslop said. “We don’t know what that market’s going to be like in the future, but as it forms, we want to be there and we want to lead.”

Founded in 1989, Aurora has more than 550 employees and operates in six states. It will keep its branding and continue working on projects with its partners and customers, which include Boeing competitors. Aurora’s work likely will be implemented at the research level, Hyslop said, enabling it to contribute to projects in Boeing’s commercial and defense lines.

Once the acquisition closes, Aurora will become a subsidiary under Hyslop’s Boeing Engineering, Test & Technology division. It will keep an “independent operating model,” Boeing said.