Imagine you’re late for a work meeting and stuck in traffic or about to order an Uber to the airport. Instead, you open the app and click “air taxi” on your smartphone, and walk a few blocks to a parking garage.
You then head up to the roof, where an aircraft that looks like a giant drone picks you up and takes you to your destination, provided it’s close to the vicinity of a high-rise building.
United Airlines announced earlier this month it will invest $15 million into electric aircraft company Eve Air Mobility and purchase 200 of its electric air taxis with options to buy 200 more.
The battery-powered aircraft will move cargo and passengers between the city, the suburbs, and airports, says Jon Rimanelli, CEO of Airspace Experience Technologies. As electric air taxis still have a limited range because of their battery capacity, they can cover a maximum distance of about 250 kilometers.
They generally take off and land anywhere a helicopter can, so they don’t need a runway, and many are pilot-optional and can be flown remotely. They also make little noise as they travel, which won’t cause disturbances within cities. Rimanelli hopes it won’t take much to win over the public.
“Once people see the utility of it, once they have a chance to experience it because it’s super quiet…. It’s just a tremendous difference between commercial grade helicopters that we all know today. We’re more flexible. We can plug and play different containers to do different jobs, whether it’s medical evacuation, cargo or passenger mobility”- Jon Rimanelli
Rimanelli predicts some eVTOLs will first be used for deliveries before they actually transport passengers. His prototype, which was on display at this year’s Detroit Auto Show, is designed with a pod that can carry goods or people.
Will electric air taxis help reduce traffic?
There is some doubt from the general public that air taxis won’t be as affordable as regular taxis and only the wealthier demographic will benefit from them. As they are nearly as efficient as eco-friendly cars, they will eventually cause congestion in the skies and will be an issue in more heavily populated cities as it could worsen the urban traffic situation they all have.
Competition is very stiff among hundreds of startups to tackle the climate crisis issues at hand as well as reach the goal of net zero emissions in the aviation industry- as not every company will survive. Kittyhawk, an air taxi-maker backed by Google co-founder and billionaire Larry Page, announced on Twitter that it would be winding down its business.
Some startups are tackling that challenge which is- ‘where will the air taxis drop off and pick up customers?’ There are plans to build terminals called vertiports. Vertiports would offer air taxis a place to take off and land, and charge their batteries.
European Union officials recently published what they called the world’s first rules for the operation of air taxis. The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration is also working on certification for several eVTOL companies, some hoping to have paying customers as soon as 2024.
Will air taxis be as affordable as uber or as pricey as paying for a deluxe uber ride? Comment below.