Author | Jaime Ramos
City skies are heading towards a turning point. As if it were a sci-fi movie, numerous cities and companies are designing an Urban Air Mobility (UAM) model with flying taxis to revolutionize the mobility sector. Among these is New York.
What is urban air mobility and how does it differ from conventional helicopters?
Until now, the term air taxis has been used to describe flight services offered by helicopters or small aircraft, for non-commercial purposes and affordable only to a lucky few.
In recent years, a new trend has emerged in the air mobility sector. On the one hand, we have the arrival of a new type of vehicle, the eVTOL (all-electric Vertical Take-Off and Landing), a kind of drone evolution capable of transporting people, with advantages that make these aircrafts lighter and more sustainable. These characteristics mark a new chapter in terms of the previous helitaxi services.
The highly versatile nature of these devices, capable of reaching places inaccessible to helicopters, make them ideal to be managed through a network of small aerial stations in cities. This has led many cities to already envisage this service for internal urban trips.
New York takes its first flights with eVTOL
Despite the enormous technical challenges (the batteries are still awaiting implemented developments) and the operational challenges that developers are facing, there are already projects and dates on the table to initiate experimental flights. One of the most talked about is New York City’s plan with two companies, Joby and Volocopter.
It seems that the authorities want to step to the fore with eVTOL, providing the infrastructure required and helping with the regulatory framework. The city’ mayor, Eric Adams, has announced the city council’s intention, with an incredible plan designed to revolutionize the city’s skies in order “to be able to number one, move faster to and from our places, the airports and other locations, but to do it in a clean way (…)”
Adams’s exciting speech coincided with the first eVTOL flight by the aforementioned companies in New York, which took off from the Manhattan Heliport. Apart from the New York authorities, Joby have indicated that they are working with authorities in New Jersey and with Delta Air Lines for their eVTOL plan.
When will air taxis be flying around cities?
Although the statements by these companies and Adams are exciting, there is still a great deal of work to be done to turn New York into that sustainable colony full of eVTOL aircraft.
The next few years will be crucial in terms of seeing this, within a period estimated to be between 2024 and 2027. One of the Vice Presidents of the consultancy firm ICF, believes that the latter date is more realistic. He comments in Travel Weekly that it is a new type of aircraft that requires a series of certifications that would delay its introduction in the United States, with respect to other places such as Germany or China. China has already granted the first certification for EHang’s vehicle EH216.
The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) expects planning with various stages: first following helicopters’ current route, to later establish corridors between airports and vertiports in the city center. There are also plans for a future of autonomous flying for these vehicles. This is a promising scenario for city skylines like New York. According to Lee, once operational, the demand for the service in U.S. cities will reach 200 million trips per year.
Images | Volocopter