Taxi! To the airport – by plane, please.

This article is part of our series on the future of transportation, exploring the innovations and challenges that affect how we operate in the world.


It is noon in Manhattan and you have a flight to Kennedy International Airport. Instead of sitting in traffic for two hours during rush hour, you take a short ride to the nearest parking garage where you board an electric plane that takes off vertically from the roof and 20 minutes later you pick up Kennedy. I deposit at almost the same price. Do your part of the fancy ride on your flight time.

While this scenario may seem far-fetched, many companies say they are on track to be able to offer safer, cheaper, cleaner electric planes that can carry passengers between two and 150 miles without the need for conventional runways. Can help fix. Public and private experts believe the technology could evolve into a larger market that helps reduce congestion and change the way people travel in large metropolitan areas.

While civil aviation is currently beyond the reach of most consumers (think: Uber Copter), improvements in battery technology have reduced the cost of building electric-powered aircraft that can be used to transport urban passengers. Are workable These companies are betting that they can bring electric civic and regional air travel to the public, and have developed new aircraft to compete with a segment of this fledgling market over the next few years.

“We want to make something available to many people who can operate high-speed trains without the need for infrastructure,” said Daniel Wegend, chief executive and founder of Lilium Air Mobility based in Germany. “We will not be on our first day in Germany at the cost of a high-speed train ticket, but if we do not get there within 15 years, I will consider my mission a failure.”

Manufacturers say that these electric planes have numerous advantages over conventional aircraft, especially helicopters, which are expensive to maintain and fly, make noise, and come with safety hazards, such as Kobe Bryant. And eight other passengers were killed in the crash.

The new electric planes use one-fifth of the energy of conventional helicopters. Unlike traditional fixed wing aircraft, they will not need a runway to take off and land. Unlike helicopters, they will be mostly inaccessible from the ground and will have multiple routers and backup systems, making them more secure.

Adam Goldstein, co-chief executive of Archer Aviation, said his company expects to offer travel fares of three to four dollars per mile. The journey from Manhattan to Kennedy is usually between 17 miles, $ 50 and $ 80. Many experts have predicted that the cost of regional flights will be about the same as the cost of luxury car service Uber Black.

“The biggest cost is batteries,” said Mr Goldstein, “which are expensive, but cheaper every day.” (He declined to be more specific about battery sourcing and cost.)

Many companies, including Lilium and Archer, stand out in the crowd for their technology and ability to raise capital. No one just wants to make cars. All airlines like Boeing and Delta combine the traditional roles of aircraft manufacturers to create aircraft and provide end-to-end service.

Many experts have credited Tesla and other auto companies for entering the electric market. Traditional manufacturers such as Hyundai are also increasing their investment in electric aircraft, with the hope of bringing one aircraft into service in 2028.

Highly established players in the area, such as Joby Aviation and Volocopter, are promising to keep the aircraft in service by 2024, a passionate goal that will largely depend on obtaining regulatory approval.

The largest investment is in electric vehicles that take off and land vertically, such as helicopters or harrier jets. Known as the Electric Vertical Takeoff and Landing or EVTOL, the aircraft typically can seat between two and 10 passengers and travel up to 200 miles, making it possible to fly from the metropolitan area. Ideal for passing or connecting two cities.

Mr Wiegand of Lillem had a light bulb moment in 2014 when he watched a video of a military plane taking off vertically and realized that the electric version could solve all traditional problems using aircraft in densely populated urban areas. Is: Eliminate noise and air pollution. As well as the need for a runway. So far, a student at the Technical University of Munich, Mr. Wegend has formed a team and started building the engine that powers his company’s seven-seater electric jet today.

He believes his company’s jet technology outperforms propeller-based designs, and argues that the extra capacity will help reduce costs that are affordable for middle-class consumers.

Founded in 2011 and based in Munich, Volocopter is a different approach. It currently has two vehicles, including a “multicopter,” a helicopter with 18 rotor blades, called the VoloCity. The two-seater aircraft has a range of 22 miles, which Chief Executive Florin Reuters says makes it easier to verify than some long-range electric planes, and is ideally suited for city travel, where Most trips take 10 to 20 minutes. The Mail Volocopter is also developing a four-seater aircraft with a range of 100 miles aimed at regional travel.

“We are one of the few companies that recognizes that there are different missions and different types of vehicles for different missions,” said Mr Reuters.

Volocopter is pursuing regulatory approvals with the European Union Aviation Safety Agency and hopes to have its aircraft operational by 2024.

Joby, based in Santa Cruz, California, is pursuing a similar goal using a different approach, having flown more than 1,000 test flights on its fully electric aircraft, with four passengers on board. Pilots also sit and have a range of 150 miles on a single charge. . The company made headlines last December when ride-sharing company Uber offloaded Elliott, its civil aviation ride-sharing product, to Joby and invested an additional $ 75 million in the company, signaling that It is found that the two services will be connected without any hindrance.

Cities are already preparing to introduce electric aircraft in their ever-heavier transportation systems. Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti founded Urban Movement Labs in 2019. Today, the organization’s focus is on the preparation of electric aircraft certification for public use by the FAA in early 2025.

The FAA rejected several requests for interviews, but said it was reviewing the electric plane on a case-by-case basis.

Miami Mayor Francis Suarez said his city is embracing eVTOLs as a cost-effective, environmentally friendly alternative to legacy modes of transportation, such as buses and light rail, whose construction and outdated technology It is expensive to rely on. The city is looking at parking garages, terraces and other possible takeoff and landing sites, he said.

“We feel that one of the flaws in transportation planning and funding is re-imagining tomorrow’s ideas,” he said in an interview. “The sky is the limit for many of you and it gives you the ability to be creative.”

Mr Suarez added that he had urged Transport Secretary Pete Buttig to adopt civil aviation instead of focusing on old modes of transport.

Sam Morrissey, executive director of Urban Movement Labs, said the aircraft would initially be limited to existing commercial airports and flight routes until authorities could determine whether to move to new locations for takeoff and landing. How to integrate without interfering with other modes of transport. (Both Jobie and Archer have begun certification under existing fixed-wing aircraft rules.)

“Our challenge is, if they arrive, do we have everything so that it is not something that only rich people can use,” said Mr Morrissey.

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