the cab! To the airport – By air, please.

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the cab! To the airport – By air, please.

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

It’s afternoon in Manhattan and you have a flight to catch at Kennedy International Airport. Instead of sitting in crowded traffic for two hours, you take a short ride to a nearby parking garage, where you board an electric plane that takes off vertically from the ceiling and collects you at Kennedy 20 minutes later. does, at roughly the same cost. Fancy ride-share. You fly your flight on time.

While this scenario may seem far-fetched, many companies say they are on the verge of being able to offer safe, cheap, clean electric aircraft that can fly passengers between two and 150 miles without the need for a conventional runway. can help to do. Public and private experts agree that the technology could grow into a massive market that helps reduce congestion and transform the way people travel in major metropolitan areas.

While urban air travel is currently out of reach for most customers (think: Uber copters), improvements in battery technology have reduced the cost of developing electric-powered planes that are viable as urban passenger transportation. . These companies are betting they can bring electric urban and regional air travel to the masses, and have developed new aircraft over the next few years to compete for a piece of this emerging market.

“We want to make something that is available to a lot of people, that can function as a high-speed train without the need for infrastructure,” said Daniel Wiegand, chief executive and founder of Lilium Air Mobility, based in Germany. “We won’t be in Germany on our first day at the cost of a high-speed train ticket, but if we don’t get there within 15 years I think our mission has failed.”

Manufacturers say these electric planes have several advantages over conventional planes, and helicopters in particular, that have been seen in the crash that killed Kobe Bryant and eight other passengers, due to the risk of maintaining and flying, making noise and safety. Along are expensive.

New electric aircraft use one-fifth of the energy of conventional helicopters. Unlike conventional fixed-wing aircraft, they would not require a runway to take off and land. Unlike helicopters, they would be largely inaudible from the ground and would have multiple rotors and backup systems, making them much safer.

Archer Aviation co-chief executive Adam Goldstein said his company expects to offer fares ranging from three to four dollars per mile. This would make the trip from Manhattan to Kennedy, typically 17 miles, between $50 and $80. Many experts have speculated that regional flights will cost the same as luxury car service Uber Black.

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

Several companies, including Lilium and Archer, have stood out in a crowded field for their technology and ability to raise capital. No one is satisfied with just building vehicles; All seek to develop aircraft and provide end-to-end service, combining the traditional roles of aircraft manufacturers such as Boeing and airlines such as Delta.

Many experts credit Tesla and other auto companies for entering the electric market to reduce battery costs. Traditional manufacturers such as Hyundai are also increasing their investments in electric aircraft, with one aircraft expected to enter service in 2028.

More established players in this space, such as Joby Aviation and Volocopter, are promising to have the aircraft in service by 2024, an ambitious goal that will depend largely on obtaining regulatory approval.

The largest area of ​​investment is in electric vehicles that takeoff and land vertically, such as helicopters or Harrier jets. Known as electric vertical takeoff and landing, or eVTOLs, these aircraft can typically seat between two and 10 passengers and travel up to 200 miles, making them easy to cross a metropolitan area or connect two cities. be ideally suited for.

Lilium’s Mr. Wiegand had a light bulb moment in 2014 when he saw a video of a military aircraft taking off vertically and realized that an electric version had all the traditional problems with using the aircraft in dense urban areas. Could solve: Eliminating noise and air pollution, as well as the need for a runway. While still a student at the Technical University of Munich, Mr Wiegand put together a team and began developing the engine that powers his company’s seven-seat electric jet today.

He believes his company’s jet technology is better than designs based on propellers, and argued that the added capacity would help reduce costs by middle-class consumers.

Taking a different approach is Volocopter, which was founded in 2011 and is based in Munich; It currently has two vehicles in advanced development including a “multicopter”, a copter with 18 rotor blades, called the Volocity. The two-seat aircraft has a range of 22 miles, which Chief Executive Officer Florian Reuter said makes it easier to certify than some long-range electric aircraft, and is ideally suited for urban travel, where most travel ranges from 10 to 20. Miles Volocopter is also developing a four-seat aircraft with a range of 100 miles for field travel purposes.

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

Volocopter is pursuing regulatory approval with the European Union Aviation Safety Agency and expects to have its aircraft in operation by 2024.

Joby, based in Santa Cruz, Calif., is pursuing a similar goal using another approach, having made more than 1,000 test flights on its fully electric aircraft, carrying four passengers as well as a pilot and It has a range of 150 miles on a single charge. , The company made headlines last December, when ride-sharing giant Uber offloaded its urban air travel ride-sharing product, Elevate, to Joby, and invested an additional $75 million in the company, indicating that both services would be integrated into the core. will be explicitly added.

Cities are already preparing for the introduction of electric aircraft to their already overburdened transportation systems. Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti founded Urban Movement Labs in 2019; Today the organization is focused on preparing for certification of electric aircraft for public use by the FAA in early 2025.

The FAA declined multiple requests for an interview, but said it was reviewing the electric aircraft on a case-by-case basis.

Miami Mayor Francis Suarez said his city is adopting EVTOL as a cost-effective, eco-friendly alternative to older modes of transportation such as buses and light rail, which are expensive to manufacture and rely on outdated technology. He said the city was looking at parking garages, terraces and other possible takeoff and landing locations.

“We think one of the flaws in transportation planning and funding is the re-reading of yesterday’s thoughts,” he said in an interview. “The sky clearly has many dimensions and it gives you the ability to be creative.”

Mr Suarez said he has inspired Transport Secretary Pete Buttigieg to embrace urban air mobility instead of focusing on older modes of transport.

Urban Movement Labs executive director Sam Morrissey said the aircraft will initially be confined to existing commercial airports and flight paths until authorities are able to determine how to takeoff and landing without disrupting other modes of transport. How can new locations be added. (Both Joby and Archer have begun certification under the current fixed-wing aircraft regulations.)

“Our challenge is if they have to come, can we have everything, so it’s not something that only the rich can use,” Morrissey said.

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