Electric Copter Ventures May Soon Provide Better and Cheaper Transportation Than Subsidized Bus and Rail

(p. B5) While urban air travel is currently out of reach for most customers (think: Uber Copter), improvements in battery technology have driven down the cost of developing electric-powered aircraft 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 to compete for a slice of this nascent market within the next few years.

“We want to create something that is available to a lot of people, that can do the job of a high-speed train without requiring the infrastructure,” said Daniel Wiegand, chief executive and founder of Lilium, based in Germany. “We won’t be at the ticket price of a high-speed train in Germany on our first day, but if we don’t get there within 15 years I would consider our mission failed.”

. . .

Adam Goldstein, the co-chief executive of Archer Aviation, said his company hopes to offer fares in the range of three to four dollars per mile traveled. That would make the trip from Manhattan to Kennedy, typically 17 miles, between $50 and $80. Several experts predicted the price of regional flights would be around the same cost as the luxury car service Uber Black.

“The biggest cost is the batteries,” said Mr. Goldstein, which are “expensive, but get cheaper everyday.”

. . .

The largest area of investment is into electric vehicles that takeoff and land vertically, like helicopters or Harrier jets. Known as electric vertical takeoff and landing or eVTOLs, these aircraft can usually seat between two and 10 passengers and can travel up to 200 miles, making them ideally suited for traversing a metropolitan area or connecting two cities.

Mr. Wiegand of Lilium had a light bulb moment in 2014 when he watched a video of a military aircraft that took off vertically and realized that an electric version could solve all the traditional problems with using aircraft in dense urban areas: eliminating noise and air pollution, as well as the need for runways.

. . .

Mayor Francis Suarez of Miami said his city is embracing eVTOLs as a cost-effective, environmentally friendly alternative to legacy modes of transportation like buses and light rail, which are costly to build and rely on older technology. He said the city is looking at parking garages, rooftops and other potential takeoff and landing locations.

“We feel that one of the flaws in transportation planning and funding has been retreading yesterday’s ideas,” he said in an interview. “The sky obviously has multiple dimensions and gives you the ability to be creative.”

Mr. Suarez added that he has pushed Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg to embrace urban air mobility rather than focusing on older modes of transport.

For the full story, see:

Gautham Nagesh. “Flight Instead of a Ride? Electric Craft May Alter Urban Area Commuting.” The New York Times (Saturday, December 4, 2021): B5.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story was updated Nov. 26, 2021, and has the title “Taxi! To the Airport — by Air, Please.” The print version of the first paragraph quoted above starts with the word “although,” instead of the word “while.”)

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