Research and development programs, industry conferences, and white papers regarding air taxis and futuristic-looking vertical-takeoff-and-landing (VTOL) aircraft for urban air mobility seem to be everywhere these days.
Bell Helicopter unveiled its air taxi cabin at the 2018 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas in January, the outgoing CEO of Airbus Helicopters discussed growth in VTOL air taxis potentially impacting the market for light single-engine helicopters, and the French original equipment manufacturer’s Silicon Valley branch, A3, recently completed first flight of its Vahana passenger drone.
NASA has even revealed concept-vehicle designs to serve as a foundation for research into urban air mobility, including a six-passenger, hybrid-powered side-by-side twin-rotor helicopter. Uber’s new CEO also said during a technology conference in Munich he believes commuters will be flying around Dallas in Uber VTOL aircraft within the next decade.
Though it does sound nice to take an air taxi to work within my lifetime, the industry is presented with many questions.
- What type of certification criteria and parameters must be met to obtain civil aviation regulatory approval for the type of electric hybrid propulsion-powered designs we’ve seen proposed?
- Considering the cost of paying a pilot and fuel expenses, how could an air taxi operator make the operation profitable for itself and thus affordable for passengers?
- I cannot recall the last time I saw a heliport in the middle of a major city, so, where would these aircraft land?
- Are city residents ready for the potential noise impact from low-flying air taxis?
- Are passengers psychologically prepared to step into unmanned air taxis, considering the optionally piloted concepts proposed in several designs?
I don’t know the answers to these questions, and it’s very easy to get caught up in wondering the answers to them. We at R&WI will be keeping a close eye on these innovations and technologies as they develop. But our primary focus, as it has been for more than 50 years, is the current state of the rotorcraft industry. Our goal is to provide the business intelligence needed to assist the decision-making that goes into a successful operation — all within these pages. It sometimes requires looking ahead, but it even more so requires looking at your needs right now.
In this issue, Mark Robins provides an update on crash-resistant fuel systems for civilian helicopters and S.L. Fuller looks at an estimated $250,000 investment by Las Vegas-based Maverick Helicopters to upgrade its fleet with ADS-B ahead of the U.S. 2020 mandate. We believe you are in good hands.
If you’re at Heli-Expo, please stop by our booth (C4035). We want you to tell us what matters, at this moment, to you and your operations. RWI