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Urban Air Transportation and the future of VTOL aircraft

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The race for the revolution of air transport continues aggressively and we humans and our dream of flying is not satisfied yet, so we continue exploring new ways to expand our wings. Nowadays, it is the turn of on-demand Vertical Take-off and Landing (VTOL) aircraft and all the opportunities this technology could bring about to our transport evolution and urban mobility. While on-demand helicopter services already exist within the industry and in certain cities, the VTOL aircraft are not yet in operation, but this does not mean that manufacturers and potential service providers are not making progress towards the future when the regulations and society allows its incorporation into our daily lives.

An excellent example is Embraer X, a subsidiary of Embraer that recently unveiled in 2018 its first electrical Vertical Take-off and landing aircraft, also called e-VTOL, which is designed to target the urban market, and is expected to be a key segment for the aviation industry by 2020-2023. The mission of these e-VTOL aircraft is not only to serve passengers and transform urban mobility by increasing safety while reducing congestion and accidentality on the ground, but also to provide a remarkable experience affordably, safely and with a low footprint for the community in terms of noise and emissions that will reduce pollution and enhance people’s health.

Another strong contender is Uber, which is making its VTOL plans more concrete having partnered not only with Embraer but also with numerous flying companies, investors and governments to strengthen its position to launch services initially in Dallas in the USA and Dubai. Uber claim that with its program Uber Elevate Network; a planned on-demand airborne ride-hailing service will reduce trips lasting 30mins to around 5 mins.

(Commuters boarding an EVOTL. Image courtesy of an Uber Elevate video on YouTube)

The first demonstration of this ambitious project will take place in Dubai at the 2020 World Expo and funds will not be a limitation, as Uber will have the support of the Dubai Road and Transport Authority to carry out studies of potential routes, optimisation of air traffic and very importantly introductory charges for passengers.

The second biggest challenge is now the strategic building of the vertiports or mini-airports to operate these called ‘’flying cars/taxis’’, however, a proactive American company, Hillwood, is said to have started the construction of the first vertiport in the US at Frisco Station.

A rendering of an EVOTL approaching a vertiport. Image courtesy of an Uber Elevate video on YouTube

Despite all these advances, there are many more questions to solve before these VTOL aircraft take off:

  • Will there be regulatory reform for flight-sharing?

  • Which style of aircraft will best support this business model? Will it be classified as ultralight?

  • Above densely populated, urban areas, is a fixed-pitch blade aircraft safe for transit?

  • Will viable air traffic management systems be developed, and how replicable can they be from city to city?

  • Who will be the buyers of this service? Wealthy people or accessible for everyone?

  • How other on-ground transport markets will be affected?

  • In the short-term, will the industry utilise manned or unmanned VTOL aircraft?

At Brookfield; our core business is to provide experienced and qualified pilots to airlines worldwide on virtually all types of aircraft, so, if the industry makes this step forward and whether these VTOL and e-VOTL aircraft are manned, or controlled from the ground, we will evolve and commit our resources and efforts to the industry to continue holding our exclusive position as the leading provider of pilots worldwide and by becoming the top supplier of qualified personnel for the VTOL/e-VOTL market, being a key player for Urban Air Transportation.

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