Imagine Cutting Through Traffic Jams, Totally Avoiding Rush Hour, and Being Able to Hop from One City to Another within Minutes. This is the Future of Helicopter Air Commute
When a rooftop helicopter accident in May 1977 killed five people, a dark cloud fell on what had been a booming industry – Helicopter air commute. This accident, involving a Sikorsky S-61 helicopter from New York Airways, eroded confidence in the safety of short distance air travel, and flicked the company from being a profitable venture to a bankruptcy in less than two years.
But a new page is opening in short-distance air commute. Already, an ambitious startup going by the name BLADE has introduced Uber-like ride sharing to air travel. Through a basic mobile app, clients can book a seat and secure a ride to the nearest airport starting at $695. Around the world, numerous startups are propping up and working to establish themselves as the proponents of helicopter commute.
The Unmistakable Signs of a Looming Boom
As helicopter costs go down, more forward-thinking investors are investing in air travel.
In the UK, a helicopter charter company called Atlas has already brought helicopter travel within reach of everyday Londoners. The cost of a short hop from one point to another is averaging at £650. But the company is advocating for the reduction of landing fees so that more Londoners can enjoy the benefits of air travel.
Zunum Aero, an ambitious startup based in Washington state, has been developing its fleet of hybrid-electric airplanes that can be used on short-haul flights between cities across the country. Upon fruition, the company hopes to make trips from one city to another as cheap as $100 round trip. Zunum has already received investment from heavyweight partners such as JetBlue Technology Ventures and Boeing HorizonX. The company might not hit the airways till after mid-2020s, but their electric air travel concept would definitely be a game changer once it comes to fruition.
e-VTOL Technology to Overcome Challenges in Helicopter Commute
Some of the present challenges to helicopter commute include excessive noise and high costs. To overcome these, aviation experts are looking to a new concept called the e-VTOL (Electric Vertical Takeoff and Landing) that will likely revolutionize short-distance transit in congested metropolitan areas. e-VTOL defines flexible battery-powered rotorcraft that will foreseeably make air travel a norm for millions of Americans. The technology has already attracted massive interest from tech industry stakeholders, with Uber, Google’s Larry Page and many notable Silicon Valley Investors chipping in.
Modeled concepts of the VTOL include the Volocopter VC-200, and EHang 184. The VC-100 is basically a car and an airplane all in one. It’s powered by nine batteries, and has 18 small rotors. Alexander Zosel, a cofounder and managing director at Volocopter, operated the first VC-200 model using an intuitive joystick, delivering a comfortable, stable ride.
Just like the VC-100, the EHang 184 is a battery-operated VTOL aircraft that’s designed for full autonomy. The company already showcased a full-size version at the CES 2016 at Las Vegas. Once complete, the EHang 184 will accomplish a top speed of 60 mph, and will run for 23 minutes on a single charge.
Other reputable entities that are looking into VTOL include NASA. Mark Moore, a lead research at NASA’s Langley Research Center, notes that helicopter air commute will become the norm within the next 10 years. This is being made possible by the fusion of electric propulsion systems and autonomous technology.