Coming to Los Angeles: Air taxis that skip the freeways
June 14, 2022
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  • Ever wished you could step into an air taxi and glide above LA’s traffic gridlock? 

    Two local companies have partnered to make that dream a reality with a fleet of all-electric, vertical-takeoff taxis that will ferry passengers and cargo across the skies of Southern California. 

    Urban Movement Labs, a transportation-minded nonprofit launched by Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti in 2019, and Overair, an electric vertical takeoff-and-landing company based in Santa Ana, hope to have the vehicles up and running in 2026. 

    Overair touts its “Butterfly” aircraft as an alternative transportation option in metropolitan areas. Each Butterfly — equipped with four rotors — will be capable of carrying up to six people (five passengers and a pilot), or 1,100 pounds of cargo. 

    They’ll be able to travel about 100 miles at speeds of up to 200 mph, powered by all-electric propulsion. The aircraft will be capable of taking off and landing at existing pads that service helicopters, company officials said. They have yet to reveal what Butterfly’s dimensions will be. 

    “We’ve tested some smaller prototypes and a full-sized propulsion system,” said John Criezis, Overair’s head of mobility operations for Overair. “We’re in the process of building a full-sized prototype now.” 

    A cash infusion 

    Overair recently secured $145 million in funding from Hanwha Systems and Hanwha Aerospace to continue development of its aircraft, bringing the company closer to its goal of flying an experimental prototype in 2023. 

    The company’s first step will be to get the vehicle certified for flight by the Federal Aviation Administration. Criezis said they’ll make “learning adjustments along the way as needed.” 

    “It’s a very involved process,” he said. “They will be flying at an altitude of 1,000 to 3,000 feet.” 

    Sam Morrissey, Urban Movement’s executive director, said his organization is looking to stay ahead of the curve. 

    “We wanted to look at advancements in air mobility before the technology arrived to put it into effect,” he said. “We’ve partnered with a number of companies that are working on this through the Urban Air Mobility Partnership.” 

    The partnership’s mission is focused on community, government and industry engagement to ensure a collaborative approach to urban air travel. 

    Won’t be cheap 

    Morrissey said it’s too early to determine what typical airfares aboard a Butterfly will be. But he acknowledged the service won’t necessarily be cheap and will initially appeal to travelers with deeper pockets. 

    Still, the ease of getting from Point A to Point B amid LA’s heavy traffic will likely prompt others to use it as well. He cited freeway toll lanes as an example. 

    “When toll rates are the highest and you save the maximum amount of time getting somewhere, that’s when you see the highest number of lower-income users,” he said. “People could use this if they needed to a get a child to the hospital, if they were late for an important meeting, or if they had to get to the airport quickly.” 

    Criezis said the partnership is a good fit. 

    “Urban Movement sits at the junction between industry and community,” he said. “They are really good at understanding how services would impact a community, and what sort of considerations would need to be taken into account regarding city regulations and setting up the right building codes.” 

    The noise factor 

    Noise is a crucial factor, but Criezis said that won’t be a problem. 

    “These vehicles are extremely safe, energy-efficient and very quiet,” he said. “When they fly overhead you’ll barely hear them. We think that lack of noise is a key to unlocking this technology in the city.” 

    The concept of air taxis isn’t new. 

    Joby Aviation, a publicly-traded electric air vehicle company in Santa Cruz, recently announced it has received its first Part 135 Air Carrier certification from the Federal Aviation Administration. The company still needs “type” and “production” certifications before it can legally carry passengers. 

    Type certification means the aircraft meets FAA’s design and safety standards, while production certification is the approval to begin manufacturing the aircraft. 

    Joby said its aircraft have achieved the company’s target for low noise levels during take-off and landing as well as during overhead flight. 

    “There are lots of other cities that private companies are looking at,” Morrissey said. “Miami Dade County in Florida and Orlando are actively interested, and New York City, Dallas, Ohio and North Carolina are also looking into this.” 

    Criezis figures some consumers will initially be reluctant to step aboard a Butterfly. 

    “Safety is the critical aspect here and these will be as safe, if not safer, than riding on commercial airlines,” he said. “It might take time for people to get comfortable with this.”