Air taxi companies acknowledge lack of infrastructure will restrict rollout

Affluent communities will see advanced air mobility first, companies agree

FARNBOROUGH AIRSHOW, Farnborough, U.K. — Limited numbers of aircraft and a lack of suitable vertiports, charging stations and airspace accommodations will restrict the initial rollout of air taxi services to mostly affluent communities, predicted the leaders of several advanced air mobility companies during a discussion today.

“I think we will see these aircraft certified and in service before the urban infrastructure around the world will be developed,” Stephen Fitzpatrick, founder and CEO of Bristol, U.K.-based Vertical Aerospace said during the panel discussion .

In the meantime, he said, Vertical and other companies may also look at regional service among smaller cities that don’t currently have good transportation options, and at emergency services to supplement ambulance operations.

Air taxis, which include electric vertical takeoff and landing aircraft, will be relatively expensive at first, much like mobile phones, computers and automobiles were, said Mike Whitaker, chief commercial officer at Washington, D.C.-based Supernal.

But he said Supernal’s relationship with Hyundai, its parent company, will help it scale up production. 

“If you can bring the automotive perspective and scale to manufacturing, then you can really bring the price down,” Whitaker said 

Once the public sees air taxis operating well in some communities, more people will demand the service, said Ricky Sandhu, founder and executive chairman of London-based vertiport company Urban-Air Port.

“If you can fly from Coventry to London in 30 to 35 minutes when it takes two hours to drive, that completely changes the economic picture, travel and our country,” Sandhu said.

California-based Joby Aviation has conducted widespread surveys to determine what kind of service people want and how much they will pay for it, said Eric Allison, head of product at the company.

But Allison said it’s difficult to predict air taxi usage based on current transportation patterns.

“We believe there is considerable demand for people moving to places where they just don’t go now,” he said. “Like in Los Angeles, going to the beach is very difficult for some people. It can take an hour or two. If that was just 20 minutes, maybe they’d go.”

 Lilium, based outside Munich, plans early operations in such communities as Palm Beach, Florida, where Forbes has said 30 billionaires live and where former president Donald Trump lives, Sebastien Borel, vice president of business, told me in an interview.

He said air taxi companies must band together to address roadblocks and infrastructure issues. 

“Let’s face it, air taxi service is not going to be democratic anytime soon,” Borel said. “So the idea is to get it going somewhere and then make it more available.”

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Air taxi companies acknowledge lack of infrastructure will restrict rollout