Kenya could become locus of local transportation movement in Africa
By Aaron Karp|August 25, 2022
Eve’s study of potential applications proceeds
Imagine it’s the near future. Hovering over a wildlife reserve in Kenya is an electric vertical takeoff and landing aircraft, or eVTOL, its onboard pilot searching for suspected poachers.
Eve Air Mobility, the spinoff of Embraer that’s developing an eight-rotor, four-passenger electric aircraft, is in the beginning stages of exploring wildlife protection, local passenger transport and other applications under a multi-year program with Kenya Airways. The airline earlier this year signed a letter of intent for the provisional purchase of up to 40 of Eve’s aircraft, the first of which Eve plans to have ready by 2026.
“There are so many potential applications, including tourism flights, commuter flights, going to and from the airport, wildlife protection, medical services and moving cargo,” David Rottblatt, Eve’s vice president of business development, told me in an interview.
Eve and Kenya Airways are in the midst of “benchmarking” transportation “inefficiencies” to understand how people and goods move around Nairobi and how eVTOLs could be effectively deployed. “There are so many cities in Africa that suffer from the pain point of time loss due to traffic congestion,” Rottblatt said. “Think about how much people suffer just trying to get from point A to point B.”
Looking specifically at Nairobi, trucks moving goods and supplies, including important medical equipment, often get snarled in traffic in the city of about 5 million. Could eVTOLs carry some of this cargo? Eve and Kenya Airways are studying this question, with no decisions yet made on who would operate the eVTOLs or how flights would be conducted. As for passenger transportation, car ownership is often not an option for residents, so many are dependent on unreliable public transportation options including buses. Riding on eVTOLs could be a new and more efficient transportation service for them.
“We’ve done a lot of work studying concepts of operations in the United States, as well as in Brazil, Australia, the United Kingdom and Japan,” Rottblatt explained. “There’s a lot that we’ve learned from those exercises that we can bring to this working group with Kenya Airways, but I think that there’s so much nuance with any market — especially when you’re introducing a brand new technology. There’s always going to be local, contextual things that need to be taken into account.”
And the lessons in Kenya could also be applied to other African cities and countries, he said. Eve sees a number of African markets where its eVTOLs could operate.
“Cairo and Lagos are examples,” Rottblatt said. “I think Johannesburg certainly has a lot of potential, as well as Cape Town. Anywhere where there’s a very obvious need for an alternative solution to public transportation that just can’t seem to fit the bill on its own and also where personal car ownership is a difficulty.”
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