Florida lawmakers hold 90-minute hearing on flying cars

by | Oct 18, 2023

  • Electric vertical takeoff passenger aircraft are nearing certification for passenger transport and could soon operate in Florida, according to a hearing yesterday in a Florida House Subcommittee.
  • Leading companies like Boeing, Ferovial Vertiport, Beta and Lilian Jet are actively investing in the electric vertical takeoff aircraft industry, aiming to revolutionize intercity travel and cargo transport.
  • The advanced air mobility industry focuses on short intra-city routes, regional air mobility, and rapid air cargo deliveries, promising benefits like shorter commutes, lower emissions, and cost-efficiency.

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Though the headline might sound like something from a science fiction novel, reality is catching up at a rapid pace. Members of the Florida House Subcommittee on Transportation and Modals gathered for a 90-minute hearing on Tuesday, featuring presentations from industry leaders and the Department of Transportation. Among the revelations was that all-electric vertical takeoff passenger aircraft are on the cusp of federal certification to carry passengers in the U.S.

Several heavy-hitters in the air mobility sector presented their plans and visions, which included representatives from Ferovial Vertiport, and Skyport, companies which focus on the infrastructure support needed to operate electric vertical takeoff aircraft. But there were also representatives from a handful of aircraft manufacturers, too. And lawmakers learned that larger companies like Boeing and the U.S. Air Force are also diving into the burgeoning industry, legitimizing its potential, while major cargo and passenger carriers are also making investments.

Boeing, for example, recently acquired Wisk, a regional air mobility company that boasts the world’s first all-electric, autonomous, four-seat vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) air taxi designed for passenger transport. Meanwhile, Beta, which specializes in advanced vertical take-off aircraft, has already garnered orders from operators like UPS. Here in Florida, Lilium is building the first eVTOL jet and aims to carry passengers quickly from one major metro area to another, quickly and safely.

The hearing delineated three key areas the industry is focused on, including urban short intra-city passenger routes, such as flying people from Miami Beach to Miami Airport, or from Bradenton, across Tampa Bay, and into St. Petersburg, reducing otherwise slow commutes to mere minutes. The industry also plans to compete for longer, regional air mobility passengers, such as Orlando to Miami, or Jacksonville to Tallahassee. And finally, the companies believe there will be strong demand for rapid air cargo deliveries, including critical deliveries of medical supplies, such as blood transfusions or organs, as well as other urgently needed items.

The big question that looms, though, is whether or not these companies, and their aircraft, can deliver on their promises. Matt Broffman of Lillium Jet emphasized the advantages of this next generation of all-electric aircraft, noting that they are significantly less complex than traditional airplanes.

“There are fewer moving parts to all of our aircraft than there would be in a traditional aircraft,” Broffman said. “For some of our aircraft, the amount of parts, total parts you have in the aircraft, is equal to that that you’d have in the landing gear of a traditional jet.”

Broffman said that in addition to safety and simplicity advantages, the new breed of advanced air mobility vehicles also offers lower emissions, less noise, and cheaper operational costs.

A complete ecosystem around the Advanced Air Mobility (AAM) industry is already taking shape. Companies like Ferovial are developing airport and heliport infrastructure, while software platforms similar to Uber are starting to crop up, complete with business models, apps and computer networks. Charging infrastructure – critical to the industry –  is starting to be integrated into airport operations across the state.

Officially, the state of Florida wants to do all it can to support the AAM industry. Kim Holland, Assistant Secretary for Strategic Development at Florida’s Department of Transportation confirmed that Florida started taking the new breed of aircraft and support systems seriously several years ago, and has now integrated the advanced air mobility industry into its existing transportation framework as it looks ahead and prepares for the future.

She compared the rapid development cycle of the industry with that of electric cars, noting that rapid improvements in battery and engine technology have opened up new possibilities for a wide range of applications.

“It has been possible to advance those distributed electric propulsion systems,” Holland said, “The electrification of the engine allows for almost immediate response when accelerating and decelerating, and it also allows for high energy output during takeoff, and enhanced control during landings.”

That makes the vehicles far more capable than traditional aircraft in terms of how they can maneuver in the air and near the ground. And, Holland noted, while the initial vehicles will require pilots and adhere to existing air traffic regulations, the long-term vision is far more advanced. Aspects like autonomous operations, alternative fuel cells, and advanced air traffic management systems are all on the table and rapid development is expected there, too.

In short, the air mobility industry is not some distant future fantasy. There already exists a vertiport at Lake Nona near Orlando, and more are on the way.  With the speed at which the technology is advancing, it won’t be long before many reading can ride aboard an advanced air mobility vehicle.


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