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In the future, everyone will be airborne for 15 minutes.
Or at least that’s the vision sketched out by Dan Sloat, a former US Air Force officer and now president of a new Boston-based nonprofit devoted to popularizing so-called advanced air mobility as a solution for our traffic and environmental woes.
These are not the flying cars that the Jetsons may have led you to expect. The idea is to use small, battery-powered aircraft as aerial taxis that can take off and land vertically, avoiding the need for big airports and runways.
It’s easy to grasp the appeal: air taxis theoretically solve lots of traffic and infrastructure problems, and there are no direct greenhouse gas emissions from the kind of electric aircraft that have become possible thanks to improving battery technology. Catching a short flight from a neighborhood vertiport — the name for landing areas — will almost feel “like a bus stop but for aerial travel,” said Sloat, who leads the Advanced Air Mobility Institute and talked to me last week about the industry’s prospects.
The technology will get its first big tryout in the 2024 Olympics in Paris. And after that? Sloat said that for regulatory reasons it’s easier to operate the aircraft over water, meaning a coastal city like Boston is well positioned to be an early American adapter.”
We’ll likely see advanced air mobility operations in harbor cities like Boston sooner than landlocked ones like Minneapolis,” said Sloat, who lives in Mission Hill. For instance, he said, an eVTOL trip from Boston to Provincetown “would be a quarter of the time” compared to the ferry.
One of the biggest challenges ahead for the nascent advanced air mobility industry is winning the approval of regulators, who want assurances the new technology can operate safely and share the skies with regular air traffic. The FAA recently released a blueprint for getting air taxis up and running in one or more locations — by 2028.
McKinsey forecasts that by 2030, thousands of the vehicles could be flying, mostly small aircraft with a handful of passengers taking short flights averaging 18 minutes long. If such predictions are remotely accurate, it’ll raise questions about how the availability of advanced air mobility might require us to rethink other transportation projects and the assumptions underlying them.
Of course, advanced air mobility could also fizzle — if people don’t trust air taxis, or they’re too expensive, or if regulatory obstacles prove insurmountable. But it won’t be because flying cars can’t be done.
“We as a society have figured out the power-to-weight ratio for electric batteries such that we can make super-sized drones that are strong enough to carry human passengers,” Sloat said. “The technology is there.”
Alan Wirzbicki is Globe deputy editor for editorials. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.