Helicopter and tiltrotor manufacturer Leonardo has partnered with Abu Dhabi-based Falcon Aviation Services on a new “rotorcraft terminal” concept intended to facilitate urban air mobility.
Announced at the Dubai Air Show on Nov. 17, the terminal combines a helipad, a showroom, and lounge areas in a single city-based heliport. Leonardo said the modular, transportable design will support “the development of a network of point-to-point connections for both urban transfers and connections between cities.”
Leonardo and Falcon plan to establish such a terminal in Dubai to support Expo 2020, a world expo that will run for six months starting in October next year. The companies said they will leverage their longstanding partnership in VIP helicopter transportation across the region to offer customers an “exclusive flight experience” to and from the site of the expo.
Leonardo also plans to display its AW609 tiltrotor at the terminal, with an emphasis on the aircraft’s potential to open new long-range, high-speed connections between cities. Following its latest schedule slip, the manufacturer now expects to certify the world’s first civil tiltrotor next year.
“Leonardo, together with its long-established leading partners, is shaping the way we will fly in the next few decades,” stated Leonardo CEO Alessandro Profumo. “We’re proud to have joined forces with Falcon Aviation Services on this project in Dubai which will provide unprecedented levels of quality transportation services during a world-class event like Expo 2020.”
Leonardo’s announcement comes shortly after Sikorsky demonstrated its own urban air mobility concept with Otis Elevator and Helinet Aviation at CoMotion LA. Unlike competing helicopter manufacturers Bell and Airbus, neither Leonardo nor Sikorsky has disclosed plans for an eVTOL aircraft, but both are exploring urban air mobility using conventional helicopters.
That approach could have liabilities, however. The increasing use of helicopters for urban air mobility in New York is exacerbating noise and safety concerns in local communities, and reinforcing the perception that aerial commuting is an option only for wealthy passengers — not the widely affordable transportation solution envisioned by many eVTOL proponents. With its emphasis on “first-class lounge areas” for VIP customers, Leonardo’s rotorcraft terminal concept could entrench that perception further, with potential ramifications for community acceptance.