By Brian Garrett-Glaser

Brian covers the ecosystem emerging around eVTOLs and urban air mobility. Follow him on twitter @bgarrettglaser.

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Los Angeles pushes ahead on urban air mobility without Uber

With Uber Elevate no longer a standalone entity pushing for the deployment of electric air taxis in the United States by 2023, one might be forgiven for thinking there would be less pressure on eVTOL aircraft developers to meet that timeframe. After all, none besides Joby Aviation has publicly committed to certifying their design by then.

Los Angeles urban air mobility concept
Los Angeles announced a public-private partnership to begin exploring how urban air mobility can be integrated into the city’s transportation system starting in 2023. Uber/Gensler Image

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti — an ardent supporter of the Elevate vision, which included the city as a launch market — nevertheless appears committed to laying the groundwork for urban air mobility (UAM) to take off just after he leaves City Hall in 2022.

The mayor’s office announced the formation of a public-private partnership including the Los Angeles Department of Transportation (LADOT) and Urban Movement Labs (UML), an entity the mayor created last month to test new mobility ideas.

“Los Angeles is where we turn today’s ideas into tomorrow’s reality — a place where a barrier-breaking concept like urban air mobility can truly get off the ground,” said Mayor Garcetti. “The Urban Air Mobility Partnership will make our city a force for cleaner skies, safer transportation, expanded prosperity, and stunning innovation, and provide a template for how other local governments can take this new technology to even greater heights.”

The Urban Air Mobility Partnership has numerous goals: educate and engage the city’s residents on UAM, “visualize” a vertiport that will be a new piece of L.A.’s transportation network, and create a policy toolkit for UAM that can be employed by local governments across the United States. The partnership will also communicate with stakeholders on issues including public airspace and property rights — some of the thornier local regulatory issues involved in the use of drones and air taxis.

Hyundai’s UAM division is financially supporting the project, allowing UML to hire a full-time UAM fellow for at least one year. Other private sector participants include Design Works, a BMW Group company, and engineering firm Arup.

“This effort will educate and engage the city’s residents around a new and dynamic transportation technology — the introduction of low-noise, electric aircraft flying in our local airspace by 2023,” a press release from the mayor’s office stated.

The only electric air taxi aircraft manufacturer mentioned in the release is Hyundai, which does not expect to certify a passenger-carrying aircraft before 2028. A spokesperson for Joby Aviation confirmed to eVTOL.com that the aircraft developer has had no involvement in this project, leaving open questions about what aircraft will be flying in LA’s airspace by 2023 and whether that developer will be a part of the planning and vertiport design process.

There is no mention of Joby Aviation or any other specific vehicle provider in the release besides Hyundai, which does not expect to field an aircraft before 2028. A spokesperson for Joby Aviation confirmed to eVTOL.com that the aircraft developer has had no involvement in this project.

Earlier this year, the city of L.A. worked with the World Economic Forum and 50 other stakeholders to create seven Principles of the Urban Sky, committing to introducing UAM in a way that is sustainable, equitable, low noise, and beneficial for residents in numerous other ways.

The city faces an uphill battle on PR, though. Reactions to the news on Twitter — while certainly representative of the vocal minority — signaled concerns over surveillance, interpreted the announcement as cover for helipad permit approvals for rich people, and avoidance of what some see as more pressing humanitarian or transportation issues.

That’s part of the purpose of this project: to convince a skeptical populace that new electric aircraft can be fundamentally different than helicopters and offer a mobility service that speaks to their needs, rather than just serving the ultra-rich.

“In the future, it should be easy for all Angelenos to get where they need to go, whether that’s work, a doctor’s appointment, or school,” said Marcel Porras, chief sustainability officer at LADOT, in a video released by Urban Movement Labs. “The city of L.A. is working right now to build that future transportation system and we want your help to shape it.”

Editor’s note: This article has been updated to include a relevant response from Joby Aviation.

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1 Comment

  1. Don’t forget that Eco Helicopters EcoMax service could beat Joby to it and start in 2021 in southern California with Tier 1 Engineering’s electric R44 helicopter.

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