Varon Vehicles is launching a series of online “Think Tanks” focused on the specific requirements for urban air mobility (UAM) in Latin America.
The eight-session series kicks off on Tuesday, Aug. 4 with “Urban Air Mobility in Latin America.” Hosted by Varon Vehicles CEO Felipe Varon, it will feature panelists including Edgar Rivera, director of regulations for Colombia’s civil aviation authority, Aerocivil; flying car historian Jake Schultz; Tamara Bullock of Altitude Strategies; Natalia Barbour of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Department of Urban Studies and Planning; and Michael Dyment of Nexa Capital.
Additional hour-long Think Tanks are scheduled regularly through Oct. 14, leading up to a “Skyscraper 2020” virtual summit planned for Nov. 18-20. Registration for all eight Think Tanks is free and now open on the Varon Vehicles website.
Varon Vehicles is a startup that aims to develop UAM infrastructure networks in Latin America, beginning in Colombia. As Felipe Varon explained to eVTOL.com, the unique needs of Latin American cities pose special challenges for UAM, but also a number of opportunities.
“When you look at Latin America . . . you realize that there’s a whole bunch of different requirements for UAM in the developing world than what the requirements for UAM are in the developed world,” Varon said.
“Things like the size of cities are different, and that impacts the performance of the vehicles that we need, the airspace integration, the vertiport design. The mobility problem in Latin America is very different than in the developed world, because here we have the same traffic and time loss problem as over there, but we have a whole bunch of other problems on top of that.”
Precisely because the mobility problem in large Latin American cities is so challenging, Varon said, local aviation authorities may be more open to facilitating early adoption of UAM than the inherently conservative authorities in some other countries.
“In general terms, the advantage that we’re seeing is that we have an ecosystem here where you can [have a] way faster and way cheaper learning curve . . . from the certification process of the air vehicles, certification of subsystems, of the operators, flight testing — everything all the way to placing [aircraft] into service can be done faster and cheaper,” Varon said.
While he acknowledged that the Latin American public may have a different perception of transportation safety than populations in the U.S. or Europe, he noted that “faster and cheaper” doesn’t necessarily mean compromising on safety. Generally sunny weather and low labor costs are two of the factors that could give Latin America a leg up on UAM without “cutting any corners at all,” said Varon. Meanwhile, the region’s denser cities could offer a viable market for early eVTOL models that lack the range to service sprawling metropolitan areas in the U.S.
Varon Vehicles is already working with Colombia Aerocivil to define a network of vertiports and aerospace corridors to enable UAM operations. With its Think Tank series and Skyscraper summit, the company aims to attract additional players to help grow Latin America’s UAM ecosystem.
“We’re going to bring in all stakeholders — from air vehicle OEMs, to airspace integration systems providers, to subsystem providers, all the way to urban developers, mobility experts, investors, governments, and regulators,” he said. “We’re going to bring all these players together, so that we start looking at not only UAM, but UAM in Latin America . . . and that’s where the conversation really starts getting interesting.”