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USA: Navigating the Future. Pilotless Air Taxis Revolutionize Urban Mobility in Houston

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Pilotless air taxis Urban mobility Electric vertical takeoff Vertiports Smart city infrastructure

Embark on a journey into the future of urban transportation with our exploration of pilotless air taxis in the greater Houston area. Witness the groundbreaking partnership between Sugar Land, Texas, and Wisk Aero, a Boeing subsidiary, as they pioneer the integration of electric vertical takeoff and landing aircraft by 2030. Discover how these innovations in urban mobility aim to alleviate the challenges posed by limited access to public transportation and congested roads. Dive into the intricacies of smart city infrastructure, as cities prepare for the advent of vertiports and the widespread adoption of eVTOL technology. Join us as we navigate the complexities of this transformative initiative, exploring its implications for urban development and the creation of new job opportunities.

Air taxi company tabs Houston-area airport for takeoff pad

Pioneering Partnership for Urban Air Mobility

To bring pilotless air taxis to the greater Houston area, Sugar Land, Texas, and Wisk Aero, a Boeing subsidiary, signed a partnership on February 21. According to Mitch Davies, the city’s deputy director of aviation, electric vertical takeoff and landing aircraft could be flying independently from the Sugar Land Regional Airport as quickly as 2030.

Smart City Infrastructure Challenges and Solutions

About 25 miles west of Houston is the local airport, which serves corporate and general aviation, but in heavy traffic the drive can take an hour or more. According to Davis, airport leaders had been considering air taxis for a while but were surprised when Wisk called. He admitted,” I’d always heard of Wisk.”

Preparing for Urban Mobility Transformation

Due to its large size, limited access to public transportation, and crowded roads, Wisk identified Houston as a possible service area, according to Davies. Fortune 500 companies often use Sugar Land Regional Airport, and the airport’s aerodynamic fuel sales make a significant contribution to the city’s budget. The airport’s 2019 master plan aims to create locations for retail, office, business, and other uses. According to Davies, the plan even “identified air taxis as a possibility for the future.” We really were interested in partnering with [ Wisk ] when this opportunity presented itself.

According to Davies, the city also has a lot of questions and problems to address. When we receive those responses, he said, “it will give us a better understanding from an infrastructure standpoint as well as from funding.” One of the available issues is the addition of parking, a terminal to serve Wisk flights, and planned passenger counts. Additionally, charging capability will be necessary because the aircraft are electronically powered. According to Davis, the city has communicated with CenterPoint Energy, a nearby utility.

Additionally, Wisk’s air taxis will require vertiports in the greater Houston area. Cities were urged to plan for eVTOL infrastructure, allow room for growth, and connect with surface transportation where feasible in guidance from the Federal Aviation Administration, which was published last year. By 2030, according to a 2023 McKinsey report, big cities would require 85 to 100 vertiports, which is the year Wisk intends to fly commercially.

Wisk Aero’s Vision for Autonomous Flight: eVTOLs

There is also a problem with the community. According to Davies,” Helicopter traffic is never viewed strongly in the Houston area.” He said,” I will definitely be keeping the community involved and will be  engaged in looking for their feedback” despite the fact that eVTOLs are quieter than helicopters.

In terms of newly created jobs directly related to the air taxi service, such as customer service personnel and operations, maintenance, and ground crews, Davies sees monetary benefit to the city. He thinks that another professions could be created through venues for entertainment and dining that the air taxi service would be more convenient to visit.

Wisk is going all-in on self-flying eVTOLs, in contrast to rival eVTOL developers Archer Aviation and Joby Aviation, who both intend to start out with manned aircraft. The business started working on its seventh generation of aircraft in 2010 and has just begun its development. Wisk completed the first public demonstration flight of a completely automatic air taxi on July 26, 2023, according to a press release. In October, the company demonstrated pilotless operations at the airport in Long Beach, California. According to the company, people supervisors on the ground will monitor every flight and intervene as needed.

Davies stated “The commitment for this is going to be a healthy operation. I’m really excited to see this actually take off.”

Leo Portal

Leo is an expert in the field of smart city research and an overall tech-enthusiast with an emphasis on smart energy, IOT, smart homes and governance. After a master degree in international administration at the University of Gothenburg in Sweden, and a master in public management at Fudan University in China, he pursued research studies in the field of smart cities at the European University Institute. This led him to publish multiple articles on smart cities. Among them “Using Smart People to Build Smarter: How Smart Cities Attract and Retain Highly Skilled Workers to Drive Innovation (Belgium, Denmark, the Netherlands, Poland)” published in the Smart Cities and Regional Development Journal (SCRD) and “Establishing Participative Smart Cities: Theory and Practice”, also published in the SCRD Journal. He regularly audits and advises municipalities and regional governments on their smart city strategies. He is currently writing a chapter for Springer on smart mobility in French smart cities.

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