In the middle of a pandemic, it didn’t feel appropriate to tell you about new fantastic places to explore by helicopter. For 2020, I had originally planned to share two exciting new destinations: one in Japan, the other in France. But as they say: better luck next time! Instead, we’ll take this opportunity to discuss another interesting topic: the future of urban transport, through VTOL aircraft.
Bell announced the Nexus, Uber launched Uber Elevate Summit back in 2018, and a few more companies have made similar announcements. We had the chance to attend the first Uber Elevate conference, and met several people as passionate about this topic as we are. How will these new tools impact our lives as helicopter pilots?
That’s probably the first thing you’ll hear in a manufacturer’s sales pitch. But can we really expect to travel from Santa Monica to Downtown LA in just 10 minutes? For sure, everyone would be thrilled, but there are many “but”s to consider. First, we’d need an infrastructure that allows for a few landing pads in key locations on both sides of the river. The pricing would also need to be affordable enough for a large number of commuters. These two elements are key in such a program’s success. Over the short term, Dallas-Fort Worth announced it’ll take part in the first trials of this new form of urban transport. In Paris, they’re building the necessary infrastructure to accommodate these new aircrafts. In short: to be continued.
Amazon PrimeAir is planning to start delivering packages by air in the coming months. This would be for packages weighing a maximum of 5 lbs, within a 15 miles radius, completely autonomously. What do you think? Obviously, as helicopter pilots, seeing a drone fly in an urban area while carrying a package would change our perception of air traffic.
Still, there are promising applications. We don’t expect this transport to be viable anytime soon for consumer goods: but for organ transport – where time is of the essence – this could be a highly useful tool. Recently, during the COVID-19 crisis, North Carolina has announced it would start transporting medicine and food by drone.
In some regions, drones are already used to surveil high risk areas by spotting unusual movement and alerting authorities. During the pandemic, France has used drones to locate illegal gatherings and warn people to spread out. In Italy, drones were used to detect body temperature and identify virus carriers! The US Army announced the need of 30 VTOLs for various missions, both military and humanitarian. A budget of US$25M is attached to this project. As we can see, many programs are already under trial, and in the near future, the sky could look very different. We have to prepare for the “not-so-distant” future!
In late 2019, when we met with Bell’s new CEO, Mr. Lavoie, we had the chance to see some of the company’s first prototypes designed for goods transport. From a technical point of view, there was no doubt in our minds a company like Bell was able to design and produce such aircrafts. The experts at the Mirabel factory make it a prime location for developing such new equipment.
More recently, Bell held a demonstration of its new Bell Nexus, which could transport up to 8 people – quite impressive! I believe Quebec is in excellent position to become a major player in this emerging industry. Thanks to Bell, we have access to a powerful expertise. In a recent edition of Robb Report, the media stated: “The Bell Nexus is the helicopter company’s solution for quick, convenient, and comfortable urban air transportation.”
For those who are interested in learning more on this topic, I recommend visiting Bell’s website.
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