Ryan Gillespie | Orlando Sentinel
Orlando, Florida – Orlando is gearing up to make flying cars an option for those looking to hover over busy highways or between nearby cities. And they could appear much earlier than 2062, as the Jetsons predicted.
The city has signed a partnership with NASA to develop a strategy for receiving electric oversized drones that take off vertically from landing pads called vertiports. The first vertiport of the city, which will be built by the German company Lillium, is planned to be built in the area of Lake Nona.
Although officials suspect that this type of transport may become popular in the coming years, the FAA has not yet approved the use of such vehicles. But a recent study found that the $ 2.5 billion slice of the projected market could be of interest to early adopters of the technology.
“We have heard from various operators that they hope to work with passengers between 2024 and 2025,” said Jacques Coulomb, transportation planning projects coordinator in Orlando. “For us, this means that they will want to have a vertiport, and therefore we will need to set the rules and until then fully understand what these impacts are.”
Nancy Mendonka, a NASA employee working with Orlando and other governments through the partnership, said the agency had received from the FAA that companies were already applying for certification for potential air taxis.
Local governments play a key role in paving the way for so-called “advanced air mobility” because city codes define things like zoning rules for helicopters, economic development around stations, and other important regulations and infrastructure.
Coulomb said several helicopters could soon appear across Orlando as the technology becomes more popular.
Last year, Lillium struck a deal with the City of Orlando and Tavistock Group, developer of Lake Nona, to build its vertiport, which could be the first in the United States. The City has agreed to set aside about $ 1 million over 10 years in property tax relief if the company complies with job creation and wage requirements.
The port, with two landing sites and the ability to charge eight vehicles, is estimated to cost around $ 25 million.
Lillium’s aircraft are battery-powered and have 36 engines, officials said. At first, the cost of travel will compete with a luxury flight, but in about ten years, it could decline to a level similar to traveling by car, said a Lillium spokesman.
The city plan is expected to include an overview of the positive and negative economic, environmental and social impacts. Pendant also said that he will focus on equity in the hopes of paving the way for vertiports that will eventually be rolled out across the city to be accessible to people from all neighborhoods and all income levels.
The initiative, part of Mayor Buddy Dyer’s Future-Ready City Priority, has drawn criticism from some Central Florida residents who are unhappy with the lack of local transportation infrastructure.
Sam Gallagher, a proponent of modernizing public transport and cycling infrastructure, acknowledged that it is beneficial for the city to look to the future. But he said Orlando has more pressing needs.
“They don’t quite understand what is happening on the ground right now, and this should really be a priority for the city as a whole,” he said, referring to the need for cycle paths and entire streets. “We consistently fall into the category of the most dangerous for pedestrians.”
After a partnership with NASA was promoted on Twitter from a city account last month, several dozen accounts responded with criticism of the city’s lack of downtown cycle paths and a train system that does not run on weekends.
“I love you Orlando, but we haven’t even mastered pedestrian safety or public transportation, and I highly doubt that a working class mom who works at the airport would benefit from that,” Secretary of State Anna Escamani tweeted. “Let’s be a gift-ready city first.”
Mendonka, NASA’s deputy manager for the integration of advanced air mobility missions, said the cities’ interest in planning reflects a lesson learned from scooters that have been criticized as they have deployed in many highly regulated cities in recent years.
In Orlando, the city learned after their launch that it needed parking infrastructure and more detailed instructions on where they were allowed to use them.
“I think there have been some lessons learned here,” she said. “I think it’s great that cities are starting to lean forward and look ahead.”
Coulomb said that this work will be useful in the coming years, when air taxis become more than just science fiction.
“We saw it approaching our backyard and we just didn’t want to wait and see what happened,” he said. “Most likely they will come, whether we do something or not, so for us we want to plan them.”
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