What if, instead of taking an Uber, you could get an electric plane to fly you across a bustling metropolitan area in minutes?
According to several sources in the aviation department at California Baptist University, this may become a reality in the next few decades.
Evan Schuler, junior aviation major, spoke about how these “air taxis” will soon be a popular means of transportation.
“There are a couple of companies in the testing stages of these eVTOLs (electric vertical takeoff and landing vehicles),” Schuler said. “They’re electric planes with propellers and they have a passenger compartment. These might replace commuter helicopter lines in the future. I think they’d be useful for big metropolitan areas if they can find an altitude that would keep them from crashing into skyscrapers and hitting airliners.”
Joshua Newton, senior aviation major, mentioned several companies hard at work creating electric unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) capable of transporting cargo as well.
“There’s a lot of companies in general that are trying to develop either an air taxi or drone delivery,” Newton said. “Amazon was the first company to come out and say they want to do drone deliveries. Wing is a company that has a hybrid UAV that flies out and delivers packages. There’s another company called Zipline that delivers medical supplies in Africa.”
As for commercial electric airplanes, the likelihood of them coming to the market anytime soon is slim, especially because of how slowly the wheels of government turn.
“You have regulatory challenges, manufacturing challenges, logistical challenges and then you have the challenges in science and physics that you have to overcome,” said Dr. John Marselus, chair of the aviation science department. “Government regulatory agencies will need to break out of their paradigms and think outside the box.”
The main appeal of electric aircrafts is that they will reduce fossil fuel emissions. However, obtaining rare metals like lithium for batteries produces a similar carbon footprint and raises ethical concerns.
“There’s only a couple of places you can really get (these elements),” Newton said. “Usually that’s in Africa. There’s a lot of turmoil that goes around those mining operations. We’re getting our cobalt or lithium from this mine that may be supporting a war down there. Do we support this war? So it’s kind of like a juggling act.”
Another aspect is the strain on electrical grids. Schuler mentioned that California is currently incapable of supporting a surge in electric aircrafts. However, if the government creates the proper infrastructure, he estimated that electric planes could come to the market in the next 10 years.
It is safe to say electric airplanes are on the horizon, granted the logistical and environmental needs are met holistically.