TAMPA INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT, Fla. (WFLA) — If the dignitaries and elected officials at Tampa International Airport on Thursday morning are to be believed, it was a historic day and the beginning of a new era of transportation in the Tampa Bay area.
“It’s a new mobility,” said TPA CEO Joe Lopano. “We need mobility around here, right? Well, this aircraft will go above all the traffic and take you where you need to go within the city. You don’t have to go to another city, you can go within your own city.”
Near a hangar on the outskirts of the airport’s property, the private company that builds the air taxi, Volocopter, completed the state’s first urban air mobility (UAM) test flight and the first at a large U.S. airport, according to TPA.
“We see a very welcoming environment here,” said Dirk Hoke, Volocopter CEO. “We see that the authorities are very open to new technologies and there’s a strong support network.”
The air taxi looks like a cross between a drone and helicopter, with a small cabin for a couple people and many propellers on top — plus, it’s electric.
“It’s designed to be accessible to everyone,” Hoke said in response to questions about cost and availability. “Will it be happening in the first year? No, because you will see there is a balance of scale, you get decreasing prices.”
Officials said the air taxi is meant for short or medium trips of people and cargo, like from TPA to Clearwater or Orlando, and could alleviate traffic congestion, or at least allow people to get around it.
“We know this is something that’s evolving in the next couple of years,” said Brett Fay, TPA’s Director of General Aviation. “So in five, ten years from now, this is really going to evolve in a big way and you’ll start to see this over the next couple of years.”
Volocopter said it plans to start commercial flights in Paris by the 2024 Olympics. TPA said it expects to have flights in 2025 or 2026.
“We think we’ll have an initial deployment where it happens in low frequency,” Fay said. “Then, over time, we’ll have to build out as we anticipate somewhere up to 100, 200 of these operations a day.”
TPA officials assured future passengers the air taxis are safe.
“I have no doubt that when we have an FAA-certified aircraft,” Fay explained. “It will meet the highest level of safety standards, just like every other aircraft that’s certified in the United States.”
The airport also said this could reduce carbon emissions from the airline industry.