The Jetsons universe is closer to becoming reality as a partnership of two European aviation companies wants to launch an air taxi service in Palm Beach County.
Picture a stark white, space-age airplane with an almond-shaped body and four serrated wings. Inside those wings are 36 all-electric engines, or ducted fans. When vertical, the fans help the jet gently take off or land, capable of hovering like an osprey; when the fans are tilted horizontally, they propel the plane forward.
The companies Lilium, a Germany-based aviation company manufacturing these airplanes, and Ferrovial, a Spanish company that develops and maintains airports like Heathrow in London pitched their proposal to county commissioners on Tuesday, selling Palm Beach International Airport as part of its proposed Florida network for eVOTL vehicles, which stands for electric vertical take-off and landing.
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Even though Lilium has yet to get FAA certification for its aircraft, Palm Beach County commissioners are keen on their idea.
"I think this is an exciting prospect and I'm really looking forward to the opportunity to see this in action," Vice Mayor Robert Weinroth said.
The Lilium Jet, which isn't technically a jet, can fit up to four passengers and a pilot, with a range of more than 155 miles on a single charge. Standing 30 feet away from the aircraft, it sounds about as loud as a car driving past, the company said. Overall, it's also about 50 percent quieter than a single-aisle commercial jet.
The nations first vertiport, an airport for eVOTLs, is already in the works. Last November, Lilium announced it was partnering with the city of Orlando and a Lake Nona developer after the city offered almost $1 million in tax incentives, according to the Orlando Sentinel.
Commissioners appeared split on whether they would be interested in giving any financial or tax incentives to Lilium or Ferrovial, but a formal lease agreement would return to them at a later date.
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"This is pretty phenomenal, certainly putting Palm Beach County on the cutting edge of technology along with the Lake Nona region in Orlando," Commissioner Melissa McKinlay said.
The companies want to propose vertiport locations in Melbourne, Tampa, St. Petersburg, Fort Myers, Miami and The Keys.
The network will serve to connect Central and South Florida, said Will Nicholas, Lilium's head of launch and infrastructure development.
"I feel the population centers are very isolated, and (this service will be) providing new access beyond 95, the Turnpike and Brightline for people to more freely enjoy the attractions that Florida has to offer," Nicholas said.
On a Lilium Jet, passengers can get from West Palm to Tampa in one hour, to Orlando in 50 minutes and to Miami in 20 minutes.
"The route of Palm Beach to Miami, we anticipate it to be one of the busiest routes in the network," said Daniel Pinan, who heads Ferrovial's corporate development in North America.
Flights could be pricy, but that's to be expected with a new technology, Nicholas said.
More: County and Gardens warring over who gets transportation fees from developers
"We have aims to provide $1 per mile, meaning that a trip from here to Miami would be less than $100 per passenger, so that people can not only make this a daily commuting option but also something that they could use for a special occasion with a special someone or family," he said.
Although vertiports don't need to be located on airport property, as they take off and land on a space similar to a helipad. Palm Beach International has some real estate that would be ideal for this type of venture, said County Airports Director Laura Beebe. It's the space on the northeast corner of the airport's property that is used for rental car storage but isn't ideal for commercial development.
The companies noted that the venture could create about 150 jobs, in which the average salary is $70,000.
The airline industry also is taking chances on this new technology. United Airlines in February put up $1 billion for 200 jets from another eVOTL start-up company called Archer. The company hopes to build a similar network in Los Angeles by 2024.
This article originally appeared on Palm Beach Post: Hail a taxi to the sky? County commissioners signal interest in futuristic travel tech
(c)2021 The Palm Beach Post (West Palm Beach, Fla.)
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