by Mark Baker
AOPA President & CEO
Published in Midwest Flyer – February/March 2019 issue
Powered flight is one of if not the greatest innovations in the history of humanity. For thousands of years, people looked at birds and wondered what it would be like to see the world from above. That is, until the Wright brothers decided to spend some time on the beaches of North Carolina.
It was only 36 years before the founding of AOPA in 1939 that humans achieved the first sustained powered flight. Technology has also come a long way in making the skies a safer place to fly. From ADS-B to autopilots, aviators today have access to avionics and electronics that help us be more aware of our surroundings, and operate our aircraft more than ever before.
Few technologies being discussed today can equal the potential of electric or hybrid-electric vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) aircraft. The technology could facilitate explosive economic growth, bring down costs, and allow many more people to access the benefits of aviation. Morgan Stanley Research estimates that the eVTOL air taxi market could reach $1.5 trillion by 2040.
These new technologies and aircraft are also changing how we look at airports and what local leaders need to consider to stay competitive. Local airports are already enormous economic contributors to their surrounding communities, and that will only increase with eVTOL aircraft. This should bring pause to short-sighted community leaders trying to close places like Santa Monica Municipal Airport and Reid-Hillview Airport of Santa Clara County, both in California.
With so many new aircraft potentially entering the market needing places to charge, conduct maintenance, and escape weather, airports are set to be a crucial element of the eVTOL infrastructure.
And the residents of communities with local airports will also be more likely to realize the benefits that will go along with eVTOL and air taxis. While eVTOL aircraft can land virtually anywhere, the reality is that because of costs – as well as airspace and security restrictions – they will likely be heavily reliant on traditional airports for decades, if not longer. So, if you live near an airport, you’ll be more likely to be able to utilize eVTOL aircraft.
Another added bonus is the noise, or lack thereof. Among the most frequent complaints airports receive are about noise, but eVTOL aircraft will be much quieter.
Opposition to an airport doesn’t just rob local citizens of the existing benefits associated with airports, it prevents people from utilizing an emerging efficient mode of transportation that will transform our economy and how we get places.
Change and innovation are constants in aviation, but so are the benefits that come with access to aircraft and airports. It would be a mistake for leaders in towns across the country, and even in our industry, to ignore the potential of new technology and restrict the growth and services communities can benefit from.