Bell outlines new urban mobility plans

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Over the past year Bell has shifted its focus from being simply a helicopter manufacturer to becoming a company that embraces all forms of vertical flight.

Since the company rebranded back in February 2018 and had begun development on its FCX-001 air-taxi in 2017, Bell has made a very public move to change the company direction from a helicopter manufacturer to an overall vertical-flight company.

These efforts include the virtual-reality demos of its prototype air-taxi aircraft and service to sell both to aviation professionals and to the general public the idea of commuter air taxis.

Last week, Bell’s Michael Thacker, the company’s president of technology and innovation, took to the stage at the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology to outline the company’s urban mobility initiative which expands beyond just its air-taxi project.

Mr Thacker said: “The convergence of these technologies is accelerating our ability to achieve real improvements in air mobility and opening new possibilities for flight, such as addressing the issues surrounding transportation congestion in urban areas. Since the first skyscraper was built, cities have been destined to become multi-dimensional, yet we still think, plan and build in a two-dimensional world, limited to places our feet can touch.

“We’ve dreamed of flying cars for decades, but until very recently, they’ve remained flights of fancy. With the rapid pace of technological advancement, however, small, urban aircraft may well play a role where the current solution set has failed to keep up with our needs.”

Bell has identified four key areas of focus to develop a future of urban air mobility that covers infrastructure, on-demand services, flight-control systems and investing in new aviation technology. Bell’s priority is collaborating with regulatory bodies such as the FAA, EASA and Transport Canada to create the framework to accommodate new on-demand urban-mobility solutions.

As air-taxi manufacturing and infrastructure is in its early days, many companies are unwilling to discuss the cost to users of air-taxi services. Mr Thacker notes that if those in the air-taxi industry wants the public to embrace the new form of urban mobility and the required infrastructure, then it needs to be affordable to most people.

To round off the presentation, Thacker said: “Creating a real, viable Urban Mobility network isn’t something that is going to happen tomorrow, but this future is closer than many people realize. Across private entities like Bell and our partners, as well as government agencies including NASA and the FAA, this future is being actively, aggressively pursued.

“…Today we are presenting the conceptual approaches we believe will work not only for a more mobile, more functional American future, but that will create more freedom and efficiency in how we work and live. Opportunities that can create a cleaner, quieter, more efficient urban environment, and advanced technology solutions that offer any number of job opportunities in our US-based facilities or with one of our many talented partners. We are committed to a stronger, more mobile future, and will do our part to bring it to life.”

The full text of Mr Thacker’s testimony can be found here.