Almost all of the hundreds of urban air mobility startups currently active around the world are pitching radical electric vertical takeoff and landing aircraft for a “revolutionary” transportation future.
Their unconventional multi-rotor designs require time-consuming testing, decade-long paths to certification, and the buildout of a ground and air infrastructure to support them. Investors are spending, and will have to spend, billions just to see if their business plans will work.
Palm Springs, California-based Eco Helicopters thinks there’s another route to eVTOL UAM. It’s vastly cheaper, developed by someone else, possible on a far shorter timeline, and looks pretty familiar.
Eco Helicopters is seeking to bring what it calls the “EcoMax”, an electrified version of the ubiquitous Robinson R44 light helicopter, to the market, combining operational aspects of traditional helicopter air taxi services with the on-demand surface transport model pioneered by Uber
Basically, that means pairing an on-demand app with an electric helicopter. Eco Helicopters plans to launch its on-demand UAM service with a conventionally-powered R44 in the second quarter of 2021, while the certification process for the EcoMax goes forward.
The company is owned by Richard Webb, who is also the owner of its parent, Orange County Helicopters, which arranged the helicopter flight last January on which NBA legend Kobe Bryant, his daughter and seven others were killed.
If all goes according to plan, the company will begin operating the electric R44 following FAA approval for a supplemental type certificate (STC) for the helicopter. That could be in 18 to 24 months. The relatively