On Sunday, 12 November, both Joby Aviation and Volocopter performed piloted demonstration electric air taxi flights in New York City as part of initial steps to transform the Downtown Manhattan heliport (DMH) into a first-of-its-kind hub for sustainable transportation and deliveries. It is hoped that DMH will become the first heliport in the world with the infrastructure to support electric flight, delivering major quality-of-life improvements for New Yorkers by supporting quieter, cleaner helicopter alternatives. Beta Technologies demonstrated its multimodal interoperable electric charger at the event.
The NYC Economic Development Corporation (NYCEDC) requires the future heliport operator to ready its infrastructure in advance of certification, and to accommodate last-mile and maritime freight delivery. It also calls for onsite workforce development training in aviation, maritime and other relevant sectors. The new operator's concession agreement will be for five years, with up to three options for five-year renewals conditional on the build-out and activation of all requirements.
For Joby it was the first time it had flown in an urban setting, and it followed several days of preparation flights at the HHI Heliport in Kearny, New Jersey.
"By electrifying one of the most famous heliports in the world, New York is demonstrating global leadership in the adoption of electric air travel. We're grateful for the support of the city, and we're honoured to be working with visionary partners like Delta Air Lines to bring our air taxi service to this market," says Joby founder and CEO JoeBen Bevirt. "We plan to make quiet, emissions-free flight an affordable, everyday reality for New Yorkers, while significantly reducing the impact of helicopter noise."
Volocopter completed its first flight test of its crewed Volocopter 2X at the same time. The OEM has now successfully and safely conducted flights in the heart of two of the busiest metropolitan hubs in the world, NYC and Singapore. Its multicopter design is particularly suited for urban missions, producing zero emissions in flight and little noise pollution.
"A New York City flight has always been on Volocopter's mind when designing an eVTOL that could be safe and quiet enough to fly its busy skies," says managing director Christian Bauer. "Our flight in NYC proves that we have everything required to make this emerging technology flourish in this city. This event was an amazing opportunity to showcase how electric air taxis can elevate the quality of life in a city that never sleeps. We are confident this will open doors to air taxi commercial operations in more cities in the US, and we look forward to flying again soon in the Big Apple."
Joby previously announced through its partnership with Delta Air Lines that it expects New York to be one of its early launch markets after receiving certification from the FAA. Its aircraft is optimised for rapid, back-to-back flights and can fly up to 100 miles on a single charge, covering 99 per cent of all trips taken today across New York City's five boroughs. While travelling from Manhattan to JFK International airport can take more than an hour by car, Joby expects the trip to take just seven minutes by air.
“Today, we are taking sustainability to the sky and our streets, and New Yorkers can feel the electricity in the air in our city as we electrify our heliport infrastructure,” says NYC mayor Adams. “Our vision for the Downtown Manhattan heliport will create the world's first heliport with infrastructure for electric-powered aircraft and put this public asset to work for New Yorkers as a hub for sustainable transportation and local deliveries. We will not only put New York City at the cutting edge of sustainable flight technology while addressing a persistent quality-of-life issue with helicopter noise, but also get trucks off the road and make our streets safer.”
"The Adams administration has been a leader in driving technology innovation and economic growth while simultaneously improving quality of life," says NYCEDC president and CEO Andrew Kimball. "EDC's new strategy for the Downtown Manhattan heliport reflects these priorities while making it an industry leader in the embrace of eVTOLs, a quieter and greener helicopter alternative, while at the same time facilitating maritime freight with last mile e-bike deliveries that take trucks off the roads."
Joby and Delta are working closely with the Port Authority of New York and the NYCEDC as they plan for initial operations.
"Delivering exceptional experiences for our customers is why Delta has invested over $7bn in New York City, especially at our LaGuardia and JFK hubs," says Gail Grimmett, SVP of sustainability performance and strategic partnerships. "Today's announcement demonstrates the great progress that's been made toward launching clean, quiet and convenient air taxi services for Delta customers travelling to and from New York, and is a testament to our innovative partners at Joby and the support of mayor Eric Adams in advancing new and sustainable technologies."
In 2022, Joby collaborated with NASA to measure the sound of its aircraft, confirming it registered the equivalent of 45.2 A-weighted decibels (dBA) when flying overhead at an altitude of 1640ft (500m), quieter than a typical conversation.
Joby has flown more than 30,000 miles with its full-scale prototype eVTOL aircraft since 2017, and recently celebrated the first aircraft to roll off its pilot production plant in Marina, California. It has delivered the first-ever electric air taxi to the US Air Force for on-base operational testing and expects to launch commercial passenger service in 2025.
In 2018, Volocopter conducted its maiden US flight in Las Vegas. Since then, it has flown in Oshkosh, the Dallas-Fort Worth area, Tampa and now in NYC. Volocopter expects to receive a final certification of its commercial VoloCity aircraft from EASA in 2024, and is in a concurrent validation process with the FAA, submitted in 2020.