By Woodrow Bellamy III | January 8, 2018
Bell Helicopter revealed its new air taxi cabin design for the first time publicly at the 2018 Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas Monday. The new cabin has seating for four passengers and shows that the Textron subsidiary believes the concept of urban air taxis is not as futuristic a concept as most critics believe.
“The future of urban air taxi is closer than many people realize,” said Bell Helicopter President and CEO Mitch Snyder.
According to an emailed statement from Bell Helicopter obtained by R&WI, the air taxi cabin revealed at CES is “just one configuration” that the manufacturer is demonstrating. The interior features a user experience control center with internet connectivity, video conference calling and other in-flight entertainment features.
The company also told R&WI there is no barrier between passenger and pilot seating.
“It can hold four passengers and luggage. We believe the future will begin with a pilot and three passengers, and then become a fully autonomous flight with four passengers,” a spokesperson for Bell Helicopter told R&WI.
Bell also incorporated design elements from its FCX-001 demonstrator rotorcraft that it unveiled at Heli-Expo 2017 in Dallas.
At CES, Bell is also featuring an augmented reality simulator equipped with several different passenger scenarios, including cross-city day and night trips.
The choice to reveal the new air taxi cabin at CES shows that Bell sees real future potential in the concept of urban air taxis that could provide aerial relief to drivers in traffic-choked cities around the world. Uber spurred interest in the concept in 2017 at its first ever Uber Elevate Summit in April and expanded its future air taxi plans at R&WI's Rotorcraft Business and Technology Summit in September.
The FAA also recently helped move the concept closer to reality by granting an experimental airworthiness certificate for Workhorse Group Inc.’s SureFly electric hybrid propulsion helicopter. Workhorse Group is one of several different companies working on new rotary-wing airframes aimed at serving future air taxi missions.
While excitement continues to build around the future possibility for the use of air taxis to relieve traffic in congested cities, some major questions still remain. For example, where would an air taxi land? What type of pilot would fly air taxis, and what type of mechanics would be necessary to maintain them? Not to mention, how would companies propose to make an air taxi operation profitable for an operator, while still economical for the passengers?
Regardless of these and other unanswered questions, Bell believes air taxi operations will become a reality in the near future.
“The future of urban air taxi is closer than many people realize. We believe in the positive impact our design will have on addressing transportation concerns in cities worldwide,” said Snyder.