Bell's air taxi cabin revealed at Consumer Electronics Show 2018. Photo courtesy of Bell
Bell is displaying its replica future air taxi concept at Austin’s annual South by Southwest (SXSW) film festival, and the newly rebranded technology company answered questions about its ambition to manufacture electric-hybrid-powered urban air taxis in the future. Scott Drennan, Bell’s director of innovation, answered questions submitted online during a Bell’s #UrbanAirChat forum.
Dallas, Texas-based real estate developer Hillwood was also part of Bell’s online discussion about its plans for the future of the air taxi. Hillwood, the official development and infrastructure partner for Uber’s Elevate program, noted during the discussion that it plans to develop “vertiports” throughout the northern Texas region. The first vertiport locations will be Frisco and Dallas/Fort Worth (DFW) International Airport, according to Hillwood.
“We envision three to five vertiports by 2020 in DFW, but ultimately it will be market-driven. These could be ground level or on top of existing structures like buildings or garages,” a representative for Hillwood said in a reply to a question submitted by R&WI.
Regarding Bell’s choice of propulsion power for its future air taxi concept, Drennan noted that Bell is exploring several options, including “hybrid and electric propulsion.” The technical feasibility of an all electric-powered air taxi was a hot topic of discussion at Heli-Expo last month, with an executive from Safran Helicopter Engines pointing to battery limitations associated with full electric architecture for such an aircraft.
Drennan also addressed a question about whether Bell's future air taxi aircraft would be fully autonomous.
“We’re designing our first #BellAirTaxi demonstrator to be autonomous, but we believe when the aircraft comes to market there will be a safety & mission officer 'pilot' on board,” said Drennan.
Further explaining the concept, Drennan said that when their air taxi does become fully autonomous, it will allow passengers that enter the aircraft to enter their destination and fly autonomously to their “desired vertiport.”