An illustration of downtown Atlanta, Georgia with air taxis in the skies. (NASA)
The lieutenant governor of North Carolina is requesting funds to study how his state can become a key destination for the emerging urban air mobility (UAM) industry.
The budget proposal put forth by Republicans in the N.C. legislature includes $1.5 million for Lt. Gov. Dan Forest’s office to study the industry and electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) technologies and put North Carolina “on the map” for its key players, Forest told Rotor & Wing International in an exclusive interview.
“Part of that would be kind of a feasibility study for North Carolina,” Forest said. “What does our infrastructure look like? What are we missing, what are the advantages that we do have and what are the things we would need to ramp up on?”
Forest, who is running for governor and is expected to face off against incumbent Roy Cooper in November, wants North Carolina to be involved in all aspects of the budding industry, from “the R&D side, the proof-of-concept side, to manufacturing, sales and service — everything else down the road.”
The state is home to a large aerospace cluster, with more than 200 companies present and some large players such as Honeywell headquartered there.
“We sit in a really strategic aerospace and aviation corridor in the southeastern United States,” Forest said, pitching his state as an eVTOL manufacturing player. “We have a strong workforce here. We have a strong research university system. I could see proof-of-concept centers being developed at several of our universities across the state. … I think our geography is unique. We have fly corridors already established because of military that could be used for training flight corridors.”
“We’re looking off into the future, but the day is going to come,” he added. “It’s going to happen. Every major aerospace company and every part manufacturer out there … people like the Ubers and Googles and others are looking at this as well.”
Forest hopes North Carolina will attract interest from players in the eVTOL space — and bring jobs and investment — from a first-mover advantage.
“Primarily, I think the biggest part is our interest. I think the state that says, hey, we’re really interested in this…I think we’re going to start to attract some interest from the people that are actually developing these vehicles.”
Forest said the feasibility study will include operation of eVTOL aircraft as well as manufacturing and development.
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“I think the best place for us to play immediately is in the emergency response area with the National Guard and natural disaster relief — a lot of hurricanes, a lot of flooding, those types of things where we have people that are remotely located and they need to either be pulled from harm's way or products and things delivered to them,” Forest said. “The National Guard, obviously being a military entity, doesn't have to abide by all the rules of the FAA and talking about unmanned flight specifically, you could have the military or a big military presence and our national guard presence that could expedite the regulatory process for the FAA. If you go through standard FAA protocol, who knows how long it’s going to take. But if the national guard has emergency reasons to do some testing and some flying, they may help the FAA.”
Asked how he might respond to pushback from the public over safety and noise concerns, Forest focused on potential of the technology and what he views as the inevitability of progress.
“When the car was invented, there was a lot of pushback from people who were selling horses,” he said. “Times change. Things change, and this is certainly progress that could be extremely beneficial to a lot of people. You think about what’s going on in rural America right now, a lot of these rural communities trying to survive, think about the connectivity of rural to urban environments — the ability for people who work in urban environments to be able to live in rural communities. Think about the renaissance that would create in rural America all across our country, and really around the world.”
But first, Forest’s line-item has to make it into the state’s final budget. According to his office, the appropriation is in the budget request passed by the Republican-controlled legislature, but has been vetoed by Gov. Cooper.
“The General Assembly is looking to override the veto,” Forest's office told R&WI. “If they do, the budget becomes law and we start rolling.”