Big Players, Bigger Bets on eVTOLs and Air Taxis

Ohio stakes claim on ambitious vision of an electrified aerial mobility future

3 min read
Software screenshot shows a satellite image with red dots, and yellow plane icons.
CAL Analytics

The aviation business is nothing new for Ohio. The state is a major supplier for Airbus and Boeing and is home to around 150 airports. Back in 2003, the House even passed a resolution acknowledging the role of Dayton in America’s aviation history—noting that the Wright brothers were from the city.

But now, Ohio is racing to ensure it’s a major player in the next chapter of aviation history. The state is investing heavily in resources that it hopes will draw startups building drones, autonomous planes, and electric vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) vehicles to its cities and airports. Last week, the Ohio Department of Transportation announced that it would begin using new software, sold by a company called CAL Analytics, for monitoring uncrewed aircraft in a bid to prepare for an influx of new futuristic vehicles to fly in the state.

“It is going to be so much cheaper than traditional aircraft flying.”
—Rich Fox, Ohio Unmanned Aircraft Systems Center

The move is part of a broader strategy. Last year, Ohio became the first state in the country to release an “advanced air mobility” framework, a massive effort to create infrastructure for supporting and regulating flying taxis that are powered by batteries and navigated by AI. Local officials are hoping that, eventually, these vehicles could help with delivering packages and transporting people to and from urban locations or even sparsely populated areas.

At the same time, officials are betting that by creating a framework for testing and developing these vehicles, Ohio can take a leading role in the future of aviation and set a model for other states and regional governments, too.

“The whole impetus behind building our infrastructure is to streamline the process for companies to come to Ohio,” Rich Fox, from the Ohio Unmanned Aircraft Systems Center, said. “It is going to be so much cheaper than traditional aircraft flying.”

Officials see the software from CAL Analytics—which previously received funding from the Ohio Federal Research Network — as a key next step. This software will help remote pilots operate uncrewed aircraft, and also assist the Ohio Department of Transportation with communications, surveillance, and infrastructure monitoring. The state plans to roll out the system at the National Advanced Air Mobility Center of Excellence, a new facility focused on eVTOL vehicles and other advanced air mobility, according to Fox, from the UAS Center.

That center, which broke ground last September, is based at the Springfield-Beckfield Municipal Airport and was funded by the Department of Defense, the city of Springfield, and JobsOhio, a state economic development agency.

Ohio’s Advanced Air Mobility Framework, which was released by the Ohio DOT last August, outlines where all these efforts are supposed to go. Officials imagine fleets of advanced aviation technologies, including remotely piloted and automated aircraft, delivery drones, and electric passenger vehicles, shuttling across the state. The hope is that these vehicles will make traveling short distances cheaper and more sustainable.

Eventually, officials will need to convince passengers to feel safe and comfortable actually riding these vehicles, which could be a significant undertaking.

There are real hurdles, though. Even die-hard proponents admit that eVTOLs are still years away at best, which means the companies working on this technology are making a big, and risky, financial bet. KittyHawk, the Larry Page–backed flying-taxi company, demonstrated its first beyond-visual-line-of-sight flight—a critical milestone for its tech—in Ohio, but then shut down this past fall. Officials also need to figure out how to collaborate with the federal agencies focused on regulating airspace and aviation, and particularly with the FAA. Eventually, they’ll need to convince passengers to feel safe and comfortable actually riding these vehicles, which could be a significant undertaking.

There has been progress. Today, several aviation startups are active in Ohio. Both Beta Technologies and Joby Aviation have used a simulator facility based at the Springfield airport. Springfield was also where the Austin-based Lift Aircraft eVTOL startup brought its first vehicle, its single-seat flying taxi, Hexa. Moog, an aerospace and defense company, has tested its two-seat SureFly eVTOL vehicle at the Cincinnati Lunken Airport, too.

Near Dayton, AFWERX, the Air Force’s startup incubator, uses the Wright-Patterson Air Force Base for advanced air-mobility work. NASA has conducted other advanced air-mobility work in the state, including studying the level of noise eVTOL aircraft produce as they travel.

Of course, other states are also trying to snag a piece of this future industry. New York now has an FAA-approved drone corridor, and the state has invested tens of millions in uncrewed aircraft. Companies have also tested eVTOLs in North Carolina, and NASA is investigating electric helicopters in Texas. Still, the idea is that investing heavily in this effort—and solving the real challenges of UAS and eVTOL systems—now will keep Ohio’s aviation history alive.

“We have to continue to develop the technologies,” Elaine Bryant, the executive vice president of aerospace and defense at the Dayton Development Coalition, said. “There’s a lot of research in AI and sensors and autonomy. All the things that will allow these vehicles to be efficient and allow us to get around and not just move people but move goods and services as well. “

The Conversation (0)