Will unmanned flying taxis one day emerge in Long Beach’s skies? A local nonprofit and Bay Area aerospace company are trying to figure that out.
The Long Beach Economic Partnership (LBEP) and the advanced air mobility company Wisk Aero have formed a working group to look into the feasibility of using Advanced Air Mobility (AAM) in Long Beach.
Advanced air mobility (AAM) is defined as using unmanned aircraft to bring air transportation to areas not typically accessible by aviation, such as urban centers that can’t fit an airstrip.
The LBEP is an organization that works to increase jobs, businesses and economic opportunities in Long Beach. The organization works closely with the Economic Development Department to work towards the City’s economic goals.
The working group formed by LBEP and Wisk Aero is expected to spend two years evaluating the potential impacts and opportunities AAM could bring to Long Beach, according to a statement made in February.
In line with this goal, the group will focus on four areas: analysis of economic impact and workforce development, community acceptance and outreach, integration of autonomous AAM into city transportation plans, and federal and state government funding opportunities.
According to LBEP interim executive director Leah Goold-Haws, since the partnership was announced in February, the working group has increased in size as interest in the project has grown. But now the working group is reducing its numbers “to those who are fully committed.”
According to Wisk Aero, its two-passenger self-flying air taxi is 21 feet long with a 36 foot wingspan.
The self-flying electric air taxis manufactured by Wisk Aero are capable of taking off vertically, eliminating the need to gather momentum on a runway before becoming airborne. The front and back of the wings are lined by small propellers that allow it to travel straight up into the air, similar to how a helicopter takes off. This type of aircraft is known as Vertical Take-Off and Landing aircraft (VTOL).
The working group also provides feedback on an economic impact study funded by Wisk Aero, which is being conducted by the Cal State Long Beach (CSULB) Office of Economic Research. The study is researching the annual economic impact AAM operations would have in Southern California and other regional state economies. The results of the economic impact study are expected to be completed later this year.
According to Leah Goold-Haws, interim executive director of the LBEP, there are two models currently being discussed to allow the air taxis to take off and land:
partnering with local airports
building freestanding “vertiports” (a version of airports specifically for aircraft that can land and take off vertically) with lobbies and charging stations
According to Goold-Haws, the original conversation about the potential of Wisk Aero coming to Long Beach included Mark Taylor of Boeing, which supports Wisk, and the then-director of the Economic Development Department John Keisler.
“We have produced some of the world’s most modern aircraft, are leading in the space economy, and will now be home to new technologies in Advanced Air Mobility,” Mayor Robert Garcia said in a statement when the partnership was first announced in February. “We look forward to our partnership with Wisk and are proud of our local workforce who are educated, trained, and poised to make progress on these innovations.”
Goold-Haws admitted the air taxis won’t be affordable for everyone at first.
“When it comes to new technologies, I think there’s an initial cost barrier until those technologies grow just like an iPhone, if you will. With the first iteration of a phone it’s more expensive, but then as the new versions come out, it lowers the price,” Goold-Haws said. “I don’t know in the short term the type of customers that might use these drone taxis, but I know in the long term the goal is to see them in some ways similar to an Uber, so they’re meant for short term commutes.”
While there is no set date for when Wisk Aero’s air taxis will launch in Long Beach, Goold-Haws said that Wisk Aero and LBEP are considering trying to launch the first prototypes in time for the 2028 Olympics, which will be held in Los Angeles.