The skies over Latin America’s largest city are set to witness a futuristic aerospace revolution after the Brazilian budget airline Gol struck a deal that could see it ferry commuters around São Paulo in hundreds of low-cost zero-emission electric air taxis.
“It’s going to be an absolute disrupter. We’re going to democratise air travel,” Dómhnal Slattery, chief executive of the group that will provide the aircraft to Gol, claimed in an interview with the Financial Times.
Slattery, from the Dublin-based firm Avolon, which recently placed an order for 500 of the aircraft from their British manufacturer, admitted helicopters were the “domain of the ultra wealthy”. Nowhere is that more true than in Brazil’s economic capital, where South America’s super-rich have long used them to hop between luxury beach properties, ranches and heavily guarded compounds.
But the Avolon boss claimed the introduction of VA-X4 eVTOLs (electric vertical takeoff and landing) aircraft to São Paulo would be a gamechanger for commuters once the taxis, which look like a futuristic cross between a helicopter and a glider, were delivered in late 2024 or 2025.
“Our basic estimate at the moment is that the operating cost here for this aircraft will be the equivalent of $1 per passenger over a 25-mile trip,” Slattery told the FT. “We think we can get the cost of this down to the equivalent of an Uber ride, equivalent to downtown Manhattan to JFK.”
Few cities are crying out for such a revolution more than São Paulo, a sprawlingmetropolis with more than 12 million inhabitants and choked by a fleet of 8.6m vehicles.
In the late 1990s, the congestion became so bad in what is now the world’s fifth biggest city after Tokyo, Delhi, Seoul and Shanghai that authorities were forced to introduce a number plate rotation system for vehicles.
Stephen Fitzpatrick, the head of the British aerospace manufacturer that produces the aircraft, Vertical Aerospace, said the flying taxis would be ideal for Brazil’s biggest city and will “transform how we travel around high population density cities that are clogged with traffic”.
“We’ll be looking to Asia after São Paulo,” Avolon’s chief commercial officer, Paul Geaney, told Reuters.
The Bristol-based Vertical Aerospace was founded in 2016 and promises to pioneer “a new era in vertical transport”.
“In heavily populated regions, neither cars nor public transport can cope with demand. The VA-X4 will transform the way people travel,” its website claims.