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Taxis of the skies

Evening Post & Mail
On electric aircraft, “Chicago Rockford” airport, and the less-appreciated aspects of air taxi service

Delta Airlines has entered into an arrangement to purchase a small fleet of electric air taxis. The move is being represented as a tool for the airline to provide door-to-door service for passengers who live in crowded urban areas, saving them time stuck in traffic and ultimately making air travel a more time-efficient option.
■ While that may be an outcome, observers shouldn’t overlook the possibility that electrified air travel (especially if it can be made autonomous) could actually have its most substantial impact in serving mid-sized metropolitan areas – the kind that are often the leading economic engines for laborsheds 50 miles in diameter.
■ The aircraft Delta is poised to put into service have a range of 150 miles, which is much more than urban-dwellers need to reach major airports. Certainly there are people who consider themselves New Yorkers who might still benefit from that kind of range, but for the most part, even with the expanding bullseye effect, it’s not all that far as the crow flies, even from the edge of any given American metropolitan area to the main airport.
■ Go far enough out, and another airport will take advantage: Westchester County Airport is 35 highway miles from JFK. Milwaukee’s Mitchell International and Rockford (already branded as “Chicago/Rockford”) aren’t all that far from O'Hare. And JFK already has LaGuardia in its immediate vicinity, just as O'Hare has Midway.
■ But consider, for example, the distances involved between the medium-sized metropolitan areas ringing Iowa: Des Moines to Omaha: 120 miles. Omaha to Sioux City: 90. Sioux City to Sioux Falls: 75. Sioux Falls to Mankato: 150. Mankato to Rochester: 75. Rochester to Waterloo: 100. Waterloo to Dubuque: 85. Dubuque to Davenport: 70. Davenport to Cedar Rapids: 65. And from Cedar Rapids back to Des Moines: 110 miles.
■ Converting these trips from hours in a car to minutes by air, and making them as predictably routine as bus stops, would tie the region conveniently together in a way that is impossible to imagine for now. They are impractical for commercial air service as we know it today, but the highway vehicle counts make it clear that those connections already have lots of travelers on them.
■ Time saved and connections enhanced would be robustly good for the communities and their economies alike. The idea of enhancing travel between and among them suffers because the constituency is diffuse, and, to some extent, remains under-developed. But it is real nonetheless and has great potential to do real good.
They won't even need to be yellow
They won't even need to be yellow
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Brian Gongol
Brian Gongol @briangongol

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