It is logical to think that if in a few years or decades people will travel primarily by air rather than by road, then public transport, which carries a large part of the traffic in big cities, will be over our heads. The fact that, unlike air taxis, the development of air buses has not yet started is mainly due to technical obstacles, but the first swallows are already on the scene.
At the end of April, a New York company called Kelekona announced a very interesting concept, an electric powered take-off and landing vehicle (eVTOL), which works in much the same way as the Volocopter and Lilium, the pioneers in this field. However, while the Volocopter’s vehicle can carry 4-5 people and Lilium’s air taxi can carry up to seven, Kolokona’s eVTOL can carry up to 40 people or nearly half a tonne of cargo at a time.
“We’re trying to compete with public transport 100 percent of the time,” the company’s founder Braeden Kelekona confirmed to Digital Trends. Based on plans that exist only on paper for now, the air bus would cover the 531 kilometres between Los Angeles and San Francisco in just under an hour, a journey that takes a good five to six hours by conventional bus. It would take about the same time to fly from New York to Washington or from London to Paris. Although Kelekona does not indicate on its website what the range of the air bus would be, the examples given suggest that it would be at least 500-600 kilometres.
To make this possible, Kelekona took an unconventional approach to the design: as the company’s founder puts it, they were effectively designing a “flying battery”, meaning that the first stage of the design was to decide what kind of battery would be needed to make the design a reality, and build the rest of the plane around that. The battery pack for the airbus is mounted on the underside of the vehicle and can be easily removed on wheels, so that the battery pack can be replaced between trips, meaning passengers would not have to wait for the airbus to be recharged. Other details of Kelekona’s plans include that the vehicle would be piloted by a pilot, so unlike many similar concepts, it would not be self-driving, but would use stereo cameras and radar to scan its surroundings, so it could warn of any danger, whether it’s another plane, a flock of birds or a weather anomaly, from up to 160 kilometres away. The aircraft will be powered by a total of eight rotors, which the designer says will meet FAA, EASA and other regulatory requirements.
According to Kelekona, such a plane could have a wide range of uses, from passenger transport to air ambulance, standard container transport and military use. The company plans to have the first cargo planes in the air by 2022, with passenger transport from 2024. The first air buses will run between Manhattan and the Hamptons on Long Island, and will reportedly cost $85 each. As New Atlas points out, Kelekona is not the first to come up with the idea of an airbus, as in February the British company GKN Aerospace came up with a similar concept, although their airbus, which can carry 30 to 40 people, would also have wings.