Photo credit: Lilium
by David M. Sykes, Vice Chair, The Quiet Coalition
Here they come, ready or not: Get used to the words “vertiport” and “air taxi,” because it’s happening faster than many thought. The FAA Re-Authorization Act, signed into law in October 2018 included five provisos we welcomed that address the airport and aircraft noise issue. But the same Act also approved what aircraft futurists wanted: accelerated development of both drone deliveries–backed by Amazon and Google–and what we used to call “AirUber,” i.e., mostly electrically-powered, small, vertical-takeoff air taxis known technically as electric vertical take off and landing vehicles, or eVOTLs. In the end, aircraft may get quieter, but there are going to be lot more of them buzzing around.
Andrew J. Hawkins, writing in The Verge, describes a deal between the Orlando city council and the richly funded German start-up company Lilium, which has launched and begun testing its 5-passenger eVOTL. Clearly, there’s a long way to go, and as Hawkins points out there are at least 100 companies actively competing in this exciting new eVOTL space. But the vast majority of these companies are in Europe and China, not the U.S. Why? Because the FAA has been busy protecting Boeing’s back and preventing development of these next-gen aircraft here.
No Matter. Let the Europeans and Chinese get a head start building quiet, electric or hydrogen aircraft. The greatest driver of innovation in the U.S. has always been outside competition—other people beating us at the innovation game. The first computers were built and used in the UK. The first airplanes and rockets were used in warfare by Germany. The first satellite was launched by Russia. So if the world is going to get quiet, non-petro-fueled next-gen aircraft, others will get there first. It’s an old story. But this time, we need Congress and a well-organized, national constituency to stand up and demand that drone makers and eVOTL companies like Lilium explicitly address the noise problem. Otherwise, we may hear them flying over our houses and backyards. We need a say in the process before they land on these shores. That’s what the National Quiet Skies Coalition and the 50 members of the Congressional Quiet Skies Caucus are supposed to be doing.
We need to push them. Now. Get ready.
David Sykes chairs several professional organizations in acoustical science: QCI Healthcare Acoustics Project, ANSI Committee S12-WG44, the Rothschild Foundation Task Force on Acoustics, and the FGI Acoustics Committee. He is lead author of “Sound & Vibration 2.0” (Springer, 2012), a contributor to the NAE’s “Technology for a Quieter America” and the GSA’s “Sound Matters,” and co-founded the Laboratory for Advanced Research in Acoustics at Rensselaer Polytech. A graduate of UC-Berkeley with advanced degrees from Cornell, he is a frequent organizer of professional conferences in the U.S., Europe, Asia and the Middle East.