This week, the masses are in turmoil with the news that entrepreneur, fashionista and reality TV star Kylie Jenner is using her $70 million luxury private jet to take short-haul flights.
But short-range travel is far from an anomaly as we usher in an era of eVTOLs (electric vertical take-off and landing aircraft) for on-demand travel. And it remains, for the foreseeable future, the domain of the rich.
So, what’s the controversy with Jenner?
On one of her recent flights, she traveled in California between Camarillo and Van Nuys, a Flight of 17 minutes A flight follower reported this on Twitter.
Kylie Jenner’s jet landed in Van Nuys, California, USA. Apx. fl. time 17 min. pic.twitter.com/UaigKYnNou
— CelebJets (@CelebJets) July 13, 2022
Worse, she would have traveled 30 minutes by car in the opposite direction to take the flight.
And well, she’s been branded a ‘climate criminal’ by people who are angry that they wear a sweater instead of turning on the heating, walk or cycle instead of using the car, and always recycle their bottles.
80% of people have never taken a plane and Kylie Jenner makes regular 10 minute flights here, 5 flights in the past week under 30 minutes, one was 3 minutes long. Her carbon footprint for a ten-minute flight is more than some people make in a year.
— Summer Ackerman (@lifewithsommer) July 17, 2022
Europe is on fire, meanwhile, Kylie Jenner makes a 15-minute journey in her private jet. I could recycle everything, buy all my clothes second hand, compost and grow my own food for the rest of my life, and it wouldn’t even offset the footprint of one of her flights.
— Cara Lisette (@CaraLisette) July 18, 2022
But this doesn’t just mean an increase in the popularity of luxury airplanes (sales increased during the pandemic) but an eventual mainstreaming of private on-demand flights (and sometimes short-haul flights). And they’re not always that green.
Short-haul flights aren’t just for the ultra-wealthy
You can avoid the queue for Ubers at the airport if you are willing to be responsible for a lot of air pollution.
Cybersecurity guru Marcus Hutchins, known for end the spread of ransomware attack WannaCryrecently shared:
Uber from the airport costs $150, but for $190 I can get a helicopter
— Marcus Hutchins (@MalwareTechBlog) July 19, 2022
Uber helicopter operates between JFK International Airport and various locations in New York City. It’s bookable through the Uber app, which includes a ‘last mile’ trip to the helipad.
There are also Sheet helicopters available in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and other cities. Within 30 minutes of booking, you can fly in about five minutes between Manhattan’s West 30th Street Heliport and JFK International Airport for $195 per seat. (That’s a distance of about 19 miles by car and about 14 miles by plane.)
Yes, a five minute journey. That makes Kylie Jenner’s journey look positively long.
If you take away the annoying problem of the ridiculous carbon emissions, these private on-demand trips are a big part of the promise of future eVTOLs.
I wonder what people will think of them despite all their green credo, because it will be a long time before they become accessible to everyone – if ever. And they don’t get that many people out of their cars.
Shall we For real Getting eVTOLs for the cost of an Uber?
eVTOLs promise a future of point-to-point on-demand transportation for the price of an Uber. Most will be regional or cross-country, but a few companies, such as Archerplan to offer shorter trips, also known as city hopping.
The problem is, unless you look at Hutchinson’s quote for a low-end helicopter — I don’t — well, we’re a long way from eVTOL aviation for the price of an Uber.
For example, Archer offers to “democratize the sky” with: Flights on request of 25 minutes as an alternative to “gasoline-guzzling cars” at $3.30 per passenger mile.
That’s a pretty lofty goal, considering the eVTOL industry is building never-before-seen aircraft.
Then there are the lengthy legal and regulatory processes required as technology evolves, the necessary charging infrastructure, vertiports and air traffic management. Everything to allow a fairly modest number of people to fly in the first few years.
Robin Riedel, an aviation consultant at McKinsey & Company, notes that the likely costs: much more analogous to a private car than a taxi service, meaning early adoption will be limited to users who spend more. How many people can afford this kind of cost?
Furthermore, an eVTOL costs millions to build. Then there is the cost of infrastructure and training and hiring specialized pilots. We are still a long way from cost-effective, equal access that people carry.
I have high hopes for medium and long haul flights, especially using already established regional airports.
But I’m less convinced of the viability of short-trip eVTOLs.
I predict this will take all but the rich, at least for the first decade. This leaves people in traffic jams and queues at budget airlines wondering why investors haven’t put more money into transportation infrastructure like bullet trains and effective last-mile solutions.