Two South Carolina municipal airports are getting in on the ground floor, shall we say, on a new mode of transportation coming out of a Japanese company that recently opened an office in Beaufort.
Or more precisely eVTOL aircraft. They are designed to carry one or a handful of people from one area of a city to another.
Think Uber via a vehicle that looks sort of like a helicopter. Uber is also developing a version of this type of vehicle.
SkyDrive is the company that has located in Beaufort, its first location in the United States.
Columbia Metropolitan Airport and Greenville Downtown Airport have signed on to study the idea.
Frank Murray, director of Planning & Facilities at the Columbia airport, said eVTOLs are an extension of drones that can carry people in an up and coming industry known as Advanced Air Mobility.
He said SkyDrive was introduced to Beaufort and South Carolina when company executives were invited to the Beaufort County Economic Development in July 2022.
“The decision to make South Carolina our home base and our window into the U.S. market was an easy one considering that it is a significant player in both the commercial and military aviation industries, and it is home to more than 400 aerospace and aviation companies including Boeing and Lockheed Martin,” Tomohiro Fukuzawa, SkyDrive founder and chief executive officer, said in a news release.
The idea is to work with airports and state officials to study practical commercial uses for the technology.
Besides aviation resources, South Carolina benefits from mild climate and a healthy tourism industry, the company said. One of its major suppliers, Toray Carbon Magic Co., has a manufacturing plant in Spartanburg.
SkyDrive has a vehicle that can carry one person and by 2025 expects to have one manufactured that can carry four or five people.
Murray said one of the questions they will try to answer is whether such an aircraft has applications in a state like South Carolina or is better suited for a major city such as Los Angeles.
The aircraft can simply hop over traffic and geography such as lakes and rivers.
All sorts of steps need to be taken, including working with the FAA and NASA, before the idea even comes close to reality, if it does, Murray said.
A side interest for Columbia is it gives a young airport staff something exciting to work toward, he said.
If it works, all sorts of spinoff industries would result, such as taxi services, maintenance facilities and inspections.
“We want to stay involved in the conversation,” Murray said. “We’re not changing our landscape.”
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