Aviation Week

MACKINAC ISLAND, MI — Uber for air travel could exist by 2020 in the form of an electric aircraft capable of vertical take-offs and landings, according to entrepreneur Jon Rimanelli.

Rimanelli owns Detroit Aircraft and Airspace X, companies that are working to deploy the aircraft. The concept is that within a 50-mile radius of the Detroit airport, these electric aircraft will be able to land at set landing stations, pick up a pod full of passengers and transport them to any other location in the metro area.

They’re in the process of finalizing an agreement with Uber, the transportation network company known for on-demand rides, Rimanelli said.

So say you’re in downtown Detroit and want to get to the airport in Romulus.

“Instead of driving a car to Metro Airport… you’d go to a heliport and for the price of an Uber X ride you can get to metro airport in about five minutes, no traffic,” Rimanelli said.

AirspaceX electric aircraft transportation

And it’s not just to the airport. The vehicles, since they’re capable of vertical take-offs and landings, only need a 40-by-40-foot footprint for a landing space. In the future you could summon rides between the whole network of landing pads across Metro Detroit’s suburbs.

He spoke with MLive at the Detroit Regional Chamber’s Mackinac Policy Conference, which he’s attending to build political support around the concept.

“My goal here is to try to build a critical mass with political support, governor, senators, mayors of cities and just socialize this new mode of mobility,” Rimanelli said.

His plan is to deploy initially in Detroit, Dalls and Dubai. But from there, the company could expand to areas around other airports all over the United States. Initially the company will be using pilots, but the vehicles will be capable of full automation.

He started Detroit Aircraft in 2011, but couldn’t get a lot of pickup on the concept, he said because people were cautious and it’s a capital-intensive business. So for a few years the company dabbled in drones before turning back to focus on passenger transport.

“Now people can see how this drone technology can actually be applied to cargo or passenger transport,” he said.

Aside from Uber, he sees the technology pairing well with other transportation services and things like package delivery.

And in the Detroit area he’s been able to leverage automated vehicle technology in designing hte aircraft. Plus, for the city, putting people in the air isn’t altogether new.

“A lot of people realize that Detroit has a very unique history in mobilizing the mass traveling public with cars on the ground, but a lot of people don’t realize it was Ford and Tri-Motor that commercialized air transportation in the 1920s,” Rimanelli said.

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