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Architects have envisioned eVTOL air taxis landing on all manner of fanciful skyports: from repurposed parking garages to futuristic towers of glass and steel. Now, the Florida-based company ILandMiami has another idea for how to accommodate eVTOL aircraft — on mobile, water-based landing vessels that can be strategically located to maximize safety and community acceptance.
ILandMiami is already manufacturing such a solution for helicopters in the form of its Marine Utility Vessel (MUV), a fully navigable catamaran or trimaran capable of landing aircraft up to 9,000 pounds (4,080 kilograms). Luis Folgueira, the company’s chief pilot and chief engineer, conceived of the MUV a decade ago as a way to sustain his helicopter tour and charter business in Miami, a city with few usable helicopter landing areas on shore.
While Folgueira initially planned on operating a network of MUVs himself, he and his current partners realized that the vessels had potential well beyond Miami, and the company shifted its focus to manufacturing. ILandMiami is presently working with luxury resorts and private residences to provide MUVs as helipads, enabling faster, more convenient access to these high-end properties. The vessels have also proven useful as seaplane docks.
According to CEO Krystal Fiksdal, who joined the company last year, ILandMiami is now looking toward eVTOL aircraft as the next potential market for its products. Water-based landing sites haven’t received much consideration in aeromobility discussions to date, but Fiksdal contends that they can play a valuable role in scaling up aerial ridesharing.
“Rather than fly over and land in densely populated cities in the first iteration, landing on water — allocated landing vessels and waterfront sites — could be the first stage in this future of flight,” she told eVTOL.com.
With the aeromobility market in mind, ILandMiami has developed the concept of a City Modular MUV, which connects multiple MUVs together to increase landing and usable space. These can be either connected by walkways or latched flush together, or used and docked/anchored separately to create a network of landing sites. The initial concept is based on standard MUVs — with dimensions of 55 by 20 feet (17 by six meters) and a draft of 18 inches (45 centimeters) — which are sized to fit into a dock space or slip. However, Fiksdal noted that each MUV can be designed to larger or smaller specifications depending on the location and mission.
While ILandMiami could potentially build static installations, Fiksdal pointed out that mobile landing sites have a number of advantages, particularly for early aeromobility applications. “By moving the vessel, moving the landing site, you’re moving the flight path, moving any community disturbance if there is any issue or if anything changes, or if you want to move it for an event,” she said.
Given that a number of pioneers in urban air mobility — including Blade, Uber, and Airbus’s Voom — are using helicopters to prove their concepts, MUVs could prove particularly useful in alleviating community concerns associated with these noisier aircraft. Said Fiksdal, “We don’t have the land restrictions necessarily, so you’re not disturbing a community that has said as a city or as a neighborhood that they do not want helicopters landing there.”
ILandMiami’s MUVs have some inherent limitations. They are not recommended for use in sea conditions of more than three feet (one meter) of chop, or in winds of greater than 30 knots. That restricts them to calmer bodies of water such as lakes, bays, sounds, and sheltered waterways. When used as a heliboat, they’re designed for transient use, not long-term parking, and are intended for visual flight rules (VFR) operations only.
Looking to the future, MUVs won’t serve the same function as larger eVTOL vertiports with extensive charging infrastructure and supporting facilities. Their use could also require eVTOL aircraft to be equipped with floats, which could be a critical weight concern in vehicles that rely solely on battery power.
“We do expect, given current conversations in reference to this space, that in the first iteration requirements for flying over water will follow current helicopter regulations,” Fiksdal acknowledged, noting that the feasibility of equipping eVTOL aircraft with floats will likely vary based on each model’s design and weight limitations. “It is certainly an important question, and we look forward to seeing how each eVTOL OEM takes this into consideration in their designs and planning for launch for future operations.”
While most of ILandMiami’s focus to date has been on commercial applications, the company also sees great potential for MUVs to serve the personal air vehicle (PAV) market, which is poised to explode with the availability of fully electric models like the Opener Blackfly and Kitty Hawk Flyer. The company is looking at adding covered parking and other features to its MUVs to enable them to serve as mini-hangars for these smaller, lighter aircraft.
“We do see that as an important space that we should be talking about in terms of infrastructure and airspace management,” Fiksdal said, noting the popularity of the ICON A5 amphibious light-sport airplane as suggestive of the potential for new eVTOL PAVs.
“There really is a new generation that’s looking at the light aircraft certifications and the different pilot certifications for being able to fly a ‘flying car’ home,” she continued. In addition to the many passengers who will be exposed to vertical flight for the first time through aerial ridesharing, Fiksdal said, “I think we’re going to see a lot of first-time pilots [in] this space.”
Meanwhile, as ILandMiami looks forward to serving a new generation of cleaner, greener VTOL aircraft, Fiksdal said the company is also exploring ways to make its MUVs more environmentally friendly, including through the development of a hybrid-electric engine and the incorporation of solar panels.
“We want to be respectful of the waters that we operate in, and so it’s a huge focus for us to make sure we can look into a sustainable future,” she said. “So as our partners are electrifying, we’re doing the same.”