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They're not quite flying cars, but Mandarin rep wants Florida to be ready

AP VTOL Photo
Business Wire
/
Via AP
A digital mockup shows a proposed VTOL craft from Transcend Air Corp. in helicopter mode. Transcend Air entered into a deal with GE Aviation last year to make engines for the craft.

Flying cars were the stuff of "Back to the Future" and "The Jetsons" — elements of a post-scarcity society where everyone got where they needed to go with no hassle.

It's not the way state Rep. Jason Fischer, R-Mandarin, describes his legislation to prepare Florida for the advent of VTOL — or vertical takeoff and landing craft. But the intent of the technology is the same: more convenient, affordable air travel.

One day, Floridians might step onto little flying craft and sail off to other parts of the city or state more quickly than they could by loading a traditional airplane. It's not flying cars, perhaps, but it's a bit of science fiction that might be closer than you think.

Fischer's bill, HB 1005, would create an "Advanced Air Mobility Study Task Force," a board of at least 20 state, local and industry leaders that would position Florida for VTOL — specifically flying craft that could lift off using electric power rather than fossil fuels.

The effort includes looking ahead at laws on the books and preparing or removing regulations depending on the needs of the burgeoning industry that won't bring a product to market for at least five years.

"I think Florida has the opportunity to be a leader in this space," Fischer said. "I think realistically three to five years, we're not going to see everywhere in the state the technology being used, but you'll see testing."

Corporations — and the federal government— have looked into eVTOL, including Toyota, Boeing and NASA. The air force demonstrated a prototype eVTOL in 2020 and committed over $30 million through 2021 for research and development.

Fischer sees Florida as ripe ground for the technology.

"As the industry looks to deploy, the state has to have some kind of thoughtful response to it. And I think we should encourage it. We should encourage it to be safe and reliable for the public," he said. "The bills are a little bit ahead of the time, so hopefully we'll get robust public input."

Fischer identified Lilium as a business already looking to develop eVTOL infrastructure in Orlando, but he believes Jacksonville would be another prime opportunity for companies looking to invest their technology.

"We have multiple airport facilities around the city. Air mobility technology could create even more of these. It could be Herlong or Cecil, [Jacksonville International Airport] or Craig. There's land out in the Southside that could be used this way." Fischer said.

According to Fischer, state government ownership over most of Florida's airports and related assets means the state has the responsibility to be open to air mobility technology and help it develop.

The House version of the bill will appear in committee Tuesday. A companion bill filed by Republican state Sen. Gayle Harrell of Stuart is awaiting action.

Reporter Raymon Troncoso joined WJCT News in June of 2021 after concluding his fellowship with Report For America, where he was embedded with Capitol News Illinois covering Illinois state government with a focus on policy and equity. You can reach him at (904) 358-6319 or Rtroncoso@wjct.org and follow him on Twitter @RayTroncoso.