In November 2023, Joby Aviation and Volocopter performed piloted demonstration flights of their electric vertical take-off and landing aircraft out of the Downtown Manhattan Heliport (also known by its location identifier, JRB). The high-profile public demo was one of the most significant milestones for the eVTOL industry to date, not least because it came with a commitment from New York City Mayor Eric Adams to equip the heliport for eVTOL operations.
Developers of electric aircraft for urban air mobility have been banking heavily on being able to use existing heliports like JRB for their initial operations. At the very least, the arrival of eVTOLs at JRB will be a test of how compatible they are with existing infrastructure and how successfully they can integrate with conventional helicopters. But a current request for proposals (RFP) by the New York City Economic Development Corporation (EDC) also opens the door to a much more ambitious reimagining of the space, which will ultimately be necessary for eVTOL operations at scale.
The RFP will result in a new contract for operation of the Downtown Manhattan Heliport — an award that was scrapped last year after losing bidders alleged a conflict of interest between EDC and the heliport’s current operator, Saker Aviation Services. The addition of eVTOL provisions to the RFP has attracted a host of new players to the competition, potentially shaking up the insular world of New York City helicopter operations. Mixing things up further is a requirement to add a marine micro-distribution facility to the heliport, which will be an early test of whether vertiports can serve as multi-modal transportation hubs without compromising aviation safety and efficiency.
All of these factors, plus New York City’s status as a premier market for urban air mobility, make the Downtown Manhattan Heliport uniquely important to the future of the eVTOL industry. The Air Current went deep into the RFP and associated filings to understand what’s at stake.
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