Advanced air mobility won’t end wildfires — nor should it

Joby Aviation’s CEO thinks autonomous aircraft flying 24/7 can “end wildfire”. The reality is more complicated.

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This post appeared as part of our Three Points Newsletter on August 12, 2022

Advanced air mobility technology has come far enough now that even its chief detractors are starting to admit that it might eventually be good for something. What exactly it will be good for remains a topic of active exploration.

At the White House AAM Summit last week, Joby CEO JoeBen Bevirt suggested that drones and new eVTOL aircraft, along with conventional helicopters equipped for autonomous operations, could be used to “aggressively fight fire” in a bid to combat climate change by reducing CO2 emissions. Bevirt, who famously built his company in the seclusion of a sprawling forest compound in Northern California, recalled when firefighting aircraft were unable to battle a wildfire in his community because their human pilots couldn’t fly in heavy smoke.

“In my view … our best lever to make a really significant difference in reducing our climate impact is to suppress wildfires,” he said. “If we can have autonomous helicopters that are flying 24/7, we can end wildfire. … We just need to develop a policy and implement it.”

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