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Skyryse bets its helicopters will be your first flying taxi

The modified aircraft will offer rides as cheap as a bus ticket and as safe as an elevator, the startup promises.

Skyryse helicopter
Skyryse plans a helicopter-based taxi service. The helicopter are modified to be easier to fly.

When it comes to flying taxis, there are plenty of radical ideas ranging from extra-large cars that convert into aircraft to electric craft that take off vertically and fly themselves. Startup Skyryse, though, is betting that an ordinary looking but somewhat autonomous helicopter is the best option for whisking commuters through urban airspace.

The company announced on Tuesday its first autonomous helicopter flight, but the company's vision is to shuttle passengers from one "smart pad" to another with pilots flying the crafts. The helicopters are modified with sensors and control systems designed to make them safer and easier to fly than today's standard models, said Mark Groden, Skyryse's chief executive and founder.

The company doesn't plan to sell helicopters but rather a city-spanning service called Flight Stack that includes the modified aircraft, a system for communications and scheduling, and the smart pads. Given today's regulations and aircraft maturity, though, Skyryse thinks its approach is the most practical. He promises an air taxi network with rides as cheap as a bus ticket and as safe as an elevator.

"This space has been full of a bunch of people showing beautiful and far-fetched concept designs," Groden said. But for safety and reliability, "this is the approach to take."

The company still faces challenges. Helicopters are loud, competitors like Uber Air are racing to build their own services, and Skyryse's system still requires passengers to get themselves to and from the smart pads. Skyryse will also need to integrate not just with today's centralized air traffic control system but with the more complex update that the Federal Aviation Administration is creating with NASA and industry partners.

That future airspace management system, called UTM is designed to handle lots of independent aircraft, including passenger-carrying drone-like craft and thousands of delivery drones buzzing through the air. It's not arriving soon, but it's emblematic of just how radical the changes coming to our skies could be.

Skyryse, founded in 2016 and based in Hawthorne, California, has 40 employees. Among them are former employees at Ford, Airbus, Boeing, Tesla, Uber, JetSuite Air and JetBlue.

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