A fascinating panel session at this year’s Electric Aircraft Symposium talked about the market potential of eSTOL aircraft and its technology.

Organised by The CAFE Foundation and co-sponsored by the Vertical Flight Society (VFS), the event is usually held in conjunction with the Experimental Association (EAA) AirVenture in Oshkosh, but has gone virtual this year after AirVenture was cancelled.

From 28th – 30th July, more than 30 industry experts from a dozen countries participated in 12 in-depth panel discussions, covering topics including commuter/regional air service, Urban Air Mobility, electric aircraft configurations, community integration, market segments and testing and certification.

Moderated by Ken Swartz of Aeromedia Communications, this session on Wednesday featured Bruno Mombrinie, Founder of CEO of MetroHop, John Langford, Founder and CEO of Electra.aero and Co-Founder and CEO of Airflow.aero, Marc Ausman.

Mombrinie started off the discussion by talking about MetroHop’s cargo plane, which the company says can revolutionise the parcel and package delivery service in greater metropolitan areas. It can take-off and land in 200ft and has the ability to carry payloads of up to 1,000lbs.

Travelling at speeds of 250mph for about 125 miles, he added that because of the aircraft’s low RPM, its propellers and motors would be extremely quiet – making it perfect for travel in urban environments.

MetroHop’s Mid-Mile system aims to solve the middle-mile efficiency for parcel transport, with robotically-loaded cargo bins and hot-swapped battery poads helping to replace parcel bins from the aircraft in less than a minute. Altogether, the total time from touchdown to take-off is seven minutes.

To demonstrate the company’s ability to reduce CO2 emissions, Mombrinine explained that four MetroHop cargo planes can do the work of 40 trucks. Flying point-to-point and at a 1/3 of the distance, a squadron of 25 planes would take 250 trucks off the road and eliminate 100 million pounds of CO2 every year.

The planes would fly into two omni-directional airstrips – known as MetroDocks. Measuring 99 metres by 99 metres, two planes would fly in as two planes fly out – with a four minute turnaround time to replace empty parcel bins with full ones. Costing $6 to $9 million to install and optimise at fulfilment centres, Mombrinie concluded by saying the company would be willing to invest $1 million to help get this business model off the ground.

Making the case for eSTOL aircraft compared to eVTOL, Ausman said the aircraft would only need 150ft of ground roll for take-off and landing, which would translate into a 300ft runway when accounting for a safety margin. He says operating costs for eSTOL aircraft would also be 60 per cent lower, development costs reduced by 70 per cent and emit less noise.

A STOL runway is the equivalent of three helipads
Multi-use facility: STOL runway in blue, helipads, and parking spots

He went on to talk about a study by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), which revealed there are thousands of rooftop sites across major cities in the USA, including Boston, Chicago, Dallas, New York and Los Angeles.

“If just one per cent are viable sites, then we can have about 25-62 locations per city. It’s totally feasible that we could build something that can support different types of aircraft”, he said.

Electra.aero is developing hybrid-electric aircraft for regional mobility and finishing off the discussion, Langford said there is a tremendous potential to make sure regional air mobility can move people out of cars and into airplanes, adding that most eVTOL missions could be achievable using eSTOL aircraft.

He added that shorter journeys are unlikely to save time, due to passengers having to travel to and from each vertiport, but added that places like Norway – who are pushing for sustainable travel options – would be a great country to become an early adopter of this kind of technology.

When asked what needs to be done to get eSTOL off the ground, Mombrinie said: “Once we have demonstrated what they are going to do. Development programmes are only going to take us a year, when it would take eVTOL companies at least 10. What we are doing is a lot easier. The issue of noise is not going to go away, but it is a great that we’re not the only one doing this anymore.”

Another company pushing eSTOL technology over eVTOL is Pyka. The California-based company is using autonomous, eSTOL planes to perform commercial crop-dusting operations in New Zealand.

We spoke to Michael Norcia, Pyka’s Co-Founder and CEO as part of a podcast earlier this year, and we’ve also had similar discussions with Mombrinie and Ausman, with these episodes being released soon.