Aska ‘Flying SUV’ To Provide On-Demand Air Taxi Services
In April 2021, Aska began collecting pre-orders from private buyers for their four-seat, hybrid-electric A5 eVTOL vehicle. In addition to having four motorized wheels and foldable wings, NFT says the Aska can quickly switch between driving and flying modes, and it's compact enough to park on a driveway or in a garage.
It was announced earlier this month at the 2023 Consumer Electronics show in Las Vegas that NFT would launch an on-demand ridesharing service with its Aska vehicles in the San Francisco Bay Area in 2026, after it debuted the first fully functional Aska prototype.
The Aska will be rented to pilots instead of hired directly by NFT, similar to the way Uber rents cars to drivers. According to Guy Kaplinsky, co-founder and CEO of NFT, a commercial pilot with a driver's license can rent an aircraft for some period of time and use it to pick up and drop off passengers. As with other ridesharing services, passengers and taxi pilots will connect via the Aska app to arrange rides.
Despite requiring a private pilot's license for Aska owners and operators, NFT says the vehicle will be semi-autonomous and relatively easy to operate. At some point, NFT plans to offer an Aska that is fully autonomous not require a pilot to be on board. However, the company doesn’t expect that to be feasible until the 2030s.
A VISUAL GUIDE TO NFT'S 'FLYING SUV' ASKA
As a result, pilots will need to drive their passengers to the nearest airport and then land at the closest airport to their destination in order to drive the rest of the way to their destination since it is doubtful that the Aska and other “flying cars” will ever be able to take off and land on roads. A short runway at almost any airport will allow the Aska to take off and land vertically or conventionally, depending on its mode of operation. An aircraft can take off from a 250-foot runway in less than five seconds for conventional takeoffs.
Vertical flight and hover mode require significantly more power than wing-borne flight, so taking off and landing on a runway helps conserve battery life. The Aska contains six propellers that provide vertical lift. An aircraft's wings will allow it to glide down for a safe landing during an in-flight emergency, but it comes with a built-in ballistic parachute that will lower the craft safely if gliding is not possible.
With a hybrid-electric vehicle, batteries are mostly powered by batteries, but a gas engine serves as a range extender, which recharges the batteries while the vehicle is on the move. Fueling up can be done at the same gas stations as normal cars, and premium gasoline is used, Kaplinsky said. Approximately 250 miles can be covered by the Aska on one charge.
Kaplinsky told RichReport that the company had long planned to offer on-demand flights even though it had not previously disclosed its plans. Initially, the campaign was all about personal ownership, Kaplinsky said, but "the major thing in urban air mobility is adaptation by people." In addition to providing NFT with an additional revenue stream, Aska could also become an accessible transportation option for those who cannot afford to buy one by offering on-demand flights.
There are some people who cannot afford the vehicle. According to Kaplinsky, most people do not use them on a daily basis in their garages. Interested buyers can reserve an Aska aircraft online by placing a refundable $5,000 deposit through the company's website. The aircraft costs $789,000, including the cost of pilot training. Several hundred people have preordered Aska so far, Kaplinsky said.
Similarly to Uber Black, Kaplinsky said NFT is targeting a price range of $3 to $4 per mile for on-demand flights. Like Uber Pool carpooling, passengers can also share rides with other passengers traveling on similar routes to lower the cost.
According to NFT, the Aska will be certified under the FAA's Part 23 small aircraft rules. The on-demand air taxi service will also require a Part 135 air carrier certificate, as is the case with Joby and Archer. However, NFT won't apply for the Part 135 certificate itself. Part 135 operations will be handled by an as-yet unnamed outside company, Kaplinsky said. NFT's proposed business model, in which pilots would rent aircraft on a short-term basis for revenue flights, is not clear, for now.
In the meantime, Kaplinsky said NFT is close to receiving FAA approval for the Aska's G1 type certification basis, and the company plans to begin flight testing the aircraft in the first quarter of 2023.