New aircraft could be option to taking ferry

Dan Sloat has traveled to Bainbridge Island several times to visit family so the Boston native has dealt with the slow and sometimes unreliable ferry system.

Sloat wants to find an alternative for BI residents to travel across the water. Drones could be the answer.

“When I got out of the military, drones were two things. They were either these killing machines or a hobby or someone flying one around for fun. For over twelve years, I have been looking forward to this technology being adapted for civilian use, and it’s almost here,” said Sloat, founder and president of Advanced Air Mobility Institute.

Sloat’s nonprofit partnered with Lyte Aviation to build eVTOLS—electronic vertical take-off and landing aircraft. “They are unique in how many passengers they can provide in a single group,” Sloat said. “Forty is pretty substantial. The majority of these aircraft can accommodate four so it fits this niche of what is viable as an alternative means of mass transportation.”

The eVTOL that Sloat hopes to place in BI is called the LA-44 Skybus. The hybrid-electric aircraft can go up to 300 kilometers per hour and carry 40 passengers, two pilots and two crew members. The range is up to 1,000 kilometers, and it has four propellers and windows similar to commercial aircraft.

Sloat said he has the background to make this work. “I was commissioned to be an officer and worked my way up to captain in the air force,” he said. “My interest in advanced mobility stems from doing UAS traffic management. That is orchestrating safe and efficient navigation of thousands of drones.

“We found that a vehicle that travels above the water is safer in the unlikely event of some type of accident and collateral damages are substantially lower.”

Besides having family on BI, Sloat chose the island because: “Bainbridge has that element that it tracks across the Puget Sound and down the (Hood) canal. Also, across Lake Washington and into Redmond.”

Sloat said a big problem so far is people do not comprehend eVTOLS. “It is tough for the public to accept this new concept when the average individual isn’t really aware of it in the first place,” he said. “It’s been so underwhelming because a lot of the important milestones took place during the pandemic. They were just trying to live and not pay attention to new technology.”

Since the concept is new, Sloat hopes locals can provide feedback. He has also partnered with ACES Northwest to spread positive messages of eVTOLS transportation. “They are going to be making sure the people on Bainbridge Island think this is fantastic,” he said.

Sloat’s first goal is to get two vertiports and two LA-44s onto BI. Then, the two aircraft will travel from Bainbridge to Redmond. “If we can get the price down to around $45 (per person), would you rather get to Redmond in 90 minutes depending on bad traffic or get there in 10 to 15 minutes?” Sloat said. “It is not just safe, affordable and convenient. We would be providing people the opportunity to get back to the people they care about the most much faster.”

If demand is high enough, Sloat will look to expand to SeaTac Airport, the University of Washington campus and more. Eventually, vertiports could fit in any neighborhood. However, Sloat is not looking to expand outside of BI anytime soon.

Before any of these locations can take vertiports and eVTOLS, Sloat needs to overcome a few more obstacles. Advanced Air Mobility Insitute needs to wait for the Federal Aviation Administration to receive input from various stakeholders and experts.

The 117th Congress passed the Advanced Air Mobility Coordination and Leadership Act last October. The act coordinates efforts to integrate the aircraft into the national airspace system, and for other purposes. The law states, “Advanced Air Mobility represents a key area of sustainable transportation and economic growth for the United States, and it is imperative that the federal government foster leadership and interagency collaboration in the adoption and deployment of this technology.”

The Advanced Air Mobility Institute requested information about the new law earlier this year. Their summary states, “The Department of Transportation is seeking public input on the development of a national strategy on Advanced Air Mobility” as required by the new law. DOT has formed a team of executive agencies that is seeking input on a variety of topics.

Before it is settled, they must come to a consensus on the values and costs. “That is a million-dollar question itself,” Sloat said. “What I can say is that a standard vertiport comes in at around $1 million.”

Of course, Sloat thinks it’s worth the cost. “The benefits come in the form of protecting the environment,” he said. “You can save up to two hours of traveling per day. Lastly, there is a safety element when you compare commercial aviation to private automobiles—those numbers are startling.”

The LA-44 Skybus won’t land on BI anytime soon. The date of approval from the FAA is unclear. If there is an agreement, it can take a few years to construct and prepare the aircraft for trips. But once the FAA approves it, “We can see the light by the end of the tunnel,” Sloat said.