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The Brooklyn Bridge, center, and Manhattan Bridge, left, as seen from a Blade helicopter. Photo: Jeenah Moon/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The future of urban air mobility is a lot closer than you think and could start changing the way cities work in just a few years.

The big picture: As roads get ever more congested, transportation is moving to the skies. Electric flying taxis will zip over choked highways, ferrying passengers among a network of "vertiports" around the city. From there, passengers can walk or use another mode of transportation to get to their final destination.

I got a glimpse of the future this week on a quick day trip to New York, where I tried out Blade Urban Air Mobility's helicopter service from Manhattan to JFK Airport.

  • The trip — five minutes in the air, and 20 minutes to curbside at my terminal — cost $195.
  • That compares to the one hour and 13 minutes it would have taken midday in an Uber, which quoted me a fare of $111 (or $142 for an Uber Black car).

How it works: The booking process on Blade's website or app is simple and straightforward. I typed in what time I wanted to arrive at the airport and it scheduled my seat on the appropriate helicopter.

  • The Blade West lounge — in a trailer next to the Hudson River at 30th Street and 12th Avenue — isn't impressive from the street, but inside, there's everything you'd expect in a VIP lounge.
  • When it was time to board, the Blade staff escorted me and another passenger to the whirring chopper, where we buckled into our leather seats, put on headsets and took off.
  • We headed south over the Hudson, around the tip of Manhattan, and then flew over Brooklyn to Queens, where we landed at the Sheltair general aviation facility at JFK.
  • I was escorted off the helicopter to a waiting Cadillac Escalade, where the driver already had my flight information and took me straight to my terminal.

My thought bubble: The Blade flight was both spectacular and sobering. The stunning views of the Manhattan skyline and the Statue of Liberty were obscured by smoke from the wildfires out West that scientists have linked to human-caused climate change.

  • Electrifying transportation — cars, buses, trucks and even aviation — is more urgent than ever.

What's next: A day after my flight, I called Blade CEO Rob Wiesenthal for his take on the transformation of urban mobility.

  • "It's becoming City 2.0," he told me. "Right now, we're thinking about what is New York going to look like five years from now?"
  • Perhaps as early as 2024, he says, the helicopters that Blade flies today will start to be replaced by a new type of electric vertical aircraft that is lightweight, quiet and emission-free.
  • Looking a bit like oversized drones, they mimic choppers on takeoff and landing, but then fly more like a typical airplane.
  • Companies developing these aircraft like Joby, Wisk and Lilium say they'll be cheaper to build and operate, making urban air mobility more affordable for everyone.

Go deeper

New lobby group will press an urban agenda in D.C.

Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios

The newly formed Coalition for Urban Innovation consists of 14 companies and nonprofits "dedicated to advancing federal policies that make our cities more sustainable and equitable through technology and innovation."

Why it matters: With the infrastructure bill still a congressional work-in-progress, the group aims to tilt money and policy toward smart infrastructure, energy efficiency, clean energy, reducing the carbon footprint of buildings and the like.

NASA estimates Tonga volcano exploded with force of 5-6 megatons

A satellite image of Hunga Tonga Hunga Ha’apai volcano on Dec. 24, before the eruption. Photo: Satellite image ©2022 Maxar Technologies

NASA scientists estimate the power of Tonga's volcanic eruption over the weekend to have been 5-6 Megatons of TNT equivalent.

Threat level: Saturday's eruption of the Hunga Tonga Hunga Haʻapai volcano and subsequent tsunami killed at least three people. Scientists warn an "ash-seawater cocktail" poses a potentially toxic health threat, and drinking water could be contaminated.

Updated 2 hours ago - Politics & Policy

New York AG alleges "significant evidence" of Trump Organization fraud

Combination images of former President Trump and New York State Attorney General Letitia James. Photo: Al Drago/Bloomberg via Getty Images; Scott Heins/Getty Images

New York's attorney general filed a motion Tuesday seeking to compel former President Trump and his two elder children to appear for sworn testimony in her office's civil investigation into the Trump Organization's financial dealings.

Why it matters: Attorney General Letitia James revealed new details in the court filing and a statement on her office's investigation into the Trump Organization's business practices, including a preliminary finding alleging the company used "fraudulent and misleading asset valuations to obtain economic benefits."