Over the last several years, the transportation sector has been greatly influenced by technological advances. Innovations have pushed electric vehicles into the mainstream, and autonomous cars are being tested in numerous cities throughout the world. But one area where technology looks to be most disruptive involves the aviation sector. For years, there has been quite a buzz about flying taxi models being available soon. Likewise, several flying taxi companies have continued to jockey for position in a highly competitive market. And based on recent advances, it now looks like these transportation options may become a reality within the next two years.
Before flying taxi companies can realize their visions, however, several pieces of the puzzle must be in place. Flying taxi models must be able to perform safely as well as efficiently in order to get FAA approval. This requires different steps based on whether a vehicle is piloted or pilotless. This reality also must have infrastructures such as vertiports where flying taxis can take off and land. And of course, consumers must buy into this new form of transportation based on convenience and cost. Though such barriers pose formidable challenges, progress continues to be made in all these areas. This progress is why many anticipate flying taxis will be in our midst very soon.
Noteworthy Flying Taxi Companies
Several flying taxi companies have emerged with plans for the future. These companies offer a variety of different flying taxi models with different propulsion structures and guidance systems. Some use a tilt-thrust model where electric motors angle themselves to allow flight. Others have multi-rotor systems that are more drone-like in design. And some have a combination of these features, often referred to as a lift-and-cruise approach. In all cases, however, these flying taxi models are referred to as eVTOL (electric vertical takeoff and land) vehicles. And more than a dozen exist now.
One of the best-known flying taxi companies is the California-based startup, Joby Aviation. Its flying taxi recently flew at 205 mph in testing, believed to be the fastest for an eVTOL yet. It has also travelled nearly 155 miles on a single battery charge. Based on these and other accomplishments, the company now expects to introduce its flying taxi models in 2023. And backed by Uber, the company also hopes to leverage the ride-share company’s existing clientele to its advantage.
Joby Aviation is not alone, however. Archer is another California-based startup designing flying taxi models. Lilium and Vertical Aerospace are some based in Europe. Velocopter is another located in Germany that has also made tremendous progress as has Bristol-based Vertical Aerospace. And perhaps the most advanced company, Skydrive, is actively testing flying taxi models in Japan. Its 8-propeller, 8-battery design is compact enough to fit into two car parking spaces. It is also expected to launch publicly in 2023, first appearing in the tourism sector. Without question, competition is fueling the rapid pace of development among these flying taxi companies.
“Our view is that is the big strategic advantage of Wisk, going straight to a self-flying aircraft, building those principles in at every level of the design and development.” – Marc Allen, Chief Strategy Officer, Boeing
Piloted Versus Pilotless Options
Many of the flying taxi companies are starting with plans to have piloted flying taxi models. This approach is reasonable from several perspectives. For one, a piloted flying taxi will be more likely to be accepted by consumers as being safe. The same is likely true in pursuing FAA licensing and permitting as well. But some companies are choosing to design self-flying cars from the very beginning. Their pilotless flying taxi models have the advantage of being designed for autonomous function in every aspect. While this might take longer to reach the market, its long-term perspective may offer competitive benefits.
One of these autonomous flying taxi models is called Wisk Aero. This flying taxi represents a joint venture between Boeing and Kitty Hawk, with Kitty Hawk originating out of Google. Recently, Boeing sunk another $450 million into the Wisk Aero project with a recommitment to focus on autonomous function. Currently, it looks like Wisk Aero could be the first autonomous eVTOL to receive certification. And based on current progress, industry experts predict it could be traveling the skies by 2028.
“If it’s right downtown opposite the train station, 60 seconds from the city center or your office, it will be used and will become routine.” – Ricky Sandhu, Founder and Executive Chairman of Urban-Air Port
Infrastructure Paving the Way
While the technology surrounding flying taxi models is impressive, these eVTOLs will still require a place to land. Because their take off and landing requires much less space that airplanes, attractive options exist. As noted, Skydrive has designed their eVTOLs to fit within existing parking areas. But air traffic in such locations raise concerns about safety and congestion. As a result, some companies are exploring other types of infrastructures to accommodate flying taxi companies. This too is rapidly advancing at the present time.
One of these types of companies is British startup, Urban-Air Port. Its current plans including constructing more than 200 hubs that will be used by flying taxi companies in the future. In total, they anticipate having vertiports in roughly 65 cities in numerous countries. These not only include the U.S., the U.K. and several in Europe. But is also expects to have several in S. Korea, Australia and Asia as well. The company’s expected timeline for these hubs is about 5 years overall. This will align well with the need for this type of infrastructure if flying taxi models expand as predicted.
Rapid Adoption Will Drive Rapid Growth
Currently, it’s hard to predict exactly when flying taxi models will decorate the skies. Delays in FAA certification and municipal obstacles could result in some delays. But according to most experts, flying taxi companies plan for major launches in 2023 to 2024. In fact, Paris anticipates using flying taxis as part of the 2024 Olympics. And industry projections expect the overall industry to be worth $12.4 billion by 2027. This is a significant increase from the 2020 figure of $6.4 billion. If all goes as planned, however, these look to be the targets those in the industry hope to reach. And so far, things seem to be right on pace.