For urban environments, there are a number of struggles that represent modern challenges. Many highly populated areas suffer from frequent traffic congestion with constant highway gridlock. Most also are trying to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in an effort to combat climate change. And noise pollution, as well as air pollution, reflect a less pressing, but still concerning, problem. Imagine if a single technology could help city planners address all of these issues at once. Flying taxis of the future could be precisely that technology, and many innovative companies want to make that a reality.
Believe it or not, this reality might not be that far off into the future. Many competing firms anticipate having these offerings available to the public as early as 2023. One flying taxi company is actually moving forward with its concept in Brazil currently. While regulatory obstacles pose the greatest threat, recent progress suggests these may not be that concerning. But there’s tremendous competition in the field, and each flying taxi company believes their design and plan are the best. The following therefore offers an update on flying taxis of the future and which company might have the best advantage.
“We’ve laid out a plan for what we’re going to execute on over the coming years. We need to build credibility by delivering.” – JoeBen Bevirt. Founder and CEO, Joby
Recent Developments in the Industry
The proper term for flying taxis of the future are electric vertical takeoff and landing vehicles, or EVTOLs for short. Each flying taxi company, however, has their own version of their EVTOL, differing in range, speed, weight, etc. Despite this, all are electric, at least in part, with some being hybrid with a small gas-powered engine. Likewise, all have significantly reduced noise levels, even compared to a helicopter or small plane. And each flies at low altitudes with the hope of offering a new option for urban ride-sharing. These are the features of each that makes them so attractive, particularly for urban settings.
These represent the key developments in the industry from a technology side of things. But from a financing perspective, there have been some notable trends as well. The most notable has been the emergence of special purpose acquisition companies or SPACs. These are essential “blank-check” investment firms created for the sole purpose of advancing a startup in a promising area. In many instances, these startups may not even have a product on the market yet or enjoy any revenues at all. But SPACs not only provide funding, but they can allow them to go public faster via a reverse merger. This has been quite common in the last few years within the EVTOL sector.
“[Our EVTOL’s] full authority fly by wire system, the computer is flying the aircraft and the pilot is telling the computer what his or her desires are in terms of the trajectory of the aircraft. You can layer on autonomy system.” – Ben Tigner, CEO at Overair
The Top Flying taxi Company Contenders
Despite what would seem a relatively niche industry, there are a remarkable number of firms jockeying for position. Each flying taxi company has features that make them attractive and all are efficient and quiet. (Read more about blade-less air taxis in this Bold story.) And it’s hard to predict at this point which will provide the majority of the flying taxis of the future. Regardless, the following are some of these firms that are most likely to have staying power in the years to come.
- Overair – Based in Santa Anna, California, Overair plans to begin test flying its Butterfly EVTOL next year. The flying taxi company expects to be operating with FAA approval in the U.S. and South Korea by 2025. Its Butterfly weighs roughly 1,100 pounds, has 5 seats, and can travel at 200 mph with a range of 100 miles. More interestingly, it has no carbon emissions, is designed for harsh weather resistance, and is predominantly autonomous.
- Joby – This flying taxi company might be the frontrunner for the future taxis of the future. It recently went public via a reverse merger with Reinvent Technology Partners. Its EVTOL also has 5 seats, can travel 150 miles on a single charge, and boasts 6 quiet rotors. Joby has tremendous backing, including majority share holder Toyota Motors, and receive notable capital with its public offering. It plans to advance manufacturing and regulatory approvals by 2023 with ride-sharing operations by 2024. It also already has a contract with the U.S. Air Force for testing its models.
- Archer Aviation – This flying taxi company is also based in California and joined with SPAC Atlas Crest Investment Corporation. Its EVTOL can travel up to 60 mph with a range of 150 miles. The company anticipates being one of the active flying taxis of the future by 2024. In fact, despite an aircraft cost of $5 million, United Airlines has already place a $1.1 billion order with Archer. Therefore, it too is expected to be a flying taxi company with some clout in the years to come.
- Lilium – Based in Germany, Lilium is already making moves to be one of the major flying taxis of the future. It recently merged with Qell Acquisition Group with an expected EVTOL network for commercial use by 2025. It has also partnered with Brazilian airline company Azul, which will acquire 220 EVTOL from Lilium. Its aircraft can travel 155 miles in range at a speed of 175 mph.
“[Electric air taxi] backers focus on operating costs because they look great. As with [very light jets] (and light helicopters), seat per mile costs aren’t much more than with a nice car. Capital costs are the real problem.” – Richard Aboulafia, VP of Analysis, The Teal Group
Mixing in a Dose of Reality
As is evident, each flying taxi company has rather optimistic predictions for their year of commercial operation. Likewise, some like Joby anticipate widespread adoption of these flying taxis of the future rapidly. In reality, neither are likely, especially with federal aviation reviews that could add weight and safety measures to EVTOL designs. Certainly, the technology offers many advantages for urban environments. But the price tag of each aircraft makes routine use less likely in the near future until capital costs drop. Flying taxis of the future will eventually come, but hailing one outside your door isn’t likely to happen by 2025. But how cool will it be when this indeed becomes a reality.