In Japan, the first air taxis could take off in 2025, in Europe a year earlier, although for the time being they can only carry luggage. The development of urban flying vehicles is at the finishing line. According to a European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) official, commercial services could be launched as early as 2024, starting with autonomous baggage drones. Japan, on the other hand, would like to have a complete set of regulations in place by 2025 to allow the use of passenger flying cars, albeit initially in one city and on a temporary basis.
EASA’s goal is to develop a global regulatory framework, so it is working with the US Federal Aviation Administration, the FAA and similar authorities in other countries, in addition to manufacturers, said EASA Director Patrick Ky. They are also considering a phased introduction. According to Bloomberg, the first step will be to develop regulations for small autonomous flying vehicles that can carry luggage, and the framework for passenger transport will be developed as experience is gained. The phasing-in is justified on safety grounds: the agency says autonomy management is a sticking point.
In Japan, the reason for the regulation is the 2025 World Expo in Osaka. According to the Nikkei, authorities in the island nation will begin drafting legislation next month to allow visitors to the World Expo not only to admire the hovering sedans, but also to travel in them.
There are practical reasons for the Japanese government to move quickly on the legislation. The organisers want to combine the pleasant with the useful. They expect that driverless urban flying vehicles will be the attraction of the World Expo, and any technical innovation will explode with much greater impact if it can be tried out. On the other hand, the World Expo site will be on a small island, currently connected to the city by a two-lane bridge, making access by flying vehicles much more convenient.
The Japanese also believe that it is worth speeding up the regulation of the area, as it is predicted that in the next decade these flying vehicles will be commonplace in urban transport in congested cities. And the World Expo could help to introduce and promote them.
For the time being, the aim is to establish the rules for the duration of the Expo and its immediate surroundings. This will involve not only the authorities but also manufacturers. Toyota, Joby Aviation in the US and Germany’s Volocopter are among those involved in preliminary discussions (the German company started selling its service in advance last year). The work is not starting from scratch: Japan plans to allow the use of parcel aircraft from 2023, and the regulatory framework for this has been in development since 2018.
Market analysts expect the sector to grow relatively quickly. According to Morgan Stanley, for example, the global market for autonomous city airplanes could reach $1,500 billion by 2040.
In any case, user confidence is there. EASA has carried out a European survey on the subject, asking 4,000 citizens in six European cities. Eighty-three per cent of respondents had positive expectations of autonomous urban air vehicles, particularly in areas such as emergency medical care.
The big question is whether regulations can be developed that guarantee the highest possible level of safety for the users of flying cars.