Then there is the German Volocopter, which would produce the first flying taxis: the VoloCity is designed for a passenger who can travel unmanned in a self-driving electric vehicle between vertiports (airports with vertical landing), as early as 2022. However, the price of a ride starts at €300 – which they are still trying to make more competitive. Several companies have teamed up with car manufacturers, such as Japan’s SkyDrive with Toyota, to create the world’s smallest electric flying taxi, and have already made several successful test flights, albeit lasting only minutes. Some are working on developing jetpacks that can be carried on our backs, such as Britain’s Consider Gravity Industries, which could strap 1050 horsepower – roughly the power of a Formula 1 car – to us to race through the urban skies like superheroes.
Among the many individual solutions, relatively few are also thinking of revolutionising public transport and freight, like New York’s Kelekona, whose first flying bus can carry 40 people – or 5 tonnes of goods. The eVTOL flies not with wings, but with two huge (adjustable) propellers like drones, so it can take off from an area the size of a bus stop. Not just in the city, it is also a top performer in intercity transport: it can cover a 7-hour drive in an hour, for example between San Francisco and Los Angeles.
NASA’s designers have some surprises in store for us, too, although they are working on transforming the entire aviation infrastructure, not just models. One of their key tasks is to build confidence in the travelling public and convince them that the switch to flying vehicles is not because the technology already makes it possible, but because they are safer, faster and more environmentally friendly than conventional modes of transport. Their long-term goal is to solve all the challenges of full automation, just like self-driving cars, and to create air transport without human control.
Potentially hundreds of thousands of aircraft flying at the same time will pose new challenges not only to transport managers but also to urban planners. New take-off and landing sites, new air corridors and hangars will be needed, which will also significantly change the urban landscape. The European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) has already started to develop its own technical and safety requirements for flying vehicles, from the positioning of emergency exits to the necessary lighting, but is also struggling to officially classify flying cars, to see what distinguishes them from aeroplanes and helicopters. It also shows that without broad cooperation and collaboration between the technology sector and governments, transport authorities and urban planners, flying cars will remain a pipe dream for the time being.