The prospect of a flying taxis that lifts you over the traffic and speeds you to your destination is an enticing one — but are we any nearer to it becoming a reality?
A recent breakthrough by a UK-based company, which has built and flown a fully electric vertical takeoff and landing aircraft, suggests we are.
Plans to take ride-hailing app Uber into the skies with a new fleet of personal aircraft are also pressing ahead, with some experts suggesting that ambitions to introduce aerial taxis within three or four years are potentially achievable, if not necessarily affordable.
The UK’s Vertical Aerospace completed a test flight for its unmanned prototype in June 2018 after being granted flight permission by the country’s Civil Aviation Authority.
The VTOL aircraft, which weighs 750 kilograms, was designed, built and flown in just 12 months.
Founded by OVO Energy CEO Stephen Fitzpatrick in 2016, Vertical Aerospace aims to revolutionize how people fly by providing personal, on demand and carbon-free air travel between different cities.
“Passenger numbers for short haul flights have exploded in recent years, but as a result, aviation is now a major contributor to climate change and local air pollution,” says Stephen Fitzpatrick, the company’s founder, and CEO.
“We want to decarbonize air travel and give people the freedom to fly from their local neighborhood directly to their destination.”
Drawing on technology used in Formula 1 racing, it aims to launch VTOL services on specific UK intercity routes in the next four years.
“The lightweight materials, aerodynamics and electrical systems developed through F1 are highly applicable to aircraft, much more so than to road transport,” adds Fitzpatrick.
“By putting those technologies in the hands of experienced aerospace engineers, we can build cutting-edge aircraft for the 21st Century.”
Of course, aerial taxi plans have been in the works for a number of years, with Uber acting as the main driving force.
The ride-hailing giant revealed new details of its network of electrically powered flying taxis at the annual Uber Elevate Summit in May 2018.
This system would see passengers simply open an app, tap a button and hop on an elevator to the nearest vertiport.
From here an awaiting UberAIR would take them to a destination of their choice.
Uber has decided to launch in LA, Dallas and a third as-yet-undecided international city by 2023, with the first aircraft to be tested as early as 2020.