Flying taxis, for a long time, have been every commuter’s dream. What was once thought of as a piece of science-fiction is now very quickly becoming a reality.
Below, we’ll take a look at this exciting new and emerging piece of technology, including some of the challenges the industry faces both in the air and on the ground.
New reality of flying taxies
Aircraft manufacturers like Joby Aviation (California, USA), Lilium (Munich, Germany), Tetra (Tokyo, Japan), Volocopter (Hamburg, Germany), and Eve Air Mobility (Sydney, Australia) are taking advantage of new aviation technologies to create remarkable new flying vehicles.
Japan-based startup Tetra, for example, started developing the new personal eVTOL Mk-5 aircraft, where customers with a private pilot’s licence can fly lightweight aircraft across the city.
Airbus have also announced the CityAirbus NextGen, a new fixed-wing flying taxi crafted to carry up to four passengers, all while emitting zero emissions.
These companies understand the need for flying commuter vehicles. They’re starting to realise the importance of cutting down traffic volume on our roads, reducing the level of noise in our cities and cutting down carbon emissions affecting our planet.
That’s why they ‘ve rolled out Vertical Take-off and Landing (VTOL) aircraft, designed to run on electric power. Anyone living in traffic-heavy cities can soon enjoy faster, quieter, and greener commutes, thanks to breakthroughs in aircraft materials, battery efficiency, and computer technology.
Challenges ahead for the taxis
Apart from considering the health and safety of communities, flying commuter vehicle companies will face certain obstacles in making their new inventions a reality.
Supporting infrastructure and vertiports
One of the main hurdles involves having the proper infrastructure in place on the ground to support flying taxis as they take off and land, as well as when they park to recharge their batteries.
This infrastructure is known as vertiports. They are meant to take up relatively small spaces in cities, and can be constructed as either standalone structures or fit into existing ones.
The question many people are asking: who will build the vertiports? Will private entities step in to provide fuel, security, food, and other necessities for these flying taxis and their passengers? Or will public funds mainly provide the investment needed for their development?
If the norm will become private sector-funded vertiports, will they be able to serve different types of urban air mobility vehicles? Will they be capable of charging multiple flying taxis at the same time? Will their location be easily accessible as well as safe to passengers? What will be the maximum number of passengers that they can provide services to?
It all boils down to making sure that the vertiport services offered by flying taxi companies are what their passengers need to fly safely and comfortably.
As with any flying machine, this is one of the most important issues flying taxi manufacturers will need to take great care with.
There are a raft of aviation safety issues that flying taxis need to take into account. For example, they will need to avoid batteries that carry the risk of fires and explosions.
Manufacturers will also need to address the primary difference in how eVTOLs deal with power failure. While an airplane has its wings and a helicopter has its rotors, eVTOLs tend to only rely on propellors and fans. Some have wings, but they’re not all crafted to help the aircraft land.
While it’s thought these aircraft will reduce noise levels, some are concerned about exactly how loud this new technology will be. What may be the standard level for certifying officials may still be a challenge for the public.
The technology will need to battle the perception amongst many that they are just ‘dirty old helicopters’, creating nothing but air and noise pollution while transporting the ultrarich individuals of our society.
Lack of knowledge
We can take as many precautions as we see fit. But, at the end of the day, this is still a new and emerging technology. It’s a classic case of ‘we don’t know what we don’t know’. Studies have to be conducted on vertiports’ land use to enable them to comply with aviation safety policies.
Next steps for eVTOLs
Even if vertiports and flying taxis meet all the requirements and are granted all the certifications and funding they need in order to run, they will still need to be comply with government regulations.
The U.S. FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) unveilened its urban air mobility operations concept (ConOps) on June 2020 as well as their Engineering Briefs, available from March 2022 to vertiports designers for guidance in building this infrastructure.
Apart from collaborating with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), the U.S. FAA has made initial steps to developing regulatory standards that vertiports construction can follow so that the flying taxi industry can soon push through.
By that same vein, Australia’s Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) has announced a consultation period for the future of advanced air mobility in Australia. Consultation will close on Tuesday 19 April 2022.
Credit for photo above: Marco Verch