Flying taxis. The future of transportation or toys for the rich?

It’s a future straight out of “Blade Runner” or “Jetsons”. Instead of being stuck in traffic, trips to the store, commuting or just weekends having a drink with friends may soon cease to be associated with traffic jams and looking for a parking spot. car park. Instead of that, flying taxi he will pick us up at home and take us directly to our destination.

But is that future real, or is it just another broken promise from tech billionaires? And will such a flying fleet be environmentally friendly?

The first so-called “vertiport“already exists. In the future, it must be a central hub from which a fleet of flying taxis will depart to serve the inhabitants. For the moment, the British Coventry vertiport operates drone flights above citybut the company that created it wants to start passenger vehicle theft by 2024. And over the next 5 years, it wants to open 200 similar facilities around the world.

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“It’s the future of aviation. It’s coming at the end of this decade. And I think it’s going to be ubiquitous in the 1930s,” said Supernal chief commercial officer Michael Whitaker.

“Vertiport” is to function as a transfer point and a waiting room for passengers who will fly from town to town from here. But elsewhere, that future is even closer. In Beijing, 67 unmanned flying taxis have already started accepting customers. But if it is still more of an advertising campaign than a real business, it is clear that it is close to flying taxis.

Their proponents say the technology and the demand are there – the only obstacles are security concerns and the necessary regulatory framework. The first flying taxis will probably require a professional pilot, but will be able to carry four passengers at a speed of 320 km/h for distances of up to 160 km. Some studies estimate that around 430,000 such vehicles could be in service worldwide by 2040, and the overall market value is expected to reach $1.5 trillion.

The emergence of this market has been possible thanks to advances in several key technologies: in avionics, in strong but lightweight composite materials and in battery power, thanks to which electric vehicles do not emit pollutants in flight and remain almost silent.

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“These planes will change the public’s perception of aviation,” says Jean-Christophe Lambert, co-founder and CEO of Ascendance, a French manufacturer and operator of flying taxis which is due to launch its hybrid vehicle for the first time. in 2025.

“They will be able to be used much closer to home, which will make them more accessible. They won’t just be toys for the rich, but technology that will quickly democratize.”

Operators estimate that costs per passenger-kilometre will be relatively low – $3 to $4 – and will be close to the cost of driving a traditional wheeled taxi. The electric drive must also be easier to maintain and safer than the combustion engine.

Although this new generation of aircraft has a much lower altitude than conventional aircraft, around 600 meters, managing their movement will also be crucial, especially in busy airspace. cities. More crowded skies increase the risk of collision. However, a newly piloted vessel will go through the same certification process as any commercial aircraft and will need to obtain commercial flight clearance from the relevant national authorities.

But although the vehicles are electric, the production of energy that powers them, as well as the process of building the vehicles themselves, will be associated with environmental burdens. However, researchers at the University of Michigan have calculated that they can be much more environmentally friendly than you might think – if we use them correctly.

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“I was surprised at how competitive flying cars were in the scenarios we’re looking at, because it takes a lot of energy to get a vehicle up the road,” said study author and director Gregory Keoleian. University’s Center for Sustainable Systems.

The vehicle model used by scientists to assess the effectiveness of this type of transport had a pilot seat and four passenger seats, flew at an altitude of 300 meters and could move at speeds of up to 220 km/h. They compared it to two cars: petrol and electric. The researchers compared the performance of the three vehicles over a distance of 3 to 155 miles.

For short trips under 22 miles, according to a study published in Nature Communications, gasoline and electric cars beat air vehicles in efficiency. It’s the most American ride – the average working distance in the US is 11 miles. Over short distances, taxis spend the most time hovering in the air, while consuming a lot of energy.

However, over long distances, the performance of air taxis has improved. For an uninterrupted journey of 62 miles, the use of air taxis resulted in 35% less greenhouse gas emissions compared to a car that burns gas. But compared to an electric car that travels the same distance, an air taxi emits 28% more exhaust. However, this scenario ignores passengers. If you load an air taxi with four people and compare it to an average occupancy – 1.54 people – a fully loaded air taxi produces 52% fewer emissions per trip than a gas-powered car and 6% less than an electric car.

There is therefore an ideal niche for these flying cars: long-distance carpooling. They can also be useful in crowded areas or areas that don’t have a direct path to your destination. “If you’re traveling from Detroit to Cleveland, an air taxi could fly directly over water,” Keoleian says. “While the ground vehicle must avoid Lake Erie.”

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They also allow you to save a lot of time, which also reduces the amount of exhaust gases. Scientists have calculated that a rush-hour trip from Irvine, California to Malibu can take up to three and a half hours, but an air taxi can cover the same route in as little as 27 minutes. “You save up to 80% of travel time,” says Akshat Kasliwal, study author and PhD student in sustainable systems.

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