When it comes to building the flying taxi of the future, three companies seem to be emerging from the pack as leading influencers. Whether it’s Uber’s recently released 98-page White Paper outlining its “Uber Elevate” flying car plan or Airbus’ “Project Vahana” – an all-electric VTOL taking off from building tops – the commuter market is poised for big changes in the next two decades.
Even Google has a stake in the game with Co-founder Larry Paige funding his “flying car” project through start-up named Zee Aero. The one obstacle they all face together: strict Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) regulations. As it stands right now, the FAA has yet to approve commercial drone use.
Uber, Airbus, and Google have all agreed that the best approach to cornering the commuter market would be to use autonomous Vertical Take-Off and Landing (VTOL) vehicles. Without the need for a runway, VTOL’s can take off from building tops, parking facilities, and strategically placed launch pads in and around major metropolitan areas.
Airbus seems to be the company best positioned to make flying taxis a reality. With extensive aviation experience and a strong history of working alongside the FAA, Airbus, according to a recent Futurism article, is “committed to have its first self-piloted taxi for commuters ready for production by 2020.” According to Airbus’ Project Vahana director Zach Lovering, “there’s a much bigger focus here on actual productization and getting this thing out there.” Airbus’ VTOL will be equipped with “the staples of self-driving cars – lidar, radar, and cameras – so it can self-pilot,” Lovering said, according to Business Insider.
With Airbus interested in starting production in approximately four years, compared to Uber’s official rollout projection of 2026, the airline is poised to set the precedent for the commuter market. According to Business Insider, Airbus’ self-piloted electric VTOL will have speeds two times faster than a car, is capable of flying at an altitude of 1,000 feet, and will have the same tech as self-driving cars. Like the Tesla Model 3, cameras will be strategically positioned for the sake of avoiding objects while in transit.
Even though Uber Elevate may have a different launch date compared to Airbus’ Project Vahana production date, working alongside the FAA will be critical to regulating autonomous VTOL’s. “There are just huge regulatory hurdles, air traffic management hurdles, structural hurdles,” Lovering said, according to Business Insider. “That certainly will require not just Airbus and one other company, but probably a half dozen to a dozen companies working together to solve this problem.”
Three companies (Airbus, Uber, Google) are jockeying for position in the VTOL commuter market and at the same time, need to work together to get FAA approvals. Thankfully, they have three non-profit organizations (ASTM International, The Radio Technical Commission for Aeronautics, and GAMA) working to establish precedent around autonomous flying drones and VTOL’s. Airbus’ vast experience in aeronautics and their familiarity with the FAA can only be a welcome sign for both Uber, Google, and other big players, as the commuter market moves towards flying taxis.