12 May

Flying Cars Are Here. But Are We Ready For Them?

It’s happening.

NFT, a Silicon Valley startup, recently began accepting pre-orders for what might be the world’s first commercial flying car.

And they aren’t alone.

Joby Aviation, which is listing on the NYSE, has announced its intention to bring a flying car into production by 2024. Miami-based Archer Aviation is hoping to compete with its craft Maker, a minuscule electric jet with a 60 mile range that can reportedly operate at less than 45 decibels.

For context, that’s quieter than the ambient sounds of a typical suburb.

Bringing up the list is yet another US firm, BETA technologies, which received airworthiness approval from the US Air Force for its “flying car” ALIA in May of this year.

All these developments illustrate the massive strides that have been made in “eVTOL” (electric vertical take-off and landing) technology.

eVTOL aircraft are quiet, small and can land or take off in very small spaces – like a carpark, or even a garden. Unlike a conventional aircraft, these vehicles are also small enough to drive on the roads (in theory).

Getting out of the city

Flying cars have long been a Sci-Fi staple; from Back to the Future II to The Fifth Element. But now they look set for the personal transport market and their manufacturers are going to have to justify the price tag.

NFT’s first “Drive n Fly” ASKA is expected to launch in 2026 and can currently be pre-ordered for almost $800,000, with a $5,000 deposit – though that figure does include pilot training.

That looks steep, but NFT argues that consumers might actually save money in the long run. By slashing commuting times, a flying car will allow the ultra-wealthy to buy a cheaper property further from the city centre.

Doctors on the wing

BETA technologies has a very different use case in mind.

eVTOL functionality allows flying cars to get to places where other aircraft can’t. BETA technology is hoping to see interest in its ALIA craft from rapid response units, like paramedics.

The US Air Force has expressed interest, and UPS has already pre-ordered 150 models. Operating straight out of the UPS facilities, the craft are expected to take on highly time-sensitive organ deliveries for medical providers.

The flying taxi?

Don’t worry. There is still hope for those that can’t afford the $800,000 price tag – and don’t currently work for UPS.

Flying taxis will be more expensive than the conventional kind, but their small profile will mean that you won’t have to drive out to an airport to hail one.

eVTOL technology is expected to massively expand the Urban Air Mobility segment. The research firm Market and Markets expects the market to grow from $2.1 to nearly $10 billion over course of this decade alone.

Markets are taking note.

Blade, a former helicopter booking service, was brought public via a SPAC in December with the hopes of capitalising on eVTOL technology. Blade has already pre-ordered 15 ALIAs and expects to buy more electric cars from other providers soon.

Flying cars in Back to the Future II, via @backtothefuture_ (instagram).

A transport solution for the future?

This is a growing market. Even as the world population is expected to plateau, urban growth is projected to spike over the next century.  That will mean more people looking to get around more crowded cities, more quickly.

Flying taxis might just be the answer.

And the carbon cost?

Blade Runner 2049’s flying cars are cool – but only if we ignore the fact that they are flying over an ecological wasteland. As the world starts to go green and Biden commits to higher climate targets, “airplanes for all” isn’t an easy marketing slogan to justify. A lot will depend of where the power comes from.

This new generation of eVTOL craft are all electric, but that won’t count for much if they drive demand for more non-renewable power. Flying cars are power hungry and with the US still deriving 40% of its electricity from Natural Gas that could be a problem.

The flying car is finally here. The green energy solution the sector needs is still being built.

Header Image: via aska.fly.

Climate Crisis
Flying Cars
Sci-Fi
Space Tech