While a dozen companies are currently testing cars or drones with passengers, a study by Porsche Consulting predicts that 15,000 air taxis will be in service by 2035. The global market could reach 32 billion euros. dollars. MONTREAL – Flying cars, as seen in science fiction movies such as “Blade Runner” and “The Fifth Element”, have long been considered crazy ideas, but their arrival would be closer than we think.
At least a dozen companies are developing and developing prototypes or conducting tests of flying cars or drones with passengers, according to a report published by Deloitte in January. According to a Porsche Consulting study, it is predicted that 15,000 air taxis will be in service by 2035 and represent a global market worth $ 32 billion. To this should be added, it is expected, air delivery and inspection services representing an additional $ 42 billion.
Vertical take-off and landing (VAD) aircraft are used to transport people and goods in urban and suburban areas with heavy traffic in a fraction of the time required by a road user. This new means of transportation would also reduce the number of cars. However, technological and regulatory obstacles remain. In addition, it is not clear whether flying cars will actually change travel patterns and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, or whether they can overcome security and public perception challenges.
Most ADAVs operate on electricity. They look like oversized drones, haloed by small propellers around a passenger pod, which take off and land like helicopters. But they will be less noisy, cheaper and less polluting than their cousins helicopters, predict experts.
“Instead of that deep, guttural sound that penetrates through the walls, you get a much more tolerable, fan-like sound,” says Nikhil Goel, director of aviation products at Uber Elevate, an affiliate of Uber Technology. Uber hopes to start shipping passengers in five-seat hybrid ADAVs over Los Angeles, Dallas-Fort Worth and a third city outside the United States by 2023.
“The vehicles are real. They arrive. I think it will be faster than anyone thinks possible, “says Goel.
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He sees the first wave of air taxis providing shuttle service between major airports and heliports in downtowns that would be integrated with the transit system, rather than jumping from one building to another. A way of moving from one pole to another a bit like a monorail.
“We do not build this product for the richest,” said Nikhil Goel. A few years after the launch of the Uber Air service, as he is known, the cost of air travel would be the same as that of road transport, he says. According to Uber’s director of aviation products, an air taxi would reduce the distance of 90 km between downtown San Francisco and San Jose to 15 minutes compared to the one-hour, 40-minute car trip.
Uber is not the only one interested in ADAV. Chinese drone manufacturer Zhang conducted flight tests with a drone carrying a passenger earlier this year, according to the company’s website. The young German volcano Volocopter has developed a prototype air taxi that flew over Dubai in 2017. Finally, Kitty Hawk, a California company created by Google founder Larry Page, has developed an elegant prototype of ADAV at a place this year.
Bell (formerly Bell Helicopter) is one of five companies Uber has partnered with. The others are Karem, Pipistrel and rivals from the aerospace industry Embraer and Aurora Flight Sciences, the latter affiliated with Boeing.
2025 as a realistic goal
Scott Drennan, vice president of innovation at Bell, targets 2025 as a realistic goal of commercial launch. Battery life is the biggest challenge, while current lithium-ion technology allows an electric propeller to travel 50 to 100 kilometers, Drennan says.
Another barrier is regulation. To avoid cluttering city skies, Adams may have to follow existing air corridors used by aircraft, but at a lower altitude and at a speed of between 150 and 330 km / h. Most Western aviation regulators prohibit the use of drones without prior authorization. Discussions are underway with US federal aviation authorities and the European Aviation Safety Agency reveals Scott Drennan, who says he has also met with Transport Canada three times.
Mark Cousin, General Manager of Airbus A3, is concerned about the air traffic management issues that are on the horizon. “The vehicle is the easy part,” he observes. The real challenge is to integrate thousands of these vehicles into an urban air mobility system. ” A3 has unveiled an electric powered ADAV called Vahana. The autonomous prototype made its first vertical flight in February.
According to the Porsche study, drones beat any other mode of transport, such as taxis, over a distance of 20 kilometers or more in areas of heavy traffic.
Limited potential for technology
The report recognizes, however, the limited potential of the technology, arguing that it could only relieve some of the pressure in the most congested areas of cities. If we tried to solve all the problems of ground circulation while moving in the air, we would come to create new traffic jams in the various places of take-off and landing, note the document.
According to the study, a city with more than five million inhabitants would probably have no more than 1,000 passenger drones by 2035. This would reduce land traffic relatively little. Uber has cited Los Angeles as an attractive launch town in part because of the abundance of flat roofs found there. Longstanding fire safety regulations required helicopter landing pads at the top of skyscrapers.
“But they’re not really good because it’s not just a starting and ending point,” says Robin Lineberger, head of aerospace and defense at Deloitte.
“It has to be a place where people come, get ready to get on a plane. The vehicle must land, refuel, refuel, perhaps undergo light maintenance and inspection. When you think about it, you really need a small multifunctional airport, “he says. The large parking lots in the city center are ripe for conversion to heliports, with treadmills, loading stations and hangars, he says.
Insurances would work in the same way as those of a helicopter manufacturer or transportation service with premiums that depend on statistics and the severity of accidents. However, public perception remains a short-term problem. Less than half of the 10,000 polled around the world polled by Deloitte said they believed that flying cars would be safe. One-third of the respondents were undecided and one in five did not believe it.