If you were to go back a few decades, nearly everyone would have agreed that by 2020, flying cars would be in everyone’s garage. Today, however, self-driving cars have eclipsed the discussion around flying cars. We have become so entrenched with designing systems to keep us on the ground, we haven’t stopped to consider how flying cars would work, yet companies are hard at work trying to build this flying future.
What do you see when you think of a flying car? Do you envision a vehicle similar to a plane or a drone? Or do you immediately think about the wingless and propellerless vehicle from The Jetsons?
While companies have prototyped variations of flying cars, most are pursuing vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) vehicles, which ascend similar to a helicopter.
In recent years, major companies have announced plans to launch flying cars before 2030. Uber is working with startups to create electric VTOL (eVTOL) aircrafts and launch aerial taxis in major cities by 2023. Just this October, Porsche and Boeing announced a partnership to create an eVTOL concept.
While forward-looking companies are beginning to invest in flying cars, we wanted to take a look into the obstacles to adopting this new kind of vehicle and if consumers are ready for it.
How do consumers feel about flying cars?
Consumers have consistently been skeptical of self-driving cars, with only 37% excited about autonomous vehicles. So how do people feel about flying cars? We surveyed 1,000 Americans and found that:
- 57% wouldn’t feel comfortable using a flying car once it became available to the public
- 41% would prefer to use a regular car vs. a flying or self-driving car
- 32% of men said they’d be comfortable flying a car after they’ve done a training course, while only 24% of women said the same
How do consumers prefer to use flying cars?
While consumers are slowly starting to warm up to the idea of flying cars, there are many other factors to consider before they’ll be available to the general public, such as regulation, infrastructure, licensing, car insurance and cost. This all will impact when, if and how flying cars will be introduced.
It’s highly likely that aerial ridesharing will be the most democratized version of flying cars in the near future, given the vehicles will cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. Companies like Lyft or Uber will be able to invest in infrastructure for flying cars more easily than the government will. Uber, for example, is designing skyport concepts. Their vision is to install these skyports on underutilized structures, establishing “a practical, sustainable vision for the infrastructure needed in the communities we plan to serve,” according to John Badalamenti, Uber Elevate Head of Design.
Eventually, the Uber Elevate team wants aerial taxis to be cheaper than a car’s cost per mile, which ranges from $0.46 to $0.60.
However, consumers are hesitant to put their lives in the hands of either flying car drivers or autonomous flying cars. When asked how they’d prefer to use flying cars, the majority said for personal use.
What kind of training should be required for drivers of flying cars?
Given that flying cars are more similar to planes than the road transportation we know and love, how much additional training should be required?
The licensing requirements for driving vs. flying aren’t as different as you might think. The average driver’s license requires about 45 hours of behind-the-wheel training, though it varies by state. The cost for driver’s eds and associated fees are around $500.
Surprisingly, certain pilot’s licenses require training on par with a driver’s license, though you do need to already have a driver’s license to earn a pilot’s license. On average, a sport license requires 33 hours of flight, a recreational license requires 44 and a private license requires 70. However, the cost of a pilot’s license is much greater due to higher instructor fees, plane rentals, fuel and equipment, adding up to somewhere between $5,000 to $10,000. Keep in mind that it’s even more for commercial pilots.
The Terrafugia Transition, a flying car nearly ready for market, was approved by the FAA to be classified as a light sport aircraft, which means drivers would need both their driver’s license and sport pilot’s license to operate it.
Flying car concerns and issues
Over $1 billion has been invested in urban air mobility as of September 2018, but there is still a lot of technological and regulatory work to be done.
For one, we don’t yet have the technology to power an eVTOL, which would be preferred over a fossil fuel powered VTOL to reduce noise and air pollution. Batteries are too heavy and aren’t able to hold enough energy for a worthwhile trip. Hybrid technology will become more realistic in the coming decade, and currently startups like Alaka’i are testing alternative fuels like hydrogen.
Energy efficiency and environmental impact is also a factor. Because flying cars would use a lot of energy lifting off the ground, they’d need to perform longer trips to be more efficient than a car or electric vehicle. Researchers at the University of Michigan hypothesized where the break-even point was and found that an eVTOL trip would need to be at least 25 miles to make them more efficient than a gas-powered car. As mentioned above, battery technologies for electric flying cars are still being developed, so this number is theoretical.
Another large concern is air traffic control, which is regulated by the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). Dan Elwell, the Acting Administrator of the FAA noted that, “The pace of technological advancement in this industry is faster than any we’ve had to deal with.” We’d need a completely new system to regulate flying cars, and a way to scale it.
Airplane traffic is guided by air traffic controllers, who monitor certain zones to ensure that takeoffs, flights, and landings occur seamlessly. Add drones and flying cars to the mix, and things get a lot more complex.
The bottom line
While the Terrafugia Transition is nearly ready and Uber predicts they’ll pilot aerial taxis by 2023, consumers aren’t quite ready to take their feet (or cars) off the ground. As more technologies, safety information and regulation surrounding eVTOLs comes out, that may change in the coming years.
The Simple Dollar conducted an online survey of 1,000 Americans aged 18 and older to learn how they feel about flying cars. The survey consisted of 3 questions fielded October 2019 using Google Surveys.