A couple of years ago, at the 2015 global aviation show, ‘AERO Friedrichshafen’ held in Friedrichshafen, Germany, Carplane® GmbH, a company co-funded by the EU and the German State of Lower Saxony (Niedersachsen) unveiled a ‘nearly complete’ prototype of its flying car, designed for road travel capability to and from airstrips, and flight travel between them.
In November 2017, Carplane® gave a presentation at the E-Flight Forum in Beijing, China. And, recently, it has been listed by Market Insights Reports—a “global and regional market intelligence” provider— as one of the top companies in the global flying cars market, a group including: Airbus, PAL-V, AeroMobil, Carplane GmbH, Terrafugia (Zhejiang Geely Holding Group), Lilium, Ehang UAV, Kitty Hawk, Opener Inc, Rolls-Royce, Toyota, and others.
A recent Deloitte Consulting report in the news has also confirmed such a ‘market’: “At least a dozen companies are prototyping or testing flying cars or passenger drones.” It cites a report by Porsche Consulting predicting that by 2035, “air taxis will number 15,000 and become a global market worth $32 billion… with aerial delivery and inspection services adding … $42 billion.”
The fusion of cars and airplanes has been the dream of inventors and designers from the time they were invented. But, realization has been stubbornly elusive. Perhaps not surprisingly, a Deloitte 2018 global survey of 10,000 people recorded less than half of the respondents convinced of the safety of aerial passenger vehicles, one-third undecided, only one in five indicating otherwise.
By contrast, today’s experts are convinced the remaining technological hurdles are minimal. Vertical Take-off and Landing Craft (VTOLs and eVTOLs) resembling oversize drones, comprised of “a halo of small rotors around a passenger pod and taking off and touching down like a helicopter” but quieter, cheaper, and ‘greener’ have been prototyped and tested by the likes of Uber Technology Inc.’s aviation team ‘Uber Elevate’, Chinese drone manufacturer Ehang, German startup Volocopter, California-based Kitty Hawk funded by Google’s Larry Page, and Airbus’s A3 unit. Indeed, Nikhil Goel, head of product at Uber Technology was quoted as saying, “The vehicles are real. They’re coming. I think it’s going to be faster than anybody thinks is possible.” Mark Cousin, chief executive of Airbus’s A3 unit, has gone even further saying, “the vehicle is the easy bit. The real challenge lies in integrating thousands of these vehicles into an urban air mobility system within cities.”
The vision of VTOL developers appears to be an affordable, hub-to-hub travel option like a monorail, “a place where people [assemble] to get on the aircraft…, the vehicle [can] land, recharge, refuel, [and undergo] light maintenance and inspection… [in short] … a small, multi-function airport service area.” Robin Lineberger, head of aerospace and defence at Deloitte calls such facilities ‘vertiports’. “Large parking lots downtown are ripe for conversion [into vertiports]” he has said.
Although the car-like component of this vision is minimal, the taxi aspect is the conceptual connection — a relatively easily accessible taxi-in-the-air transporting passengers from urban point A to urban point B in 15 minutes instead of 1.5 hours at more or less the same cost as an on-road taxi.