Imagine being late for work, but instead of hopping on the subway, you run upstairs to the rooftop vertiport where a miniaturised aircraft, like the Lilium Jet, is waiting to whisk you away to a destination of your choice. The space-age mini-plane looks very much like something out of the Jetson’s cartoon series of the 1960s. It’s powered by electricity and has push-button controls much like an elevator’s. But this form of intelligent transport is fast, comfortable, and loaded with state-of-the-art amenities like high-speed Internet, in-air espresso machines, and virtual reality televisions. Urban mobility has never been more enjoyable.

And we will call these technological marvels air taxis.

Air taxis are no longer a futuristic fantasy. They are very real and already in operation in many aspiring smart cities around the globe. However, the incorporation of these high-tech machines into everyday life first requires the overcoming of certain obstacles. Luckily, forward-thinking urban planners, aeronautical engineers, and public transport officials are already well on their way to creating a world of airborne vehicles that can travel up to 300 kilometres with a single charge of its battery.

Experts in Mobility as a Service (MaaS) believe that these air taxis have the potential to drastically improve the quality of life for millions of people by giving them back hours of lost time spent in daily commutes.  Just as high-rise skyscrapers allow cities to maximise the use of limited real estate more efficiently, air taxi transportation will enable better and more cost-effective use of three-dimensional airspace.

  • Traffic congestion will be reduced substantially, if not eliminated entirely.
  • Issues of global warming as they relate to carbon emissions from fossil-fueled vehicles will essentially become non-existent.
  • Because these air taxis are electricity-powered, the related noise pollution will be barely audible even during takeoffs and landings.
  • As air taxis become more technologically advanced, the consumer demand for conventional air travel via jets and airplanes utilizing turbine engines will diminish dramatically.
  • The reduced travel time between destinations will make air taxis more affordable than owning and maintaining a conventional automobile.
  • As smart cities continue to become the norm rather than the exception, these fleets of Flying Ubers will eventually be powered by municipal smart grids, making the reliance on battery power obsolete.
  • As airborne taxis become more streamlined and lightweight, their individual price tags will plummet, as well.

The evolution of on-demand air travel could advance at a startlingly rapid pace, perhaps even faster than the golden age of automobiles during the 1930s and 1940s. However, before average citizens can rely on air taxis for intra- or inter-metropolitan travel, urban planners & governments must first address specific infrastructural challenges.

Designing cities that are air-taxi-friendly

The development of smart city infrastructure comprised of hundreds or possibly thousands of heliports will take time and money. Before the construction of these miniature airports can take place, aeronautical engineers must first perfect aircraft technology to include vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) capabilities that are safe, efficient, quiet, and economical.

However, in a 2017 Airbus article entitled Future of urban mobility: My kind of flyover, CEO Rodin Lyasoff explains that “many of the technologies needed, such as batteries, motors and avionics are most of the way there.” And on January 31, 2018, Airbus completed its first successful test flight of the Vahana Electric Vertical Take-off and Landing (eVTOL) air taxi with much fanfare.

Meanwhile, Uber is targeting the 2020 World Expo in Dubai as the launch of its first “on-demand airborne ride-hailing service” on a limited basis.  A U.S. demonstration is penciled in for Dallas, Texas, at approximately the same time.

In addition to issues relating to affordability, reliability, efficiency, infrastructure, emissions, vehicle performance, and aircraft noise, maximum safety protocols are also a crucial concern. According to a white paper published by Uber, the commuter aircraft fatalities rates in 2016 were double that of privately operated automobiles.  By reducing these number by 25% or higher, travel by air taxi essentially becomes twice as safe as driving, and therefore more attractive to the average commuter.

No mode of transportation is without its share of ongoing challenges. Just as with motorised automobiles throughout the decades, there will always be issues of consumer safety related to inclement weather, proper driver – or in this case, flyer – etiquette, and other issues.  As a result, some industry leaders expect that travel by air taxi will likely begin with vehicles flown by human pilots before morphing into unmanned, technology-manipulated aircraft for the masses. Either way, the world of public and privatised transportation is forever changing and faster than we could have ever possibly imagined.

P.S. Of course we’d integrate air taxis into the TripGo API and app!


Image courtesy of Lilium.
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