With delivery drones and increasingly autonomous cars getting ever closer, it's perhaps no surprise to learn many companies are already working on flying taxis. Or so-called electrical vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) aircraft.
With the first piloted eVTOL expected in our skies any time now, and pilot-less ones to follow soon after, flying taxis could quickly become a reality. But which companies are at the forefront of these developments and are they ever likely to challenge your trusty land-based taxi? Let’s take a look.
The future is obviously difficult to predict but one way to protect yourself from any unexpected mishaps is to find yourself the right taxi insurance for your needs and budget. Give our team at Taxi Insurer a call and we promise you won’t need to gaze into a crystal ball to find the right cover to protect your business.
Dreams of flying cars have been around almost as long as powered flight itself. All the way back in 1917 the awkward looking Curtiss Autoplane debuted at New York’s Pan-American Aeronautical Exposition. It sported detachable wings and a heater for passengers, but the First World War got in the way and it never left the ground. Later machines such as the 1937 Waterman Aerobile, the 1947 ConVairCar Model 118 and the 1966 Aero-Car all made it into the skies but failed to take off commercially.
While the history of flying cars is long and rather weird it could be about to get crazier still as money is now pouring into plans to finally bring them to our skies. And when you’ve spent the amount of time sitting in traffic jams that taxi drivers have, you might think it’s about time, too!
With our huge and densely populated cities facing ever-more serious traffic problems some bright sparks are suggesting flying taxi services could be the answer to our traffic prayers. Transporting passengers above congested city routes and taking pressure off the land-based system.
While others claim flying taxis could also cater to popular journeys linking cities. It could revolutionize the working lives of business travellers making trips between big cities like London, Bristol, Birmingham, Manchester and Leeds.
It’s all thanks to remarkable technological achievements from a variety of industries including better batteries and lighter materials. Flying taxis, some of them many years in research and development, will soon be ready to carry paying passengers.
It’s estimated around 300 firms are currently working on such short-range, battery-powered craft. From car makers and aerospace firms to tech giants and ride-hailing companies there’s a lot of money being ploughed into this potentially lucrative field. Indeed, the big brains at investment bank Morgan Stanley have assessed the market for aerial hops as potentially worth an incredible $1.5 TRILLION by 2040! It really is only a short step now from the worlds of The Jetsons and Back to the Future to the skies above.
So, let’s take a look at some of the companies working towards the first commercial flying taxis. Although, if you’re looking to add a new taxi to your fleet you might be better off with one of these first. Unless you don’t mind waiting a few years!
This China-based startup company develops and manufactures passenger drones. Their EHang 216 is a pilot-less drone capable of carrying two passengers for up to 21 minutes with a range of about 22 miles. Reaching a speed of up to 81mph, the vehicle’s 16 propellers even fold in. Which means it could potentially land in standard parking spaces!
In 2020, it was the first company to obtain commercial pilot operation approval from the Chinese government to test passenger-grade drones. Earlier this year, the EHang 216 completed its first unmanned and autonomous trial flight in Japan.
All the way back in 2018, Bristol-based startup company Vertical Aerospace announced that it had built and flown the UK’s first eVTOL. With a top speed of around 50mph and the ability to carry a pilot and two passengers, the company’s Seraph multicopter prototype garnered a lot of attention.
In October, the company announced it was set to raise $394 million in a merger with a New York-listed company as part of its plan to have aircraft flying by the mid-2020s. Vertical claims flights between London's Heathrow airport and Canary Wharf will take 15 minutes and cost £50 per passenger. That potential is attracting serious attention from airlines. More than 1,000 of its four-passenger VA-X4 aircraft have been pre-ordered by customers including Japan Airlines, Virgin Atlantic and American Airlines.
If you specialise in airport drop-offs and pick-ups then it’s well worth watching out for Vertical and its airline pals.
Based in Bruchsal, Germany, aviation company Volocopter has serious backing from the likes of Chinese car company Geely, Daimler and Intel. Built to carry a pilot, one passenger and some hand luggage, Volocopter has already logged over 1,000 test flights of its flying taxi. The VoloCity has a range of 17 miles and a top speed of 62mph. Although the company has also shown a more advanced design with a range of 22 miles and a top speed of 68mph.
Hoping to grab the imagination of potential customers the world over, the company says it hopes to be ready to carry passengers in emissions-free, flying taxis in time for the 2024 Olympics in Paris.
The VoloCity designed for short city flights is the current focus of attention. But their engineering whizzes are also developing the VoloConnect for longer journeys and the VoloDrone for carrying goods. The company is also developing an autonomous flying system for its aircraft, to eventually replace human pilots.
If that isn’t enough, Volocopter has also unveiled plans to build a series of take-off and landing sites called VoloPorts. In effect, the world’s first flying taxi ranks. In the long-term, Volocopter aims to do away with the need for any special taxi station infrastructure. Meaning you could potentially hail a Volocopter taxi from anywhere.
Could flying taxis become a viable, everyday solution?
Purely from a design perspective the Lilium Jet from Munich-based flying taxi startup Lilium looks pretty swanky. With the potential to reach top speeds of 186mph and a range of over 150 miles this five-seater has put Lilium firmly in the driver’s seat when it comes to those longer distance journeys between cities.
In March, Lilium was the latest to announce a big merger deal, this time with Qell Acquisition, a company founded by former General Motors executive Barry Engle. The company also announced it was on track to launch a new seven-seater flying taxi as part of an inter-city taxi service in 2025, with a cruising speed of 175mph and a range of 155 miles.
At the vanguard of flying taxi development, California-based electric aviation company Joby Aviation recently posted a video of its six-propeller craft completing an impressive 150-mile flight. The company is backed by Toyota and recently bought Uber’s flying taxi division Elevate. It has plans to have a full-scale flying taxi service in operation by 2024. The current S4 flying taxi has space for a pilot and four passengers with a range of 150 miles and a top speed of 200mph.
The South Korean motor manufacturer has put a lot of time, money and know-how into the subject of flying taxis. Indeed, recently a Hyundai executive suggested their first flying taxi could be ready for lift off as soon as 2025! Over the past couple of years the company has been very active in this space. In 2019 it set up an Urban Air Mobility division headed by a NASA veteran, this was followed by a partnership with Uber Elevate.
But it’s not just about the vehicles themselves. Hyundai announced earlier this year that it was aiming to build the UK’s first flying taxi hub in Coventry with UK-based start-up Urban Air Port. The plan is to build around 65 mini airports worldwide to cater for the take-off in flying taxis. It appears the company is primarily focused on flying taxis carrying five or six passengers between airports and urban centres. However, the company is also considering cargo services.
In 2020, Volkswagen’s luxury car brand Porsche teamed up with airplane manufacturer Boeing to design and build a flying taxi. But with all the other engineering questions to answer, whether or not they can deliver Porsche-levels of luxury at a deliverable price remains to be seen. All we’ve seen so far are some tantalising conceptual sketches of a sleek winged vehicle with a wrap-around windscreen. Be certain, if they do deliver it’s bound to be something both beautifully stylish and cutting-edge innovative.
Airbus has recently revealed the latest edition of its CityAirbus. A zero-emission electric vehicle built to fly in noise-sensitive city environments. It's a big part of Airbus's vision for an urban flying taxi service. The CityAirbus can carry four passengers, is remotely piloted, and has a range of 50 miles and a top speed of 75mph. Taking note of one of the key concerns about flying taxis, noise reduction is a key feature of the vehicle. It features sound levels less than 65 dBa when flying and below 70 dBa when landing. The prototype's first flight is scheduled for 2023 with certification expected for 2025.
One of the industry’s frontrunners is another Boeing joint venture, this time with Silicon Valley start-up Kitty Hawk. The pilot-less Wisk Cora is capable of carrying two passengers around 25 miles and can reach speeds of up to 100mph. The company says it’s developing a bigger self-flying aircraft that could one day be the future of the urban commute. Hopefully at a very affordable price.
The short answer is yes. There are huge amounts of money and some very serious players working around the clock to launch passenger flying taxi services. But there are still some big questions over whether they can become a regular feature in our skies rather than a novelty.
It does seem to be a question of when rather than if passengers will take to the skies in flying taxis. However, even in the long term, flying taxis seem little threat to the classic taxi service we all know and love.
Whether or not you’re avidly watching the skies for your first flying taxi fare, there are still important business decisions that need to be made to stay competitive. At the top of the list has to be taxi insurance. That’s why the specialist team at Taxi Insurer are always looking to come up with ways to help you stay on top.
Taxi insurance comes in many forms, from third party, fire and theft to comprehensive cover. Public liability insurance and employers’ liability insurance can also be added on.
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