Airbus Expects Flying Taxis by 2021

by Richard Zaher / Sep 07, 2016

CityAirbus - Airbus Flying Taxi Concept

In recent years we have witnessed a rapid change in the way people order private transport. Popular smartphone apps like Uber, currently active in 76 countries across the world, have ensured that a private cab is never more than a swipe or tap away. More recently, Uber has introduced the revolutionary concept of driverless cabs. Lucky residents of Pittsburgh will serve as guinea pigs to the experiment, enjoying free rides all over town as the multinational transport network company tests the waters for how unmanned cabs will fare in the real world.

It is truly an exciting time for technological advancements, especially in the transport sector. But if Airbus achieves their vision, Uber will be blown out of the water – possibly as early as 2021.

Airbus have announced the unthinkable and stated their desire to introduce flying taxis within five years. Yes, you read that correctly. As crazy as it might sound, the idea has been put forward by a subdivision of the aerospace and defense corporation named A3. They are responsible for creating innovative new ideas and, based on this latest development, they’re certainly delivering.

It will come as no surprise to learn that A3 is located in Silicon Valley, California’s breeding ground for ambitious, ground-breaking tech companies that aren’t afraid to disturb the status quo. Their latest design would be completely autonomous, requiring no driver and hailed using a traditional smartphone app. Customers would open the app and order the flying taxi to their front door before being whisked off to their next destination without the need to tackle rush hour traffic. Cab sharing would be encouraged to keep costs to a minimum, and remarkably early predictions state that it would effectively be “a more affordable autonomous ferry service closer to modern public transit options.”

CityAirbus - Airbus Flying Taxi Concept

Artist’s impression of the multipropeller CityAirbus vehicle Picture Source.

Given the number of ideas that don’t take off, it would be easy to dismiss this as just another marketing gimmick. It is not unknown for companies to announce farfetched ideas to drum up publicity before quietly removing all funding. With this project, however, the first notable milestone is very much in sight.

Airbus have stated their intention to have the first prototypes up and running as early as next year. Tests have already been approved for 2017 in Singapore’s National University, although it is currently illegal to test the required remote flights outdoors. Instead, tests will be conducted in a contained environment that will look to demonstrate the plausibility of the vehicles being used in the real world at a later date.

Testing Concept at National University of Singapore

If the Airbus team is able to demonstrate the safe operation of Skyways over NUS, this could help shape the regulatory framework for unmanned aircraft system operations in Singapore and potentially increase acceptance for passenger flight testing, thus giving a boost to urban air vehicle projects.

With so much red tape to overcome and a massive chasm between current technology and what is being discussed, why the rush? Well, Airbus may have had their hand forced by competing companies. The 2016 Consumer Electronics Show (CES) saw the introduction of the innovative EHang 184. The drone designer’s latest project is a one-seater drone capable of flying at 60mph running on just electricity. Talk at CES 2016 mainly revolved around owning the 184, but it’s easy to see how quickly the transition to a taxi service could be made. Picture Source

Indeed, drones are becoming increasingly prominent in our lives and have been for some time. No longer restricted to our national defenses, drones have slowly found their way into mainstream culture and many individuals now own their own, private drone. Leading online retailer Amazon is really throwing its weight behind the potential of drones. Having announced their Amazon Prime Air initiative way back in 2013, the company has found solace in the United Kingdom after US laws prohibited it from exploring drones’ potential to the extent that Amazon required. Hundreds of millions of dollars have reportedly been invested into the scheme, backed heavily by Amazon’s Chief Executive Jeff Bezos, who also happens to be the founder of aerospace manufacturer and spaceflight services company Blue Origin.

One of the primary reasons behind Airbus pursuing this avenue so aggressively is down to increasing traffic in a number of major cities. Rush hour traffic is already unbearable in cities like Los Angeles, New York, and London, and the problem is only set to worsen in the near future. By the year 2030, it is predicted that a massive 60% of the world’s population will be living in city areas, by which time we can logically expect congestion to be far more severe.

These flying taxis – currently being labeled CityAirbus by the company – will massively reduce congestion almost overnight. By allowing vehicles to fly above ground level, cities will feel the same benefits of adding lane after lane to their roads with none of the time or expenditure that usually comes with the territory. Fanciful as it may sound, the idea is fundamentally rooted in pragmatism.

These sentiments are echoed by Airbus CEO Tom Enders, who acknowledged that although it sounds farfetched now, it could soon become just another part of our daily lives:

‘It’s not crazy to imagine that one day our big cities will have flying cars making their way along roads in the sky,’ said Mr. Enders. ‘In a not too distant future, we’ll use our smartphones to book a fully automated flying taxi that will land outside our front door – without any pilot.’

It’s not that simple, though. One of the major obstacles that the company has yet to overcome is to invent a fully capable avoidance system which would ensure the drones never crash into objects, buildings or one another. Considering that the equivalent technology in cars is still being perfected, it is difficult to imagine that the spec would be mastered in time for a 2021 launch.

Whilst most people would agree that the timeframes given by Airbus are a little ambitious, there is real substance to the idea of flying cabs. Multiple companies vying to create a similar product is healthy for the project, increasing the competition and forcing companies to strive to create a superior product to others.

Whilst we may not be jetting around in autonomous air cabs as soon as Tom Enders would like, the finish line is certainly on the horizon.

About Richard Zaher

Richard Zaher Richard Zaher is the founder and CEO of Paramount Business Jets. He is a pilot and the President of Air Charter Association of North America (ACANA). Richard is a graduate of Embry Riddle Aeronautical University (ERAU) with a Bachelor of Science in Aerospace Studies. A seasoned international jet charter expert, entrepreneur, humanitarian, and the recipient of the Embry Riddle Eagle Excellence Award at the 2012 National Business Aviation Association (NBAA) convention. He is also an active member of the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA) as well as several safety and air charter organizations.

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