By: Robin Lineberger, Principal, Aerospace & Defense, Deloitte
I sincerely doubt that the majority of people reading this have not, at some point in their lives, dreamed of flying cars. Whether imagined by a creative child or a frustrated commuter stuck for the umpteenth time in heavy traffic, the idea of these vehicles holds considerable appeal. And it doesn’t take a child’s imagination to see the attraction, as they promise to significantly cut travel time, reduce pollution and recover the long hours that are currently wasted behind the wheel.
Today, we are closer than ever to a future that includes ‘flying taxis’ or eVTOLs (electronic Vertical Take Off and Landing vehicles) a more accurate and increasingly common term that distinguishes these very real vehicles from those seen in, say, The Jetsons.
As we outlined in a recent study, flying taxis are nearing commercial availability. The most exciting among them are those that can fly autonomously, be utilized on demand, and be available to a broad range of consumers. Because they will be propelled electrically, they will be quieter, cheaper to operate and maintain, and reduce pollution. As a result, they will be able to operate more effectively in and around urban and suburban areas.
And yet, despite the obvious benefits, many would-be flyers remain skeptical. Recently, we conducted a global survey of consumer attitudes toward autonomous flying taxis. While nearly half the respondents said they could see a future that includes elevated mobility, many will need to be convinced about safety.
These concerns are, in part, a reaction to new, little-understood technologies. Combine that with the fact that these new technologies will operate hundreds of feet off the ground, and the skepticism seems entirely natural.
Getting the skeptics on board
Success for flying taxis depends on wide acceptance. The public will have to be convinced that flying is a more efficient, safe, and cost-effective way to navigate a city. Unless they embrace this next-generation mode of transportation—incorporating elevated options into their daily lives, along with more traditional modes of transportation—these aircraft will likely stay earthbound.
Therein lies the challenge, and not only for the manufacturers and operators who want to put their flying taxis in the air.
This newly emerging industry will have to adopt a zero-tolerance policy when it comes to safety. Avoiding accidents at all stages will be paramount, as any mishap is sure to garner a great deal of negative attention and be seen as proof that flying taxis are not yet safe enough.
For government regulators, whose job it is to protect the public and find solutions to ever-worsening urban traffic congestion, the challenge lies in convincing consumers to switch from earth-bound vehicles to flying taxis, allaying concerns about safety.
As flying taxis get closer to commercialization, the industry will need to work hard to shape consumer perceptions about their safety and utility. They should highlight the safety features of these vehicles the way traditional car makers highlight the sensors that warn a driver of other cars in the blind spot. Emergency landing systems should also be featured prominently.
Operators will play a key role. In the early stages, flying taxis will work more like taxi and ride share services than owner-operated automobiles. That is, licensed pilots will fly the vehicles and move passengers from one place to another for a fee. No one without a license would be able to operate an flying taxi. This will increase consumers’ comfort levels with these new vehicles and pave the way for autonomous operations.
Operators must also prove the value of flying taxis by making them easily accessible from the consumer’s home or work place and include destinations most relevant to would-be passengers. All of this at an affordable price and with strict attention to safety.
Regulators and city planners will have to create a strong safety regimen for these aircraft and determine early on where and when they will be allowed to operate. They must create the equivalent of lanes to allocate the airspace and flying taxis will have to be integrated into the broader air traffic management system.
Wider acceptance of the safety and utility of autonomous flying taxis will lead to shorter travel times for both people and goods. As more and more operators and consumers buy into the idea, manufacturers will be able to invest in new technologies to respond to evolving consumer demands. With economies of scale, these vehicles will become more affordable thus increasing the likelihood of a broad based adoption
If large portions of the population are skeptical about utility and safety, the future of elevated mobility will be put on hold for a generation. Meanwhile, we will still be stuck in traffic.
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