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For a century now, the world has always played with the idea of flying cars. In the 1960s, the Jetsons was an animated series with flying cars.
This showed us what the world was like in the 2060s, with skyscrapers, modern technology, and flying cars. In the 1980s, a movie named Blade Runner saw law enforcement’s two most excellent tools. It showed the cruiser and helicopter meshed into what looked like a flying Volkswagen Beetle.
Until Minority Report in 2002, all of the flying concept cars in movies, T.V. shows, and cartoons did not demonstrate what kind of technology could be possible in the future.
It’s difficult to remove the spotlight from Tom Cruise in any of his movies. Still, in Minority Report, movie go-ers were in complete awe when they saw a car that could fly and avoid harrowing car accidents.
All it needed was a touch screen, LED autonomous driving, and many other features. Although the idea of flying cars has been around for over a century, the technology has not been advanced enough to see the concept come to life until recently. Today, advancements in Li-ion batteries have made flying car development possible, with Morgan Stanley predicting the market to top $850 billion by 2040.
In the past month, much news has been circulating in the media about the advancements flying car companies are making. A lot has been said about what flying carports should look like. At Ehline Law, our personal injury attorneys are very vocal about legal issues and remain active on different media platforms.
In this article, we will explore some of the hundreds of technological advancements in flying cars. We will see whether or not it is a great idea to pursue this transportation goal and the legal hurdles the industry needs to overcome.
Large corporations and many small startups are bringing their vision of flying cars to life. The Airbus group in Silicon Valley started a new project named Vahana, an electric-powered eight-propeller VTOL (vertical takeoff and landing) personal air vehicle prototype that has already booked several hours of flying time across more than 50 test flights.
Paris and Airbus are considering implementing flying cars in the city’s urban transportation network. Currently, they are also playing with the idea of transporting arriving passengers at Charles de Gaulle airport to specifically designated locations in self-driving air taxis for the 2024 Paris Olympics.
Boeing is not far behind and actively involved in Kitty Hawk, a Silicon Valley startup focusing on developing a single-person remotely-piloted electric aircraft. So far, it has created Cora, an air taxi, and Flyer, a small flying car that can land on water. These vehicles are also referred to as vertical takeoff and landing vehicles, and the company has already conducted multiple test flights. The project is ambitious, with some of the greatest tech minds of the last century behind it, including Google co-founder Larry Page.
Another company, Opener, produces the “BlackFly,” an American electric-powered VTOL personal air vehicle. Larry Page is also one of the people behind BlackFly, a flying car capable of traveling up to 25 miles at a speed of about 62 mph on a small 8-kilowatt battery. The vehicle’s great feature is that owners can replace the 8-kilowatt battery with a 12-kilowatt battery to increase distance and flying speed. The company has already conducted more than 1,400 flights for BlackFly, recording almost 19,000 km of travel distance.
Since BlackFly qualifies as an ultralight vehicle, Opener argues that no formal licensing or skills are required to operate the flying car. You can take off and land almost anywhere, on land or water. However, the company requires potential owners to take the FAA private pilot written examination and operator training before taking their flying car to the sky. The company aims to mass-produce the flying car, hoping it would interest many people if they could bring the price down to the price of an SUV.
The competition in the flying car space is tough and Lilium, another startup, aims to stand its ground with its flying vehicle capable of traveling 60 miles on a single charge. Recently, the company completed a test flight for their latest flying invention, the 5-seater air taxi, capable of reaching speeds of 186 mph with its electric duct fans. The company aims to have it fully functional by 2025.
Terrafugia, owned by Geely, a Chinese firm operating in the U.S., is trying to produce Transition, a 2-seater flying vehicle that would bring something new to the table. The Transition is not only designed to drive on land but also fly in the sky. Unfortunately, the company faces several challenges in terms of safety and development regulations for flying cars in the country.
There is a constant debate over the safety of flying cars, and many leaders in space argue that companies must perfect autonomous technology before taking these types of vehicles to the sky. This is highly important as a collision between two flying cars could be more costly in terms of life and property damage than car accidents on the road.
Uber has also developed a flying car prototype for their air taxi service, capable of reaching heights of up to 2,000 feet. However, the company announced that they are not interested in manufacturing the vehicles themselves and will let a third-party company lead that division. So far, they have not yet shortlisted any flying carmakers.
Uber is focusing on researching technology to assist in the development of safe flying cars and has already partnered up with NASA, the United States Army, and a couple of aircraft manufacturers. The company hopes to implement its designs and researched technology into flying cars produced by other carmakers.
Uber hopes to deploy flying cars as soon as 2023 in major cities in the United States. Their primary focus remains on autonomous technology because the company believes that autonomy is the key to safe flying cars. The company was one of the earliest adopters of flying cars and did its first test flight in Los Angeles in 2018.
Uber believes that shortly, their air taxi service will be capable of taking off and landing at different “sky-ports” across cities. They believe that their flying cars can touch speeds of 150 mph and have a range of 60 miles. The vehicle would have a seating capacity of five people, including one pilot, and would use electric power. However, some industry experts are arguing that these numbers would not be possible, especially if the passengers are overweight.
Dubai is notorious for flaunting wealth, especially when the news breaks that they are inducting super-expensive luxury cars to replace their current police cars. However, in 2018, they further pushed the boundaries by releasing a video of a flying motorcycle. The government aimed to induct these flying units into the city’s fleet of police vehicles. Unfortunately, their plans had to pause since the technology was pretty new at the time, and it was devilishly difficult to maneuver these vehicles, resulting in a crash during a test flight in 2020.
Although there is still a lot of ground to cover in terms of flying car regulations, companies are pushing the technology forward to enable the development of safer, more efficient, and affordable flying cars in the near future.
There is a common misconception that all flying cars require pilot licenses and registration with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). Flying cars weighing under 254 pounds come under the category of ultralight, which does not require a pilot’s license and registration with the FAA to fly.
Some regulations prohibit ultralight flying cars from flying during the night and over congested areas due to safety risks. Many industry experts believe that the handoff approach adopted by the FAA might not last long as flying cars become more mainstream.
The BlackFly, manufactured in the USA, does not require special licenses to fly in the country because it is an ultralight flying car. Unfortunately, the BlackFly is one of the few ultralight vehicles developed.
Many view the idea of flying cars as another way for the rich to eradicate distance. They believe that flying vehicles are only advantageous to the owners as it helps them cut down on distance. Still, in doing so, it widens the geographic isolation of the elites and deepens inequality, a serious threat to democracy.
This geographical isolation induced by advancements in transportation first started in the 20th century when the United States government developed interstate highways in the country. Although the roads benefited all by expanding the cities, they also led to segregation, whereby the wealthy became more connected while staying secluded from the rest of the population.
The idea of flying cars today increases the sociopolitical and environmental risks by further creating hyper-seclusion and hyper-access. Flying cars would eliminate distance for the wealthy, allowing them to connect to the opportunities of metropolitan life just a few minutes away from their walled homes. With flying cars, wealthy elites have another opportunity to avoid the everyday experience and deepen social segregation.
The engineering challenges that flying cars face are numerous. The most formidable obstacle to why flying cars are not in the air now is the limitations of the current lithium-ion battery technology.
Carmakers have concluded that traditional combustion engines are noisy and damage the environment. Substituting a conventional combustion engine for an electric one can help eliminate harmful emissions, and extensive training is normally needed to keep noise pollution low. These two characteristics of electric engines can keep community opposition to a minimum. The prospect of introducing airport-level noise to residential areas by implementing traditional combustion engines would be more than enough to scrap the flying car project.
That said, current battery technology is not up to par with what the flying carmakers want to achieve. The issue with batteries is that they are too heavy and store less energy than required, limiting load capacity and the range of flying vehicles. Another problem with battery technology is slow charging, reducing the potential daily revenue if companies introduce flying cars for commercial use, such as air taxis.
The design of flying cars is also a hindrance, as flying carmakers are designing their vehicles to capitalize on the best characteristics of a helicopter and an airplane. This design allows for vertical takeoff, just like a helicopter. However, the drawback is that helicopter blades do not provide enough lift compared to airplane wings, resulting in a more energy-inefficient vehicle.
If they were to stick with airplane designs instead, flying car owners would require a runway to take off, which is not practical. Some flying car manufacturers are focusing on implementing both the wings and several pivoting propellers to push the industry forward in terms of developing new technologies.
However, the problem here arises because manufacturers would need to certify the flying car’s design and avionic systems from the FAA if they were to start human flights.
In the past few years, we saw two Boeing 737 Max aircraft crashes that shook the airline industry and plummeted the confidence people had in one of the largest airline manufacturers in the world. The problem in the automated flight control system resulted in the aircraft acting on its own a few minutes after takeoff.
Investigations revealed that the pilots were not informed of such technology nor had the right training, resulting in fatally devastating consequences due to a lack of regulatory oversight and automated system failures. Flying cars need to have automated systems to succeed, but there is a risk of system failure, which can result in fatal accidents.
Public acceptance is a huge concern surrounding flying cars, especially when these vehicles start to become more prevalent. The main concern is whether or not residents will allow flying cars to fly in the air over their private property. There is also a whole horde of privacy and law enforcement issues.
There is also a risk of fatalities, especially when a flying car accident causes more damage than a normal car accident. Land-based vehicles threaten the driver, passengers, other vehicles, and pedestrians. However, if a flying car malfunctions or collides with an object or another flying car, it can raise the number of injuries and fatalities many-fold. A car accident can also result in the vehicle falling onto a crowded street.
To some, driving is already a complicated task. Now add that flying cars have additional controls for moving up and down, and you’ve got a seriously challenging task ahead of you. Besides control, the pilot of a flying car must also conduct safety checks before taking the vehicle into the air. These are complications that could lead to a recipe for disaster.
Imagine an unfortunate situation where pilots have to make an emergency landing. You cannot expect inexperienced pilots to make safe emergency landings, especially during unexpected weather conditions such as rain and thunderstorms. And what about distracted flying? In the United States, 424,000 people suffer injuries from accidents caused by distracted driving. Are humans going to text their friends or attend calls on their cell phones while navigating a flying car in the air?
There is also a huge concern about the safety features of flying cars. Keeping flying cars as light as possible comes with the risk of losing safety features. Adding airbags, seat belts, and other kinds of protection can increase the weight of the flying car, and if flying cars do not make it into the ultralight category, they will face restrictions and require pilot licenses to fly.
Another uncertainty remains about the flying car: whether or not the flying carmakers will provide a safety manual for all buyers to resort to if a problem develops. Will the vehicle come with safety eject seats and deploy a parachute in dangerous situations? Would the pilots have to call someone over the radio for assistance when required?
There is the issue of infrastructure too. Currently, cars already have an existing infrastructure. There are public parking spaces, private parking, and roads for vehicles to travel on. But with flying cars, there is no system in place. Yes, you might have navigation systems to let you know where you are, but what about the nearest landing center? Will the system let the pilot know of a nearby landing site, and who gets to decide where landing spots should be? Are there charging spots for flying cars?
If flying cars are to become popular, there needs to be the right infrastructure that involves landing and takeoff pads across the country, dedicated air traffic control, traffic lights, charging stations, and so on.
Besides infrastructure, flying carmakers must also develop the software to the point where a person can safely pilot a flying car without requiring extensive training. Autonomous technology is the crucial piece of the puzzle that many companies are working on, including Uber. Although such companies have extensive experience developing land-based autonomous vehicles, it is undoubtedly challenging to introduce that technology into flying cars. The software should be capable of avoiding collisions with buildings, other flying vehicles, and even obstacles in the air, such as bird strikes, billboards, banners, and others.
Another major concern is noise, especially in residential areas. There was a lot of hype during the development of the Concorde jet, but once it took to the skies, the criticism started piling up. Like how Concorde faced serious opposition, with many countries banning the aircraft from using their airspace due to the sonic boom it would create, flying cars may also face similar backlash. Nobody will want a couple of flying cars flying over schools, universities, and hospitals.
And what about traffic and accident regulations? The FAA must also focus on introducing laws and policies specific to flying cars. People and institutions must know the standard operating procedures for a flying car accident and how to deal with the damage.
Large cities with mild weather conditions offer a conducive environment for flying taxis. Uber is aiming to target such cities for its flying taxi launch. However, city and state governments must also have friendly policies toward introducing and using air taxis in a particular city. They must establish friendly flying corridors and have the right electrical grid type. But this also means the entire country may not let cars take to the skies because of the safety concerns they pose.
Currently, there are auto insurance policies for motor vehicles to allow drivers to drive legally in the country. There would be a need to rewrite insurance policies for flying cars if they took to the skies. Just like any other car manufacturer who is liable for any car crashes caused by their products, consumers would want the same law to apply to flying carmakers.
With the increased risk of accidents, insurance companies would most likely charge ridiculous premiums for flying car insurance. Currently, there is uncertainty about whether federal regulations should apply or whether every state should have its guidelines on flying cars.
There is also this notion that once flying cars become popular, there is going to be a demand for flying motorcycles, flying scooters, and other types of flying vehicles. Institutions and lawmakers must be ready to introduce additional laws, regulations, and insurance policies and even address noise and safety concerns.
The FAA has made it clear that the airspace is under its jurisdiction. So flying carmakers must ensure that the government is open to flying passenger-transport cars/airplanes in their country.
Currently, only large aircraft can use the airspace, but it seems that even if flying cars come into existence, air taxis and police vehicles might be the only uses for them as of now. The concern is whether the public or the citizens are open to flying police cars, compromising their privacy. We already have police helicopters, so maybe it’s not so bad.
If flying cars became popular, they would increase the energy required, and governments would have to allocate financial resources to ensure a more energy-efficient future. But there might be fewer car crashes on the ground.
Cars crashing is always wrong. But what about a flying bus? Won’t it get expensive? Besides the socio-economic gap that flying cars might widen, the reality is that considering someone could lose control and how reckless humans are, it’s a bad idea.
It’s easier to get a driver’s license than to train to get your pilot’s license. For example, the $400,000 PAL-V flying cars offer training to buyers, but it does not mention the number of hours of training required to fly the car.
The whole training criteria remains vague without much detail. Since the concept is new, no defensive driving courses exist for flying cars. Naturally, this can increase the risk of accidents in the air. Would the pilot get traffic school for their first violation? Would a transportation wreck be labeled in the car crashes category or a mid-air collision?
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), human costs are high. On average, 102 people were killed in car accidents every day in 2016. But there have been countless minor accidents like fender benders daily for decades. Although these types of accidents are minor, they can turn out to be catastrophic if the same accident were to happen in the air, crashing down to the earth onto pedestrians and travelers. There are many reasons for this. But the main reason is gravity.
Plus, if a flying car gets involved in an accident and falls to the ground, there are high chances of hitting a car or pedestrian on the ground. Heavy debris combined with a gravitational pull can cause serious damage to vehicles on land and even kill pedestrians if hit.
There is also the risk of engine component failure. In a vehicle, if you run out of gas or encounter a problem, you move your vehicle to the side of the road and contact help. That’s not possible in a flying car. A malfunction in flying vehicles could have people falling from the sky!
We’ve all watched movies with some form of a flying car, indicating that these types of technologies are the future. However, the fantasy world in the movies does not inform the viewers about the complications surrounding such vehicles.
Several companies understand that flying cars are not the height of innovation. There are better and more sophisticated technologies to pursue. One example is how Uber and Lyft changed how people traveled in and out of the city. Ride-hailing services have cut down on private vehicle ownership, resulting in less traffic congestion and air pollution in the cities.
Freeways and interstate highways have made traveling long distances easier. The problems start to appear when people move from the freeway toward their destination city. These problems need to be addressed in a way that doesn’t burden the economy, environment, and society.
There is still a lot of uncertainty about whether states will back the development of flying cars and whether the federal government will approve the use of flying cars in U.S. airspace. This is why flying car accidents shouldn’t be a huge concern at the moment.
What should concern residents is the rising number of car accidents in the country. More than 5 million car accidents occur annually across the United States, leading to over 38,000 deaths. If you suffered injuries from a car accident in California that was not your fault, contact us at +(833) LETS-SUE for a free consultation with our experienced car accident attorneys, as you may be eligible for compensation.
Michael is a managing partner at the nationwide Ehline Law Firm, Personal Injury Attorneys, APLC. He’s an inactive Marine and became a lawyer in the California State Bar Law Office Study Program, later receiving his J.D. from UWLA School of Law. Michael has won some of the world’s largest motorcycle accident settlements.