- At least six electric vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) aircraft — known as "flying cars" — are "well along" in earning type certification from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), according to Jay Merkle, executive director of the FAA's Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) Integration program. This means the nascent industry is "more than just hype" and close to reality, he said.
- At the Transportation Research Board's (TRB) annual meeting in Washington, DC on Monday, Merkle said the FAA's focus in the industry this year will be on integrating flying cars into existing airspace and writing requirements for pilot operations. He also said the administration will work on engaging the public and finding the infrastructure at which eVTOLs can land, take off and charge.
- Merkle put the onus on the companies developing flying taxi services to find sustainable business models. He alluded to Uber's efforts in New York City with Uber Copter as a way to test out how to make aerial service financially viable.
Flying cars are a source of major excitement and speculation in the mobility arena, with several technological advancements turning heads at CES in Las Vegas last week and experts saying they are coming sooner rather than later. Companies developing the technology have also been making headlines, with Uber and Hyundai recently partnering on an electric taxi service, joining Boeing and Porsche's collaboration as major players in the space.
Merkle emphasized that flying cars are closer to reality than many people realize. "Probably the biggest question I get on this is, 'Is this real, are they really happening?' Yes, this is more than just hype," he said. "This is more than just promotional videos."
However, there is work to be done, especially in figuring out how to integrate them into the existing mobility landscape. He said many business models currently rely on transporting riders to and from mobility hubs that serve as take-off and landing locations — likely on top of large buildings or parking garages — which can present a number of challenges.
Some of those issues will be discussed by the U.S. Department of Transportation’s (USDOT) Non-Traditional and Emerging Transportation Technology Council (NETT), which looks to address emerging transportation technologies. During a TRB panel discussion, USDOT Deputy Assistant Secretary for Transportation Policy Finch Fulton said those are issues NETT is "actively thinking about, because it's fun to think about."