After many false starts, dashed hopes and broken promises, the first commercial air taxi service has been launched, providing shared rides to and from Los Angeles airport and various city locations.
Using specially developed passenger drones, the service offers quick hops that beat the notoriously slow LA traffic, of up to 20 miles (32 kilometers). The electric air taxis run on batteries, augmented by hydrogen fuel cells, and are much quieter and more affordable than helicopters.
This is a far cry from the vision of ‘flying cars’ or personal aircraft that you could use to commute from your home in the suburbs to the office, and park in your garage. That prediction from the 20th Century was never going to materialize, as it just wasn’t practical.
The flying taxis can take up to four passengers, and still require a human pilot at this stage, although that’s just a safety requirement, as most of the flying is fully automated. It’s as important to reassure customers, as it is to meet FAA regulations; no one wants to climb into a flying machine with only a computer in charge!
Rather than providing air travel between cities, which is still dominated by regional jets, the air taxis have been developed specifically to provide travel within cities, beating traffic and creating a whole new market for flexible routes. If the first service proves successful, we can expect it to be rolled out quickly to other major metros, first in the US, then internationally.
In this new industry, the leader isn’t Boeing, Airbus or Bombardier, or any auto manufacturer. It’s Uber.