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UK government aims to launch flying taxis within a two-year timeframe

By Mathilda Bartholomew | March 28, 2024

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Flying taxis could be a regular sight in the UK skies as soon as 2028 if government plans go smoothly.

UK government aims to launch flying taxis within a two-year timeframe

Flying taxis could be a regular sight in the UK skies as soon as 2028 if government plans go smoothly.

The Future of Flight action plan, a collaboration with the aerospace industry, foresees the first flying taxi taking off by 2026 and becoming a common mode of transportation two years later. Additionally, drones and other aerial vehicles are expected to become increasingly autonomous, with the first pilotless flying taxi predicted to launch in 2030.

However, there are significant challenges to overcome, including infrastructure development and gaining public acceptance.

Most flying taxis resemble futuristic helicopters and can typically accommodate around five passengers. These vehicles, known as "eVTOLs" (electric vertical take-off and landing aircraft), are initially expected to replace expensive helicopter journeys and operate as exclusive modes of transport.

The Department for Transport also aims to permit drones to fly beyond the operator's visual line of sight, enabling applications such as medical supply transportation, rural post delivery, and law enforcement. While drone technology is still in its early stages, the plan envisions widespread drone deliveries by 2027.

Craig Roberts, head of drones at PwC consultancy firm, identifies infrastructure and public perception as the primary hurdles to launching flying taxis into the air. Collaborating with the government, he co-authored a report last year assessing the feasibility of this technology.

"It's challenging, but possible," he remarks regarding the 2026 target.

Roberts emphasises the potential efficiency of flying taxis in scenarios involving "longer distance, higher occupancy cases". For instance, the government's report highlights a trip from Liverpool to Leeds taking only 26 minutes.

Initially, Roberts suggests, "It might start off as being more of a replacement for helicopters," before gradually gaining broader public acceptance. However, to win over sceptics, advancements in security screening technology must demonstrate the convenience and safety of these air taxis.

The challenge lies in reducing the time between arriving at a flying taxi rank and taking off, currently estimated at 10 minutes—a daunting task compared to the conventional airport experience.

"The industry knows this is a problem and knows it has to be solved... But there are technological ways of doing this," remarks Mr. Roberts.

Dr. Nadjim Horri, an aerospace control lecturer at the University of Leicester, highlights, "What was holding this back for a long time was the barriers to certification of a new technology." However, he notes a shift, with regulations beginning to align with technological advancements.

Horri emphasises the importance of public confidence in adopting new technology, expressing optimism that achieving the goal of launching flying taxis by 2026 is feasible.

Where will the vehicles depart from and land?

To support these proposals, new infrastructure developments are necessary in the UK, including the establishment of "mini airports" tailored for drones.

A trial mini airport was inaugurated for a four-week period in a central Coventry car park back in 2022, serving as a proof of concept. Urban Air Port, the company spearheading this initiative, envisions air taxis as complementary rather than substitutes for existing transportation modes.

According to Urban Air Port's CEO, Andrea Wu, urban centres should host transport hubs, but she points out "there has not been enough investment in infrastructure" in the UK up to now. Regarding the prospect of flying taxis becoming commonplace by 2028, she describes it as an "ambitious timeline", noting the necessity of constructing appropriate take-off and landing sites.

Ms. Wu underscores the importance of setting objectives, stating, "But the whole industry agrees you have to put something down on paper in order to push this forward,"

Following the 2022 demonstration, no additional mini airports have been constructed or trailed. However, the government's plan outlines the operationalization of the first vertiport, designated for vertical vehicles, this year.

The Civil Aviation Authority, the UK's aerospace regulator, is currently reviewing proposals for vertiports at existing aerodromes. Achieving the government's objective of introducing autonomous air taxis by 2030 would likely necessitate the development of new regulations to govern these operations.

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