Brocker.Org: Airbus says a ride in its ‘flying car’ will cost the same as a regular taxi — here’s a first glimpse of what’s to come

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Project
Vahana

Airbus is inching closer to the very first test flight of its
electric aircraft and says a ride in the vehicle will be as cheap
“as taking a taxi” per mile.

Airbus’ Silicon Valley arm is developing a flying taxi as
part of an effort to alleviate congestion by taking commuting to
the skies. Zach Lovering, the project leader, provided Business
Insider with a sneak peek of what its prototype will look
like, saying it will cost passengers between $1.50 to $2.50
per mile.

The electric aircraft, called Project Vahana, will fly
autonomously and rely on eight rotors to take off
vertically. Airbus will test its first prototype, which will have
a range of 50 kilomters (31 miles), by the end of 2017.

The final version, which is set to hit the market in 2020,
will be able to fly for 100 kilometers (62 miles). Airbus will
use swappable batteries to keep its aircraft operational.

“To get those costs down, the biggest driver by far is the
electric propulsion system,” Lovering told Business Insider.

Airbus isn’t the only
company
pursuing vertical take-off aircrafts as an
alternative form of city transit. Germany’s e-Volo
and Uber are also
planning to release flying taxi services by 2018 and 2021,
respectively.

But Airbus is the first company to release an expected price for
its service. 

Naturally, trips in flying taxis are bound to last longer than
the majority of quick cab rides. But it shows Airbus is trying to
keep prices competitive for people willing to weigh the
difference between taking a cab or electric aircraft to an
airport.

Airbus is able to keep prices low by utilizing an electric
powertrain that doesn’t require as much maintenance as gasoline
engines, which undergo extreme thermal cycles, Lovering said.
Deploying an autonomous system that doesn’t require a pilot
also cuts costs.

Airbus’ video rendering (below) shows the aircraft will use lidar
and cameras to stay on a designated flight path and avoid
obstacles, like birds. It will come with a parachute for
emergency situations.

Here’s how it will work: a customer will use an app to summon a
Vahana aircraft at a nearby helipad. While a passenger takes
an Uber or taxi to the landing site, the aircraft will
automatically conduct a pre-flight test to ensure it’s ready for
take-off as soon as the user arrives.


vahana flying carAirbus/Project Vahana

Airbus’ vision hinges on the Federal Aviation Administration
(FAA) granting regulatory approval. 

Lovering said strides have already been made on the regulatory
front. Last December, the FAA issued a revised ruling
under section 23 of its Small Airplane Revitalization
Act, which makes it easier to certify new kinds of small
aircrafts.

But the ruling primarily allows for the use of new kinds of
software on small aircrafts, like machine vision cameras. The FAA
still has to clear a path for certifying electric, vertical
take-off systems.

“The FAA has told us directly that they no longer want to be a
road block for enabling these kind of vehicles,” Lovering said.

Whether or not these aircrafts will be effective at reducing city
congestion remains to be seen, considering passengers will likely
take single-occupancy vehicles to helipads.

But Airbus will look to become a main competitor in this nascent
space by bringing its legacy of building civil aircrafts and
working with the FAA, Lovering said.

Check out Airbus’ vision for its Project Vahana aircraft: 

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