The flight plan: Flying cars could be on the horizon very soon

Back in 2019, Volocopter completed a manned flight over Marina Bay Sands in Singapore as part of a trial to validate its ability to fly over the area. — Volocopter

Flying cars or vehicles, widely considered the stuff of science fiction, may soar into reality and change the way we travel, particularly in urban areas.

On Nov 9, the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore (CAAS) announced that it held a meeting with 17 civil aviation authorities from Asia-Pacific, including Malaysia and China, to foster a collaboration to establish safety rules for air taxis and drones.

CAAS director-general Han Kok Juan said there has been a rapid advancement in the development of AAM (advanced air mobility) and UAS (unmanned aircraft systems) technology in recent years.

“Air taxis and drones will transform the way we work, move and live. Regulators and regulation need to keep pace with technology to reap its full benefits while ensuring security and public and aviation safety,” he said in his opening remarks at the meeting.

However, he warned, “This is challenging, given the novelty of the technology, the speed of development and adoption, and resource constraints and competing priorities.”

The meeting established a focus on eight areas of priority, including certification, validation and acceptance of capacity building and public education, to raise awareness and address concerns related to safety as well as privacy.

It also aims to facilitate commercialisation and ensure effective regulatory practices regarding the use of air taxis and drones in the Asia-Pacific region.

The meeting was also attended by 24 companies, such as Aerodyne from Malaysia, Singapore-based Garuda Robotics and the United Kingdom’s Inmarsat.

Han explained that a few civil aviation authorities have started the process of certifying air taxis or are in the process of doing so, and he expects “demand for certification to grow”.

It was reported last month that China has given Guangzhou-based autonomous aerial vehicle company Ehang the go-ahead to trial air taxi operations in the country.

The company will be collaborating with local partners to use its two-passenger EH216-S electric vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) aircraft for scenic tours at tourist destinations such as Tianchi Lake in Xinjiang Province and OH Bay in Shenzhen.

Bloomberg reported that Ehang has received pre-orders for 100 EHS216-S aircraft in China and 1,200 more from other countries, including Malaysia, Indonesia and Japan, while a Reuters report said one vehicle costs US$296,000 (RM1.4mil).

The EHS216-S is a 16-rotor drone with the ability to transport two passengers at a maximum speed of 130kph.

On its website, the company said that its autonomous aerial vehicles (AAVs) are fitted with two 9.7in tablets on the dashboard for real-time monitoring and interaction.

They even have a luggage compartment to fit an 18-inch suitcase.

The company claimed that its AAVs are equipped with a fail-safe system where a preset algorithm will select the safest route for passengers to land in case of an emergency.

In a press statement on Oct 30, Ehang said the first batch of its passenger-carrying EHS-216S is scheduled to roll off the production line, with deliveries expected in the fourth quarter of this year.

During the initial phase of commercial operations, the company stated that it would rigorously monitor the new routes, implementing safety measures such as deploying additional observers in areas beyond the operators’ visual line of sight.

Meanwhile, on Nov 13, German-based Volocopter announced that the company had completed its first flight test in New York City with its Volocopter 2X.

The company said the electric air taxi flew “in a stable, quiet and smooth manner”, adding that the vehicle’s design is suited for short-to-mid-range urban rides, promising zero emissions in flight and “very little noise pollution”.

The company is planning a commercial launch in Paris, France, next year.

It has also announced plans for an initial launch phase in Singapore where tourists can take its VoloCity air taxi over the city’s Marina Bay landmark.

The Straits Times reported that the route spans over 12km and that the service is anticipated to launch in 2024.

Locally, airline companies have unveiled plans to explore the possibility of launching air taxi services in Malaysia.

Volocopter, back in 2021, announced that it had signed an MoU with Malaysia Airports and Skyports Infrastructure to conduct a feasibility study for vertiport deployment in Malaysia.

Just last year, AirAsia said it had signed a partnership with Skyports to explore the development of air taxi infrastructure in Malaysia.

In a statement, AirAsia Aviation Group chief safety officer and head of advanced air mobility, Captain Ling Liong Tien, said the partnership will “accelerate the review of the infrastructure, including vertical take-off and landing platforms in the country”.

The company also said that it has announced future plans to lease 100 Vertical Aerospace VX4 eVTOL aircraft from Dublin-based Avolon.

According to Avolon, the Vertical Aerospace VX4 eVTOL is a piloted vehicle capable of travelling over 320kph with a range of over 160km and capacity for four passengers with a pilot.

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Drones , Technology , EV


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