IE 11 Not Supported

For optimal browsing, we recommend Chrome, Firefox or Safari browsers.

Can Flying Taxis Overcome Civic and Legal Turbulence?

As momentum builds for this newer form of mobility, cities, counties and states will face increasing pressure to craft policies for flying taxis. A pilot involved in the effort maps out the challenges to come.

Air taxi concept
Shutterstock/Ashishtobu
Flying taxis might seem more fantasy than reality at this point.

But as companies boost their efforts to build this new form of mobility, such activity promises to force city, regional and state officials into planning for that particular future.

“We are at an unprecedented time in aviation history” is how Todd Petersen, a pilot and consultant, put it to Government Technology — a comment that reflects the general enthusiasm among proponents of flying taxis.

Petersen is the co-founder and chief technology officer of Ellis and Associates, the consulting arm of Lacuna, a Silicon Valley startup active in the mobility space, and a company that hopes to grab a share of the emerging flying taxi market via its technology. A recent interview with him helps to map out how companies and governments might go forward with flying taxi deployments.

FLYING TAXI GROWTH


Various data and ongoing projects support Petersen’s enthusiasm, at least to a point.

For instance, one market research report predicted that the global air taxi business will increase to $6.63 billion by 2030, up from $817.5 million in 2021, with electric vehicles the main driver of that growth.

Meanwhile, major airlines reportedly are investing significantly in the air taxi space. As well, public agencies — including NASA and the Los Angeles city government — are putting time and money into researching this form of mobility while also crafting partnerships with other units of government along with industry players.

Beyond all that, places such as O’Hare International Airport in Chicago and the state of Kansas appear to be trying to gain an edge with flying taxis — or at least on-demand helicopter services — via partnerships and similar efforts.

BIG CHALLENGES


But even with all that energy and all the new money flowing into flying taxis, creating a new form of mobility that resonates with a large audience — and the governments that serve them — still faces stiff challenges.

As Petersen told it — again, echoing comments from other proponents — governments have not kept up with the pace of air taxi innovation, even though, he says, the first “commercially viable vehicles” are about five years away.

The first step for those public agencies wanting to be part of that overall effort is deciding what “aerial mobility” means for their own local, regional or state visions of transit, he said. But governments interested in making a mark early on with flying taxis would be best served to get into the game now.

“The cities are not leading this charge, so aircraft manufacturers are leading,” he said.

That means, in part, identifying places from which flying taxis could operate — for instance, private heliports or even the top decks of parking garages.

Public agencies might do well to recall their experiences with ride-sharing as officials consider a future that involves flying taxis, according to Petersen.

“Ride-sharing just descended on cities,” he said, and that limited the longer-term planning that officials could do and forced many public agencies to improvise as that form of mobility underwent severe disruption. “The cost of waiting and seeing is viewed as being very high.”

PLANNING CONCERNS


A long-term view with air taxis could prove especially valuable when it comes to planning, zoning and environmental impact issues. After all, most land-use policies in place probably don’t offer much to say about relatively small aircraft designed for short, local trips, and which don’t require runways.

Such ambiguity likely will result in precedent-setting court fights that will then set the stage for other deployments of this particular type of mobility technology, he said.

As well, Petersen said, there is still the question of who owns low-level airspace — where flying taxis would operate — and what that means for such tasks and local landing clearances.

“Unless we figure out these sorts of things, we are not going to end up with successful rollouts,” he said.
Thad Rueter writes about the business of government technology. He covered local and state governments for newspapers in the Chicago area and Florida, as well as e-commerce, digital payments and related topics for various publications. He lives in New Orleans.