For years, flying taxis represented an exciting but elusive dream, fueled in part by industrial hype. Now they have a rollout plan and a target arrival date: 2028.
In a document released Tuesday, the FAA outlined the steps it and others must take to enter a competitive air taxi market in at least one location five years from now. The vehicles look like small planes or helicopters and can take off and land vertically, allowing them to operate from downtowns, ferrying people to airports or vacation destinations like the Hamptons in New York or Cape Cod in Massachusetts.
The FAA’s plan is noteworthy because it reflects confidence that the technology is only a few years away, and because it comes from the agency that will oversee aircraft certification as well as the rules that pilots and companies must follow.
“These things will come onto the scene, and our job is to try to be on top,” said Paul Fontaine, the FAA assistant administrator who oversees modernization of the air transportation system. The agency said the plan is intended to serve as a guide to delivering aircraft in a predictable and routine manner.
Creating the conditions for air taxis to hover over one or more cities by 2028 will not be an easy task, and aircraft manufacturers will need the help of many other companies besides the FAA, including other federal agencies and state and local governments.
Air taxis are likely to encounter resistance from local officials and residents who fear they are a safety risk or an inconvenience. Legislation and lawsuits seeking to prevent its use in cities and neighborhoods can lead to pitched battles.
But first the plane must be certified. Many are designed to be all-electric, although some can run on hydrogen or a mixture of jet fuel and batteries. The planes are still under development by different companies and can only carry a few passengers. It also contains a host of new technologies and systems, many of which must be individually certified to meet FAA standards.
said Pat Anderson, a professor at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University and co-founder of VerdeGo Aero, a hybrid taxi company. “In these vehicles, we’re trying to bring many, many things together at once.”
Joby Aviation and Archer Aviation are among the US air taxi companies furthest away in the certification process, and both hope to get certified aircraft and begin commercial service in 2025, ahead of the FAA’s goal of 2028. To achieve their goals, they’ll have to get approval from the federal agency and officials. local services and itineraries.
But air taxi companies have had to delay such plans in the past. In 2017, Uber said it was working on an electric air-taxi Conduct passenger flights by 2020. Instead, it was the year Uber sold its air taxi unit to Joby, which was he said at the time This service could start “as early as 2023.”
Even conventional aircraft built by manufacturers with decades of experience, such as Boeing and Airbus, often face long delays in obtaining certification. FAA officials said they would not compromise on safety to achieve the 2028 goal.
Limitations on battery capacity mean that the distance many air taxis can fly will be restricted. As a result, the aircraft will likely be used first to ferry people in cities to nearby airports — a service some companies already offer with helicopters in cities like New York.
Air taxi companies will have to compete for scarce real estate, navigate city and state regulations, develop infrastructure for charging or refueling aircraft, and gain acceptance from residents. They will also have to hire and train pilots who are in high demand.
However, the FAA’s plan underscores the growing belief among industry analysts and executives that the necessary elements come together to take off air taxis.
“People always ask me, ‘Why is this happening now? “It was the technology, the regulations and the money that allowed us to get here.”
The FAA has been criticized for moving too slowly in certifying air taxis and other new aircraft. In the June report, Inspector General of the Department of Transportation It concluded that poor communication both internally and externally could increase “certification risks and operational delays”.
But the agency has made some progress, recently updating a technical roadmap for rolling out air taxis in cities and publishing a proposed rule in June regulating how air taxi pilots are trained and certified.
Air taxi manufacturers have made technical strides, too, with many now regularly test-flying their aircraft.
Investors have taken notice. Several major air taxi companies have gone public in recent years, including Joby, Archer and Lilium in Germany and Vertical Aerospace in England. This year, Archer, Joby, and Lilium have raised over $150 million each for investors.
Many companies have also deepened relationships with major airlines or automakers. Stellantis, the automaker that owns Jeep, Peugeot and other brands, is helping build a plant in Georgia for Archer, which has an agreement in principle to sell several hundred planes to United Airlines and Mesa Airlines. Jobe has a close relationship with Toyota.
Boeing recently bought Wisk, which is working on autonomous air taxis. And Embraer, the Brazilian maker of smaller commercial aircraft, has created its own air taxi company, Eve Air Mobility.
All companies compete for a market that may one day be worth tens of billions of dollars. The plane may replace some Uber and Lyft rides. For airlines, air taxis can help them win or maintain the loyalty of wealthy travelers.
There are other opportunities, too. UPS is working with air taxi maker Beta Technologies to test cargo air taxis in the UAE. PETA and Jobe have also worked with the US Army.
The key to winning over an audience, said Michael Huerta, a former FAA director who is now a director on the boards of Delta Air Lines and Joby, is making air taxis cheap enough that many people can use them.
“Over time, it will gain more general acceptance, but cost will be critical to that,” he said. “If you only see this as a service to very wealthy people, and you’re dealing with the implications of it, you might be less accepting.”