For years, flying taxis have represented an exciting but distant dream, fueled partly by industry hype. Now they have a rollout plan and target arrival date: 2028.
In a document published Tuesday, the Federal Aviation Administration outlined the steps it and others need to take to enter the competitive air taxi market in at least one place five years from now. The vehicles look like small airplanes or helicopters and can take off and land vertically, allowing them to operate between cities, ferrying people to and from airports or vacation spots such as the Hamptons in New York or Cape Cod in Massachusetts. Can be taken up to
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 the certification of aircraft as well as the rules that pilots and companies must follow.
“These things will come up, and our job is to try and stay ahead,” said Paul Fontaine, assistant FAA administrator overseeing the modernization of the air transportation system. The agency said the plan is intended to serve as a guide to ground the aircraft in a predictable and regular manner.
Creating conditions for air taxis to fly over one or more cities by 2028 will be no small task, and aircraft manufacturers will need help from the FAA and many others, including other federal agencies and state and local governments.
Air taxis may face opposition from local officials and residents, who fear they will pose a safety hazard or create a nuisance. Laws and lawsuits seeking to stop their use in cities and neighborhoods can generate fierce battles.
But first the aircraft has to be certified. Many are designed to be fully electric, although some may be powered by hydrogen or a combination of jet fuel and batteries. The aircraft is still under development by various companies and can only carry a handful of passengers. They also include a range of new technologies and systems, many of which must be individually certified to meet the FAA’s standards.
“With a lot of new aircraft technology, you bring in a very unique thing and you work your way through that,” said Pat Anderson, professor at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University and co-founder of hybrid air taxi Verdego Aero. company. “In these vehicles, we are trying to bring forward several things at once.”
Joby Aviation and Archer Aviation are among the leading US air taxi companies in that certification process, and both expect to have certified aircraft and start commercial services in 2025, ahead of the FAA’s 2028 target. To achieve their goals, they must obtain approval from federal agency and local officials for specific services and routes.
But air taxi companies have had to delay such plans in the past. In 2017, Uber said it was working on electric air taxis. operate passenger flights by 2020, Instead, this was the year Uber sold its air taxi unit to Joby said at that time That service could begin “as early as 2023.”
Even conventional airplanes made by manufacturers with decades of experience, such as Boeing and Airbus, often face long delays in certification. And FAA officials said they would not compromise on safety to meet the 2028 target.
Battery capacity limits mean that the distance to which many air taxis can fly will be restricted. As a result, the aircraft will likely first be used to ferry people in cities to nearby airports – a service that some companies already offer with helicopters in cities like New York.
Air taxi companies would have to compete for scarce real estate, comply with city and state regulations, develop infrastructure to charge or refuel planes, and get approval from residents. They also have to hire and train pilots, who are in high demand.
Still, the FAA’s plan underscores a growing belief among industry analysts and executives that the necessary elements are coming together to advance air taxis.
“People always ask me, ‘Why is this happening now?'” said Adam Goldstein, Archer’s chief executive. “It’s technology, regulation and money that allowed us to get this far.”
The FAA has been criticized for moving too slowly in certifying air taxis and other innovative aircraft. In a June report, Inspector General of Transport Department concluded that poor communication internally and externally could increase the “risk of delay in certification and operationalization”.
But the agency is making some progress, recently updating a technical road map for piloting air taxis in cities and in June publishing a proposed rule on how air taxi pilots should be trained and certified .
Air taxi manufacturers have also made technological advances, with many now regularly testing their aircraft.
Investors have taken notice. Several major air taxi companies have gone public in recent years, including Joby, Archer, Lilium in Germany and Vertical Aerospace in England. This year, Archer, Joby and Lilium each raised more than $150 million from investors.
Many companies have also forged relationships with major airlines or automakers. Stellantis, the automaker that owns Jeep, Peugeot and other brands, is helping to build a factory in Georgia for Archer, which has a tentative agreement to sell several hundred aircraft to United Airlines and Mesa Airlines. Joby has a close relationship with Toyota.
Boeing recently bought Wisk, which is working on an autonomous air taxi. And the Brazilian company Embraer, which makes small commercial aircraft, created its own air taxi company, Eve Air Mobility.
All businesses are competing for a market that could someday be worth billions of dollars. The plane could replace some of the journeys via Uber and Lyft. For airlines, air taxis can help them win over or retain the loyalty of affluent travelers.
There are other opportunities too. UPS is working with air taxi maker Beta Technologies to test air taxis for cargo in the United Arab Emirates. Beta and Joby have also served with the US military.
Michael Huerta, a former FAA administrator who is now a director on the boards of Delta Air Lines and Joby, said the key to winning over the public would be to make air taxis cheap enough that many people could use them.
“Over time, it will gain wider public acceptance, but it will come at a significant cost,” he said. “If you view it as a service only for the very wealthy, and you’re dealing with its effects, you might be less accepting of it.”