The dream of flying cars has been around longer than Boeing Co. has been making airplanes. Now a vision from the pages of Jules Verne is near enough to occupy the present-day plans of Boeing’s leadership.
“I think it will happen faster than any of us understand,” CEO Dennis Muilenburg said in an interview. “Real prototype vehicles are being built right now. So the technology is very doable.” The new era of flying urban vehicles is close enough for the man overseeing jetliners and spacecraft to begin plotting what he calls the “rules of the road” for three-dimensional highways.
Autonomous air taxis and parcel-hauling drones have the potential to be the next disruption to sweep the aerospace industry, with Boeing and arch-rival Airbus SE among the manufacturers racing to stake a claim. Muilenburg sees it as a a rare opening to shape a new transportation ecosystem. Fleets of self-piloted craft could be hovering above city streets and dodging skyscrapers within a decade, he said. Propelling these advances are a flood of investment, rapid gains in autonomy, and growing consumer frustration with bumper-to-bumper traffic.
Other observers share his aggressive timeline. Electric passenger drones, seating two to five travelers and looking like distant cousins of today’s helicopters, could come on the market within the next two years, according to a new study by Deloitte. By the early 2020s, the study said, flying cars could drive to the airport by roadways and then accelerate down runways into the sky. Even NASA is now studying the feasibility of what the government space agency calls “Urban Air Mobility.” But if any of these technologies are to take root, regulators must first figure out a host of critical safety issues, starting with how to manage both conventional traffic and new flying machines.
“It won’t be all turned on in one day,” Muilenburg said.
Mediabites Editorial – Shoaib Naqvi