Flying Taxis : Transforming the Urban Landscape

The rise of flying taxis as a new mode of transportation
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Summary

The latest innovation in urban mobility, flying vehicles, could soon revolutionize transportation. This futuristic concept is both exciting and controversial. While some see it as a dream come true, others view it as an unwelcome intrusion. Despite differing opinions, the potential for flying vehicles to become a major development in urban transportation is undeniable.

Flying taxis at the 2024 Olympic Games

Paris, known as ‘The City of Light’, not only ignites the creativity of artists, writers, and musicians but also serves as a source of inspiration for innovators in the field of mobility. It holds the distinction of being the birthplace of the ride-sharing giant Uber, and the upcoming 2024 Olympic and Paralympic Games in Paris may witness the debut of flying taxis. While the city’s Deputy Mayor dismisses this as a whimsical concept catering only to the wealthy, several Paris airports and local public entities view it as a promising initiative, a sentiment shared by Volocopter, the company behind the innovative aircraft. The proposed cost of €200 per person for a short flight may raise concerns about accessibility for the majority.

What are flying taxis?

Flying taxis are a new way to get around cities. They’re not exactly helicopters, but they can take off and land vertically like them. Unlike helicopters, they’re powered by electricity and are lightweight. While helicopters need pilots, flying taxis can be controlled remotely, although some are still manned, like the ones used at the Paris Olympics. Think of them as a mix between drones and helicopters, able to carry passengers or cargo depending on the task. They’re changing how we think about getting from place to place in cities.

Unmanned Aircraft

Unmanned aircraft offer a wide range of possibilities, according to Benjamyn Scott, a researcher at Leiden Law School. Aside from taxi services, they’re also capable of delivering cargo. Already, they’re being utilized to transport essential supplies, such as medicine, to remote regions like Rwanda and to offshore installations near the Dutch island of Texel. These instances highlight that, like any new technology, the use of unmanned aircraft can have both positive and negative aspects. Nevertheless, enthusiasts of innovation are likely to embrace services like parcel delivery, as showcased in the Amazon Prime Air advertisement featuring Jeremy Clarkson.

Legal issues

It’s challenging to bring these aircraft to the market because of the many options and their potential impact on everyday life. They would be flying in the same uncontrolled airspace as police and ambulance helicopters. Scott and PhD candidate Öykü Kurtpinar are exploring the legal issues surrounding innovative air mobility. Kurtpinar says, “A key issue is liability.” Much will depend on how the technology is used. Scott adds, “Liability will also depend on whether the aircraft is manned or unmanned. If it’s unmanned, the acceptable level of automation needs to be considered. Suppose an accident occurs… was it the pilot’s fault or was it caused by an AI malfunction? Should that matter when considering liability?. Suppose an accident occurs… was it the pilot’s fault or was it caused by an AI malfunction? Should that matter when considering liability?

Safety

The matter of safety is closely intertwined with the matter of liability. Considering the recent challenges faced by aircraft, such as the significant measures taken by Boeing in response to issues with its aircraft, the safety of this emerging air mobility mode naturally raises apprehensions. Scott states, “Currently, conventional aircraft safety protocols are being implemented.” However, he further explains that adhering to these rigorous standards, which are based on extensive safety testing, may lead to delays in the technology’s launch. “Due to the stringent safety regulations for aircraft, the likelihood of an accident would be exceedingly rare. Air travel stands as the safest means of mass transportation.

The absence of European liability legislation

Researchers from Leiden University caution that if Europe aims to position itself as the center of innovative air mobility, policymakers need to address liability issues at a strategic level. The European Commission’s ‘Drone Strategy’, initially formulated a decade ago and subsequently updated in 2022, no longer includes any reference to liability. This is noteworthy, according to Scott, as liability was a significant consideration when the strategy was initially introduced. This situation requires attention. Scott elaborates, “Liability is not a priority on the European Commission’s policy agenda, despite the fact that one of the technologies supporting this type of aircraft is AI, which ranks among the EU’s top priorities.” Kurtpinar emphasizes, “The issue of liability is of such importance that it cannot be left solely to market players. It may be an opportune moment for the EU to take decisive action.

No turning back

At present, it is uncertain whether the flying taxi will take center stage at the 2024 Olympic Games, as Volocopter has recently sought to temper expectations. However, based on the insights from Scott and Kurtpinar, we might ultimately find it difficult to envision life without this type of aircraft. Scott remarks, “It has the potential to be a groundbreaking advancement—similar to when the first automobile was invented.”

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