According to experts gathered this week at the South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas, that is likely to happen sooner than later, with flying taxis expected to take to the skies by 2025.
“People have been dreaming about it for decades on paper, and now the technology is here,” said Michael Thacker, executive vice-president for technology and innovation at Bell. “The only question is, what are we going to do with it?”
Thacker said his company has joined with ride-hailing app Uber and several aeronautics firms, including France’s Safran, to create a fleet of flying taxis that are called vertical take-off and landing vehicles (VTOL).
The Nexus, as this hybrid electric propulsion aircraft is named, was first unveiled in January at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.
Between 20 and 30 other firms are working on similar concepts, among them start-ups or major companies such as Airbus, which recently presented its electric aircraft CityAirbus.
Uber plans to launch its air taxis first in Los Angeles and Dallas, two major traffic-congested American cities.
Asked about using helicopters as an alternative, Thacker said the taxis are financially sounder and quieter.
The noise has to blend in with the background noise of the city,” he said.
He predicted the vehicles could start to be commercially used around 2025.
“It’s not going to replace ground transport, it will augment it in another dimension,” he said. “And it’s not going to jump overnight with thousands of aircraft.
“There will rather be a few dozens of them in a few cities… at first using helipads and helicopter routes.”
Bell executives said drones transporting goods, such as emergency medical products, should take to the skies well before taxis given lesser restrictions imposed on such aircraft.
“Transport of goods don’t have so many requirements in terms of safety and acceptability by people,” he said.
Jaiwon Shin, associate administrator for the Aeronautics Research Mission Directorate at NASA, said although 2025 appears like a reasonable date for a limited launch of flying vehicles, it will take longer for the market to fully expand.
Also, experts say, several barriers still need to be overcome before flying vehicles get the green light.