When it comes to flying cars, The Jetsons got a few things wrong. The latest versions don’t have cool bubble tops, for one thing, and can’t fold up into a briefcase, origami-like, once you reach your office. But today’s electric air taxis, which could be soaring high above U.S. cityscapes as soon as 2023, have their own special charms. These fliers promise speeds of 100 to 180 miles per hour, which means that your two-hour drive to work in gridlocked traffic could become closer to 20 minutes. Most are fully electric, have one to four seats, and boast of vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) capabilities that eliminate the need for runways. In your commute of the future, you might hail one of these with an app—think Uber, but for the air—at a cost similar to that of an earthbound rideshare.
Air taxis do face significant obstacles, from the technical (battery limitations, not-ready-to-bet-your-life-on-them collision avoidance systems) and the regulatory (whether they’re piloted or autonomous, their operational standards will be set by the Federal Aviation Administration) to the commercial (will enough regular folks ditch their cars or Lyfts to make these economically feasible?). Despite the steep challenges, though, startups and investors are pursuing liftoff in a market that could be worth $1.5 trillion by 2040.
Here are three California air-taxi companies to watch
Headquarters: Santa Cruz
Aircraft name: Not disclosed
Notable partners: Toyota, which recently invested $394 million in the startup; Uber, which sold Joby its own air-taxi division, Uber Elevate, last December.
What sets it apart: Received the U.S. Air Force’s first-ever eVTOL airworthiness certification, which means that service personnel will be flying in these too.
Scheduled departure: “We plan to start operating commercial passenger service as early as 2023.”
Headquarters: Palo Alto
Aircraft name: Heaviside
Notable partners: Investors include Google cofounder Larry Page and the Defense Innovation Unit.
What sets it apart: Heaviside—named after the English engineer Oliver Heaviside—is a one-seater. In theory, it could be flown manually by an owner looking for a pricey second ride; as an air taxi, the autonomous craft would be an airborne “rideshare” for one. It’s faster than other air taxis, with a maximum speed of 180 miles per hour, and 100 times quieter than your standard helicopter.
Scheduled departure: Too early to say.
Headquarters: Mountain View
Aircraft name: Cora
Notable partners: Kitty Hawk, which spun off its Cora aircraft to form this joint venture with Boeing; Boeing, which contributes engineers and experts; NASA, as part of the federal agency’s Advanced Air Mobility National Campaign, whose goal is the development of autonomous aircraft.
What sets it apart: No pilot. Pricing will depend on route and travel distance and will be comparable to that of Uber Black. The Cora prototype has logged more than 1,000 flights since 2017.
Scheduled departure: “We intend to be the first to market with a self-flying air taxi.”•