The next time you look up at the sky, you might be seeing a car. What does this mean for drivers, insurance companies, and the future of transportation?
Remember that magical moment in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, when Ron and Harry are soaring through the clouds in an old Ford Anglia? It’s now a possibility.
The first production-ready flying car has hit the market, and it really does fly. Produced by PAL-V, the Liberty comes complete with a top speed of 100 miles per hour and a maximum altitude of 11,000 feet. As reservations for the vehicle increase and the rest of society groans in anticipation, other companies are working to release designs. In fact, at the end of 2017, 15 corporations were developing plans for flying cars. Last year, Elon Musk promised that the Tesla Roadster would be hitting the road—and the sky—around 2020. Even Uber has made arrangements for flying cars, discussing a pilot service in 2020 in Los Angeles, Dallas-Fort Worth, and Dubai.
In the meantime, everyone’s wondering if these contraptions are science fiction and what this means for transportation, safety, and the automobile industry in general.
How the Liberty Works
Do you like Transformers? If not, this might change your mind. As the first commercial-ready flying car, the Liberty is only one design of many to come. It looks like a new-age automobile on the road, with a sleek, elliptical body and only one front tire. When it is in flying mode, a rotor blade and tail manually extend, transforming the vehicle into a miniature gyroplane-car. For those worried about jet-fuel, put your mind at ease: this automobile-helicopter duo runs purely on unleaded gasoline.
Other vehicles—like the AeroMobil— have taken a more plane-like approach, with design aspects similar to an airplane.
Owning a flying car doesn’t come without a fair amount of work. In the US, as soon as the car becomes airborne, it is no longer considered an automobile. Therefore, to operate the vehicle in the air, the driver must have a pilot’s license.
Other companies with upcoming flying cars indicate that a pilot’s license may not be necessary. The Terrafugia’s Transition, for example, will only require a standard US driver’s license.
Take-Off and Landing
No, there won’t be random vehicles on the highway next to you that erupt suddenly with rotors. Drivers must use an existing airstrip to get into the air or to land on the ground. According to the Bureau of Transportation, there are about 19,000 airports in the US. How many of those can be accessed and used by the public is open to debate.
Right now, there just aren’t enough flying vehicles and drones in uncontrolled airspace to create a huge cause for concern. However, the day is sure to come. When it does, NASA’s Highway In The Sky (HITS) program may be the answer. It provides a virtual “highway” display and a pre-planned course that allows drivers to fly safely. As for malfunctions while flying, the same regulations that are expected in airplanes apply to flying cars. Even pre-flight checks are necessary.
“Flying vehicles may reveal a new set of dilemmas in terms of liability,” says attorney Jason Baril of the Law Offices of Ogle, Elrod, and Baril.
Indeed, creating estimates and regulations based on recently-released technology is difficult. Jim Weiss of Verisk, a data analytics provider, writes, “Although the Transition may be decades from commercial availability, automobile insurers are vying to keep pace with a flurry of other recent innovations, including lane departure and blind-spot warning systems, driver alertness monitoring, collision preparation systems, and self-parking.”
Putting it simply, insurance is going to be costly, and agencies are still working out the kinks.
The sky is not falling, but more people will be up there. In a society obsessed with time and convenience, it’s no wonder that vehicles are taking to the air. For now, however, regulations are in place that will dissuade numerous drivers from flying anytime soon. After all, obtaining a pilot’s license takes time, money, and patience. For those of you dreaming of the day you can skim the clouds with your tires, consider the other technological advances being made in transportation. While many manufacturers are citing 2020 as the deadline for their own flying car’s commercial release, supersonic passenger planes, hyperloop trains, and supersonic submarines are well on their way to becoming a reality.
In conclusion, don’t give up on that dream of cloud-tipped tires, but if it comes true be sure to watch out for Whomping Willows.