Despite the conclusions of our first two episodes, the press regularly hails the arrival of the flying car based on the results of experiments and success of prototypes. The reasons for this aren’t what you might expect.
This time, we’re there. This fourth instalment marks the end of the first season of Bright Futures dedicated to the flying car. If you’ve read the previous three articles, you’ll have probably gathered that this fantasy of total freedom, dating all the way back to the twentieth century, is far from taking over our skies. At least not in the way writers and sci-fi directors once imagined.
Like you, we’ve discovered through our interviews with experts that, contrary to popular belief, it’s not technology that’s stopping them from being developed. Because even if we‘re far from the Spinners of Blade Runner and the Landspeeders of Star Wars, several prototypes have successfully flown through the skies. Not brilliantly, sure, but they’ve capable of flying nonetheless. The reality is that flying cars have never had a viable economic model, because of both extremely high production costs and non-existent (or basically non-existent) demand. You don’t need a Nobel Prize in economics to understand this failure, which has lasted for more than a century. Even automobile manufacturers have understood this, as they too seem not to believe in the flying car any more. But still they continue to pump out press releases about prototypes to project an innovative, futuristic image
In fact, there exists only one credible scenario at the time of writing: that of giant drones functioning as taxis and moving from take-off platforms to landing platforms, sort of like electric helicopters. Except that with the cost of real estate in big cities around the world, it’s difficult to imagine local or national authorities knocking down apartment blocks or destroying parks to build this infrastructure. And if they did it, who would they be doing it for? For the ultrarich, taking up yet more public (air)space? Once again, it feels this wouldn’t sit well with many. No need to be a sociologist or politics expert to be aware of that.
And then, even if they were permitted to fly above our city centres, where exactly would they fly? Above our already noisy and busy streets? Beneath our windows, risking violating our privacy? A few centimetres above the ground, encountering all the same problems as wheeled vehicles? None of those options sound ideal.
And then there’s an issue we haven’t looked at yet: that of the environmental impact of flying cars. If they’re powered by combustion engines, there’s no debate. They would not be any better than our old terrestrial bangers. If they are electric, they’ll face all the same ecological problems that cars using this technology on the ground do. No greenhouse-gas emissions, sure, but there is the fact of having to produce batteries, which brings a whole host of other problems. Worse still, it could contribute to creating a society even more problematic from an environmental perspective, as Bernard Jullien, an automobile economics expert at the University of Bordeaux: “Certain people in ecologist circles are suspicious of the electrification of cars because they fear it sends the wrong message. They fear that the number of cars will increase because people have the impression of moving around in an eco-friendly way, and that that will increase urban sprawl.” Clearly, we’re not saying combustion engines should be promoted at the expense of electric cars. Simply that the arrival of thousands of flying cars, even if electric, won’t really amount to a step forwards for the planet.
Throughout this series of pieces, we’ve asked exports when they think the flying car will arrive as a legitimate means of getting around. Unsurprisingly, most of them refused to comment on the subject, making the argument that there’s little evidence to go on when predicting the large-scale rollout of flying cars. As for flying taxis – which will be tested during the Paris Olympic Games in 2024 – Philippe Boyadjis, president of France’s Fédération Professionnelle du Drone Civil, reckons they will be rolled out within the next five years, as the technology is already there. It remains to be seen whether this airborne version of our good old cab will prove popular with the general public – or gain approval from the authorities.
When flying taxis will be rolled out: