No doubt that the COVID-19 pandemic hit the aviation industry hard and although for many airlines recovery plans are a key priority, innovation and technology is still on the agenda.
While, flying cars have been a science fiction staple for many decades, in Kenya, the vision will soon be a reality thanks to the country’s legacy carrier Kenya Airways, through its pioneering Fahari Innovation hub and the help of airplane manufacturer Embraer.
The two companies earlier in the month announced an MOU that will see both companies investing in urban air mobility and “flying taxis” with Fahari Aviation tech hub, serving as a testing ground.
It’s not surprising that Kenya Airways’ venture-backed start-up, and Embraer’s Florida-based EVE are rushing to grab a foothold in this nascent market.
The business has the potential to significantly disrupt the landscape of urban mobility, and investors are pouring millions into its commercialization, as they are attracted to the fact that electric air taxis have the potential to lower operating and maintenance costs dramatically, according to a research by Morgan Stanley.
Limit is the Sky
The history of the flying car started with the Curtiss Auto-plane of 1917, an awkward-looking contraption with detachable wings, which never left the ground.
In 1940, automaker Henry Ford said, “Mark my words: a combination airplane and motorcar is coming.” Ford was teased for the statement, but now, decades later, the same technologies that power drones and steer autonomous vehicles could launch “flying cars” from the pages of sci-fi comics to the skies of our cities.
Perhaps, if you’ve watched “Back to the Future,” you may have indulged in flights of fancy about winging it to work and waving traffic jams goodbye.
Although the idea of flying cars may seem fantastical, much of the ecosystem is already in development in complementary technologies. Military drones have been around for years, and electrified, autonomous vertical take-off and landing vehicles (VTOLs) are gaining traction. In logistics, drone package delivery is in active testing.
The potential for these flying vehicles comes from their ability to solve vexing problems for companies and consumers. Shipping goods would likely be the first use case because of the lower degree of technological barriers (weight, size, etc.) as well as fewer regulatory hurdles. But the ultimate goal is moving people.
If you’ve been in Kenya, imagine linking urban centres with suburbs while leapfrogging traffic. Air taxis could cruise at 180 mph at altitudes of around 1,000 ft to 2,000 ft. But NASA has reported they can go at an altitude up to 5,000 ft.
The Morgan Stanley report projects a total addressable market of $1.5 trillion for autonomous aircraft by 2040, creating opportunities for investors and benefiting a host of sectors along the way.
Ready for Lift-off
The Eve partnership move will help in establishing Fahari Aviation UAM network and collaborate on the required Urban Air Traffic Management (UATM) procedures and UAM operating environment.
This will also enable the Pioneering Fahari Innovation hub access Embraer’s robust strategies that will provide Fahari Aviation’s passengers with a sustainable, accessible, and affordable transportation option.
The prototype should eventually approach the cost of ground transportation and help people save more than an hour in commuting time every day. It is estimated that EVA can reduce conventional road trips by up to 90% turning an hour and a half ride into a 6-minute flight.
By Victor Shalton Odhiambo