Flying Car Variable Not Considered: Demand

By Scott Spangler on September 1st, 2014

Over the past century dreamers have invested in their vision of a flying car. There’s a good catalog of them in a recent New York Time article, “Why We’re Not Driving the Friendly Skies.”

Expanding on the article’s headline, the author, Stuart F. Brown, steps through the engineering challenges of melding the particular demands of aerial and terrestrial transportation in a single vehicle. Then there are the FAA type and production certification requirements and the federal highway safety requirements.

Then there’s pilot certification, and the reality that flying cars will transition from earth to sky not from roads but at airports. “A final impediment to swarms of flying cars filling the skies is the existing air traffic control system, which isn’t set up to keep track of low-flying aircraft that don’t have a flight plan and may impulsively change course.”

And here the author falls victim to the variable few flying car dreamers seem to consider: demand. Are there really enough rich people willing to invest mid-six-figures in a VFR vehicle of middling aerial performance? And will they invest the time and money to earn the pilot certification needed to operate it?

The answers to these questions can be derived from the decades long decline in student pilot starts and the car selling points ads touting new cars have focused on for the past few years. In short, not only are people not interested in learning to fly, they are growing too busy to drive.

Whether in the sky or on the road, safely navigating from Point A to B requires attention to detail both in and around the vehicle. Over time, we have given more and more of this responsibility to technology. It started in aviation, and it has been migrating to automobiles.

If you doubt this, what are all the systems that make driving easier and safer that car makers today trumpet? Aren’t dashboard indications that drivers are wandering out of their lane (because they are, pick one: texting, talking on the phone, eating, getting ready for work, disciplining or dressing the kids in the back seat…) like aviation’s traffic collision avoidance system (TCAS)?

And then there are systems that this year will apply the brakes before drivers back into the path of passing car or into the back of one stopped (or traveling slower) ahead of them. The automaker’s sales numbers suggest that people want these systems because they want to get from place to place safely in a manner that lets them do something else in the process. As a group, these people don’t strike me as potential flying car customers.

No, if you want to see the future of terrestrial and aerial transportation, turn to the technology being developed for autonomous drones. That is the future of transportation. Get in and go with no investment in the process beyond deciding on the destination. It is surely coming soon to our everyday world. –Scott Spangler, Editor

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