While carmakers are scrambling to become “mobility companies,” a different race for transportation efficiency is taking place right above our heads. Aircraft manufacturers are testing electric planes, capable of vertical takeoff and landing and remote-controlled flight, to use as traffic-hopping sky taxis that cut commute times down to nothing.
The problem is, they keep crashing down to Earth.
A new report from Bloomberg delved into a few different companies that are building these eVTOL aircraft, from stalwarts like Boeing and Bell to startups Kitty Hawk and Joby. All are racing to bring small, electric VTOL aircraft to market before the rest, but none of their planes have the reliability needed to succeed.
Some of these failures stem from physical components, like combusting batteries, but others are the result of simple software issues. Bloomberg specifically called out one prototype that “erroneously thought it was on the ground, shutting off power in flight” and leading to a crash. Another, the piece says, encountered a programming error that caused it to lose all control in midair.
While the companies developing these prototypes seem content to write off these failures as the cost of innovation, it’s unclear what these eVTOL sky taxis really bring to the table. Those with money to burn and places to be have long been able to charter private helicopters as a means of escaping ground traffic. Will these eVTOLs be cheap enough that every commuter can abandon the ground entirely, or are they simply a more eco-friendly approach to the Roy family’s favourite form of transit?
Bloomberg’s piece states that the FAA is “preparing to certify a handful of the new aircraft to carry people as soon as 2024,” but it may take a while longer than that for the market to catch up. But maybe, if eVTOL aircraft can be made reliable and affordable, we’ll truly no longer need roads.