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Companies envision taxis flying above jammed traffic

SAN FRANCISCO (AFP) – As urban traffic gets more miserable, entrepreneurs are looking to a future in which commuters hop into “air taxis” that whisk them over clogged roads.

Companies such as Archer, Joby and Wisk are working on electric-powered aircraft that take off and land vertically like helicopters then propel forward like planes.

“The Jetsons’ is definitely a reference that people make a lot when trying to contextualise what we are doing,” Archer Vice President Louise Bristow told AFP, referring to a 1960s animated comedy about a family living in a high-tech future.

“The easiest way to think about it is a flying car, but that’s not what we’re doing.”
What Archer envisions is an age of aerial ride-sharing, an “Uber or Lyft of the skies”, Bristow said. Neighbourhood parking garage rooftops or shopping mall lots could serve as departure or arrival pads for electric vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) aircraft.

Commuters would make it the rest of the way however they wish, even synching trips with car rideshare services such as Uber which owns a stake in Santa Cruz, California-based Joby.

Xwing CTO Maxime Gariel checks on the systems in a Cessna 208B Grand Caravan which has been outfitted with autonomous flying equipment at Xwing headquarters in Concord. PHOTO: AFP

Joby executives said on a recent earnings call that its first production model aircraft should be in the skies later this year. That comes despite a Joby prototype crashing early this year while being tested at speeds and altitudes far greater than it would have to handle as part of an air taxi fleet.

Joby has declined to discuss details of the remotely piloted aircraft’s crash, which occurred in an uninhabited area, saying it is waiting for United States (US) aviation regulators to finish an investigation.

“We were at the end of the flight test expansion campaign at test points well above what we expect to see in normal operations,” Joby Executive Chairman Paul Sciarra told analysts. “I’m really excited about where we are right now; we have demonstrated the full performance of our aircraft.”

Its eVTOL aircraft have a maximum range of 150 miles, a top speed of 200 miles per hour and a “low noise profile” to avoid an annoying din, the company said. Joby has announced partnerships with SK Telecom and the TMAP mobility platform in South Korea to provide emissions-free aerial ridesharing.

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