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Look to the skies for KM opportunities

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Lighter drones typically carry fewer restrictions than their heavier counterparts. For example, the Walmart and Alphabet drones, which weigh less than 50 pounds, are permitted to fly across roadways. However, unless they obtain a special waiver, Amazon’s 80-pound MK27-2 drones fly mostly over private land in sparsely populated areas. In all cases, delivery drones must undergo a series of flight tests in much the same spirit as the testing required of manned aircraft. As you might expect, government regulators are struggling to keep pace with the growth in volume and complexity of these new types of vehicles.

Ready to hail an air taxi?

A sample scenario of a small eVTOL (electric vertical take-off and landing) air taxi carrying a single passenger from a downtown location to a nearby airport that appears at 16:35 in a video (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-Di5Mk-1TyHY) from the October 2020 International Air Safety Summit gives a good idea of what’s involved in managing this rapidly emerging mode of transportation.

A flight plan has been submitted and approved. Along the way, a medical emergency occurs, and the air taxi needs ;to be diverted to the nearest hospital. Pilots don’t just change course and head straight for the hospital. A new route must be planned and approved in real time, which includes accounting for any restricted areas along the way.

A flock of birds suddenly appears along the new flight path. Alternate landing sites are continuously identified and added to the in-time flight planning process. A nearby storm cell, along with other aircraft of all types traveling along approved paths in the vicinity, adds to the mix of pop-up hazards. Finally, restrictions on the airspace surrounding the hospital are temporarily lifted, allowing the air taxi to land, with emergency medical personnel on hand, having been notified in advance. These are only a few examples of the many possible risks along each and every flight path that must be identified, assessed, and mitigated.

Coming soon … wings as an option on your next car purchase. “Mark my word: A combination airplane and motorcar is coming.” That was the prediction made by Henry Ford almost a century ago. By next year, at least three companies plan on finally putting the world’s first flying cars into production. These latter-day Henry Fords include Sam Bousfield, founder of Samson Sky, maker of the Switchblade, for which more than 2,100 orders have already been placed. Other entrants are PAL-V International’s Liberty Sport, which uses one of its two engines in car-driving mode, and Klein Vision’s AirCar, which features pop-out wings and tail to allow for easy street parking.

These don’t quite deliver on the fantasy of being stuck in traffic and just pushing a button, taking off, and laughing as you fly over everybody else. In all likelihood, owners of these new models will likely drive from their homes to a nearby airstrip and then take off. Prices for this convenience range from $170,000 for the Switchblade to $300,000 for the Liberty Sport. As for traditional automakers such as Porsche, Toyota, and Hyundai, most are focused on entering the eVTOL market within the next 1–3 years while keeping a watchful eye on this first line of flying automobiles.

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