Cars of the future await clearance for takeoff

By LI FUSHENG | China Daily | Updated: 2021-11-25 08:04
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An Ehang 184 passenger drone is put through its paces during a test flight in the southern city of Guangzhou. [Photo by Feng Zhoufeng/for China Daily]

Infrastructure costs

The closer that passengers are to takeoff and landing sites, the greater the potential for time savings, the main reason people will choose flying vehicles.

McKinsey estimates that for large, densely populated cities, such as Shanghai, New York and London, some 85 to 100 takeoff and landing pads could be required.

Building such infrastructure in a city would cost about $35 million to $45 million, with annual operating costs of some $110 million to $130 million.

Assuming that a single trip costs about $150, which means a charge of $50 to $75 per passenger depending on the number of seats available, infrastructure operators would need roughly 2,200 trips per day to be made in order to break even.

To make more money, operators need more trips, which in turn will entail lower charges or additional time saved, which could require extra takeoff and landing areas. All these factors require huge initial investment to get multiple parties involved in the quest for profitable solutions.

Despite these challenges, investors are enthusiastic about the sector's potential. Statistics from McKinsey show total disclosed investment in flying cars exceeded $8 billion by the end of March.

However, potential customers are less excited about the prospects, according to a McKinsey survey this year of a total of 4,800 people in China, Brazil, Germany, India, Poland and the US.

The survey found that only 35 percent of respondents using ride-hailing services for airport trips said they would definitely switch to a flying vehicle, as did 32 percent of limousine users.

McKinsey said these two groups may be among the first to use flying vehicles for two reasons-ride-hailing users are already accustomed to new shared mobility options, and as limousines are relatively expensive, clients are more likely to find eVTOL fares acceptable.

For daily commuting, 47 percent of those polled in India said they would definitely switch to a flying vehicle, followed by 30 percent in Brazil.

But the proportions were lower in larger economies: 21 percent in China, 14 percent in the US and 10 percent in Germany. In these three countries, only 20 percent said they would accept a charge that was double the second-best alternative.

More than 30 percent of respondents in all the countries surveyed said a short travel time is the most attractive feature of aerial vehicles, while over 60 percent said safety was their top concern about such vehicles, making this the most important issue by far.

Flying cars are first likely to take to the air commercially in the US and European countries, where the general aviation industry is well developed. General aviation refers to civil aircraft operations, with the exception of commercial airlines.

Statistics show that more than 200,000 general aviation aircraft, including helicopters and private jets, were operating in the US by the end of last year, and about 136,000 in Europe.

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