Aerospace & Defence

Flying taxis could be a reality by 2030

18th March 2024
Paige West

The Future of Flight action plan, jointly developed by the government and industry, has been unveiled by the Department for Transport (DfT).

This strategic initiative aims to revolutionise the UK's airspace by 2030 through the introduction of flying taxis, crime-fighting drones, and critical delivery services for emergency care.

The document outlines a vision for drones and novel electric aircraft within the UK, proposing that technologies previously limited to science fiction could dramatically alter our skies. Projections suggest that drone technology could contribute up to £45 billion to the UK economy by the decade's end.

Key milestones detailed in the plan include the first manned flying taxi flight by 2026, with regular services anticipated by 2028, widespread drone deliveries by 2027, and demonstrations of pilotless flying taxis by 2030. These advancements are expected to redefine transportation for both individuals and goods.

Aviation and Technology Minister, Anthony Browne, said: ”Cutting-edge battery technology will revolutionise transport as we know it – this plan will make sure we have the infrastructure and regulation in place to make it a reality.

“From flying taxis to emergency service drones, we’re making sure the UK is at the forefront of this dramatic shift in transportation – improving people’s lives and boosting the economy.”

The announcement coincided with the minister's planned visit to Vertical Aerospace in Bristol, a leading company in the development of flying taxis and a pioneer in aviation innovation.

The advent of these quieter, more environmentally friendly flying taxis has been facilitated by significant progress in battery technology, enhancing their airtime and range capabilities. These advancements have enabled the commencement of the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) authorisation process.

The action plan also highlights several initiatives, including:

  • Permitting drones to operate beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS) to expand the sector without restricting airspace for other aircraft
  • Revitalising smaller aerodromes to serve as vertiports for electric aircraft capable of vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL)
  • Establishing standards to enhance drone security and public safety
  • Collaborating with communities and local authorities to maximise the economic and social benefits of these technologies

Originating from the Flightpath to the Future in 2022, this collaborative effort between industry and government outlines the sector's strategic direction for the next five years, focusing on innovation, security, safety, and emissions reduction.

The practical benefits of these technologies are already evident within the UK. For instance, the West Midlands Police employed drones to combat violent crime and antisocial behaviour, achieving significant operational efficiencies.

Similarly, drones have been instrumental in supporting NHS frontline staff, notably in a pilot project that significantly reduced delivery times for surgical implants and pathology samples, demonstrating a substantial improvement in operational efficiency.

Furthermore, the action plan proposes measures to streamline drone applications and assessments through the development of user-friendly digital platforms. This initiative aims to alleviate bureaucratic constraints, facilitating quicker deployment of drones for commercial and public service use.

It also envisions the creation of vertiports to support drones and electric aircraft, with a focus on developing certification standards and leveraging existing infrastructure to enhance safety, security, and passenger experience.

Industry partners are set to conduct trials to explore new operational methods for drones and demonstrate electric aircraft capabilities, aiming to minimise accidents and maximise technological benefits across various sectors.

Anticipating the fifth meeting of the Future of Flight Industry Group, this action plan underscores the collaborative efforts of government and industry leaders to address the sector's challenges and set ambitious objectives as aviation technologies evolve.

Duncan Walker, Chief Executive of Skyports and Chairman of the Future of Flight Industry Group, said: “The UK is home to one of the world’s most important aerospace industries and is in an ideal position to be a pioneer in the next era of aviation. The government and industry have a joint commitment to support the development, industrialisation, and introduction of new aviation technologies. Continued collaboration will ensure that we capitalise on the significant domestic and international market opportunities presented by the future of flight.”

By fostering research and development in electric aircraft and drone technologies, in collaboration with key entities like the CAA, the plan seeks to initiate a new phase of eco-friendly aviation, stimulating economic growth and positioning the UK as a leader in this burgeoning global industry.

Sophie O’Sullivan, Head of Future Safety, and Innovation at the UK Civil Aviation Authority, said: “Aviation stands on the cusp of its next, potentially biggest, revolution since the invention of the jet engine. Drones, eVTOL and other different vehicles have the potential to change transportation options forever.

“We welcome the firm direction the government’s Future of Flight action plan provides for the industry as it continues to innovate. Our role in this bright future of aviation will be enabling technological advances and providing regulatory support while ensuring that all forms of new aviation technology enjoy the same high safety standards as traditional aviation.

Anne-Lise Scaillierez, CEO of UK drone trade association ARPAS-UK, said: “Drones help professional teams capture data from the sky in a safer, cheaper, smarter and greener way and, in the future, they will help transport cargo and people. ARPAS-UK and the industry are looking forward to actively and collectively implementing the actions in the plan so that we can accelerate the safe use of drones by end-user industries. We thank the DfT, CAA and all involved parties for making it happen.”

Stephen Fitzpatrick, Founder and CEO, Vertical Aerospace, said: “The UK has a long heritage in aerospace and the publication of this plan sets out how we will lead the next revolution of flight. With government and business working together, we can unleash the huge economic, environmental, and social benefits of zero emissions flight globally. Vertical is hugely proud to be at the forefront of leading this new chapter.”

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