As the CEO of a company whose mission is to build flying cars, I’ve been on the receiving end of my fair share of skepticism. The flying car is not a new idea – ever since Henry Ford proclaimed in 1940 that “a combination of airplane and motorcar is coming,” people have dreamt of their cars taking flight. So what’s different now?
Now more than ever before, the personal transportation industry is ripe for disruption. The average value of an individual’s time is steadily increasing, and simultaneously, the average travel speed is decreasing due to congestion. We are already seeing markets like Sao Paolo, Brazil where helicopters have become an integral part of the lives of business executives because ground transportation barriers are so high. Sao Paolo is now one of the biggest markets for new helicopters. According to the Wall Street Journal, the average travel speed in Beijing is only 8.5 mph, and in the US, traffic costs our GDP approximately US $120 billion per year. Globally, nearly US $800 billion of time value is lost each year due to traffic congestion, and it is getting worse every year. From my seat as the head of Terrafugia, it is clear that the demand for flying-car-like vehicles is soaring.
On top of this demand for better personal flight, there is an explosion in Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS). Amazon has been making headlines for months with talk of drone-based delivery services, Google’s widely publicized work in the field of self-driving cars continues to progress, and the unprecedented growth of companies such as Uber and Lyft exposes the immense inadequacy of traditional modes of personal transit. The technological and regulatory change that is being driven by the UAS industry is laying the groundwork for flying car technologies to make their way to market. From every angle, personal transportation is gearing up for massive change, creating an unprecedented opportunity for flying cars, as an industry, to emerge.
At a conference on Transformative Vertical Flight I attended last month, top engineers from government, industry, and academia came together to discuss the infrastructure and regulatory environments that will be necessary to accommodate the variety of vertical takeoff and landing vehicles making their way into the market. The key enabling technologies and regulatory changes were identified, and NASA is leading a roadmapping exercise which aims to assist industry to develop and certify the technologies necessary for this emerging industry.
Terrafugia is perfectly poised both to catalyze this revolutionary new industry, and to develop it into a widespread, mass-market phenomenon. The Transition® will be our entry into the market – it will establish the safety, convenience, and practicality of the flying car as a concept, as well as Terrafugia’s brand as the premier flying car company, while simultaneously providing a platform to get field experience with more advanced flying car technologies. The TF-X™ will build upon that foundation to truly revolutionize how everyone gets around, bringing the dream of flying cars to the public.
As we continue the long and sometimes trying process of development and certification in anticipation of bringing the Transition® to market, it is encouraging to remember that we are not working in a vacuum. We are innovating, but that innovation is based on a solid foundation of technological progress and regulatory development.
The time has come for flying cars to leave the realm of fantasy and enter reality.