Technology

Flying cars, from sci-fi to reality

FARNBOROUGH, England — Drones are here and flying cars are moving from sci-fi to reality — now regulators and potential customers are scrambling to catch up.

Aerospace giants like Airbus and Boeing, tech companies like Uber and even McDonalds are betting big on drone deliveries and air taxis. They promise to shorten delivery times, ease congestion and decarbonize transport. But that technological vision is running into two problems — public skepticism and a missing regulatory framework.

“Lots of people come and say they want to launch in central London, thats great but planning issues, privacy, power and public acceptance are more intensely felt there,” Tim Johnson, policy director at the U.K. Civil Aviation Authority, said at the Global Urban Air Summit at Farnborough on Tuesday.

The challenge is that the nascent technologies span the range from what exists now — drones, for example — to those that are still on drawing boards, like various versions of flying cars. Regulators have to work out rules on everything from what is covered — the EU had a big debate on how heavy a drone has to be before tougher rules apply — to how such decisions affect shared airspace, noise levels, pollution and safety.

While Brussels is trying to establish EU-wide rules, national regulators are also drawing up regulations, and often choosing divergent approaches.

“If we think if we go in anything less than incremental steps, then were probably mistaken” — Jon Round, Civil Aviation Authority official

“Picking our markets have been almost exclusively driven by politics, not economics,” said Duncan Walker, co-founder and managing director of Skyports, a company that builds platforms and buildings from which aircraft can take off and land.

He said that working with regulators “frankly, is a mess.”

Walkers words were echoed by other industry officials at the conference. Asked if U.K. authorities have implemented steps to allow the integration of unmanned aircraft into airspace, Harini Kulatunga, head of solutions for unmanned aerial systems at Airbus, said: “I dont believe so.”

Playing catch-up

The speed of technological change throws up another issue for regulators.

An image of the new Amazon delivery drone is displayed during the Amazon Re:MARS conference in Las Vegas on June 5, 2019 | Mark Ralston/AFP via Getty Images

“Its equally as bad to get ahead of the industry as it is to get behind them,” said Jay Merckle, executive director of the Unmanned Aircraft Systems Integration Office at the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration, citing the risk that legislating too early means doing guesswork on which way the industry will go, and often getting it wrong.

Jon Round, head of airspace, air traffic management and aerodromes at the Civil Aviation Authority, asked for patience. “If we think if we go in anything less than incremental steps, then were probably mistaken.”

Getting technology and regulations aligned leaves another hurdle — persuading people that these services are needed.

Convincing them to agree to more noisy objects flying above their heads is a challenge. People “dont want noise above them unless theyre the ones going on holiday in a plane or theres a drone delivery thats for them,” said Round. “The noiseRead More – Source

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