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Airbus will test flying cars by the end of 2017

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One of the world’s biggest aerospace companies plans to test a prototype of a flying car by the end of this year, a move that could be a big step towards easing congestion on urban roads.

Airbus’s chief executive, Tom Enders, told a technology conference in Germany that it planned to test a small prototype vehicle by the end of the year.

Last year Airbus formed a division called Urban Air Mobility to investigate ideas such as a vehicle to transport individuals or a helicopter-style vehicle that can carry multiple riders. The aim would be for people to book the vehicle using an app, similar to car-sharing schemes.

Airbus has been working on “vertical take-off and landing” (VTOL) technology that would allow vehicles to pick up passengers in busy urban areas, and has said it expects to be putting them into production by 2021.

Although flying cars have been a staple of science fiction for decades, investment in the concept is finally emerging. Google founder Larry Page has invested millions into two flying car start-ups, while Chinese company E-Hang has a prototype design.

Uber has also said it is researching VTOL as an alternative way for passengers to get around, while companies such as Amazon are working on delivery drones, suggesting the skies above cities could become crowded territory in the future.

“One hundred years ago, urban transport went underground, now we have the technological wherewithal to go above ground,” Enders told the DLD conference in Munich.

“We are in an experimentation phase, we take this development very seriously.”

Autonomous driving is expected to revolutionise the car industry over the next decade and Mr Enders believes the technology could have a similar impact on airborne transport.

Airbus is already the world’s largest producer of commercial helicopters, putting it in prime position get into the potential new aviation segment.

“If we ignore these developments, we will be pushed out of important segments of the business,” he said.

Airbus’s has said its concept for a CityAirbus vehicle, which passengers would walk to the nearest helipad to board, could become reality without too many regulatory changes.

 

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