Editor's choice
25 Apr 19

When should you fly a car?

Flying cars could soon be in the air, but are they sustainable? Ford Motor Company’s Research and Advanced Engineering team teamed up with engineers from the University of Michigan’s Centre for Sustainable Systems and had a look at flying car sustainability. 

Good to know, the study is the first of its kind, and could show where flying cars are heading to. By measuring their sustainability, the study can highlight the most efficient use-cases for flying cars, which are technically spoken eVTOLs (electric vertical take-off and landing) urban air mobility vehicles.

So, the following factors should be taken into account when you will decide in which use-case it makes sense to take the car of the streets and let it take to the skies. 

Shared over single use

Of course, the higher passenger occupancy, the less emissions per person, and the more financial benefits. Therefore, the study found the flying cars more beneficial as part of a rideshare service, especially in congested urban areas and/or in geographically constrained areas. 

The study even claimed that fully-booked flying cars would be more effective than ground vehicles in transporting passengers from San Francisco to San Jose, or from Detroit to Cleveland, to give some examples. 

Longer flight over shorter commute

Since the flying taxis consume the most energy during take-off and landing, and are at their most efficient while cruising, the study showed that the flying cars are more suited for longer flight than for shorter commutes. The cruising altitude in the study was set at 1,000 feet or 305 meters, where the cruising speed would be about 150mph or 241km/h.

More efficient by all means

When it comes to greenhouse gas emissions, the study claims that the flying cars produce less greenhouse gas emissions than any kind of trip beyond 20 miles, in case of electric vehicles, the flying car would have less emissions than any beyond 60 miles.  

In numbers, for a 62-mile trip, a fully booked flying car would emit 52% less greenhouse gas than a driving car with an average occupancy of 1.54 people. Even when compared to an electric vehicle, the flying car would still emit 6% less greenhouse gas emissions in the same comparison.

In addition, the flying car would perform the 62-mile route 80% faster than a driving car.

To fly or not to fly?

Yet, the above-mentioned factors are crucial to determine sustainability and efficiency. For instance, the researchers found out that for trips under 22 miles, a single-occupant driving car would still use less energy, produce less greenhouse gas emissions and complete the route quicker than the flying car. 
Add to that the remark of the researchers that the average driving car commute is 11 miles, and one can see the real potential of flying cars. The actual share of the total annual vehicle-miles travelled on the ground that would be replaced by flying cars – in terms of sustainability and efficiency – turns out to be very low. Hence, the researchers concluded that flying cars “will be limited in their contribution and role in a sustainable mobility system.”

In a nutshell, if fully occupied – sharing is caring – and commuting over a longer distance – as from 62 miles – the flying car wins in sustainability, and speed over the driving car. But in any other case it isn’t there yet.  

Authored by: Fien Van den steen