Flying Car Leaders Talk Public Perception at a Secret Summit

 wired.com  12/04/2019 13:00:00   Eric Adams

In the few short years that the modern electric air taxi movement has been gestatinglaunching in earnest with Ubers October 2016 proposal for such a serviceattention has swirled around the key technological and policy hurdles, from battery propulsion to new aircraft designs to regulation. Little of the conversation, however, has focused on what may be the greatest enabler, or hurdle, of this new way of moving: the public.

You know, the folks wholl actually be riding in these newfangled contraptions. Do they understand how they work? Will they be comfortable flying through the air in small, and eventually unmanned, vehicles? Its not enough to promise that these aircraft will be quieter than helicopters or show off CGI animations of a typical flight. If these things are going to fill the skies, the people who are today on the ground must be on board, metaphorically as much as literally.

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That was the essence of the message delivered by former Wyoming governor Matt Mead to a gathering of industry at a ranch outside of Dallas last month. I tell people Im going to an eVTOL gathering and they think I mean a health conference, he said at TexasUP, an invitation-only, unannounced summit that followed a similar event held in Arkansas last year. You folks all live in this world and you understand it so very well. But for a lay person like myself, it's hard to get the passion. It's hard to get the excitement when you first have to explain what the letters mean. Then they say, Oh, are you talking about flying cars?

Meads point was not just that the industry needs to stamp out or standardize jargon, but that doing so will help push citizens, including politicians, to support it. The public is generally good with the idea of electric air taxis, according to a study released early this year by Airbus, though they have concerns around safety and noise. But studies have yet to gauge attitudes toward the broader impact of the technology. We have to talk about the benefits and the realization of the dreamthe amount of hours saved commuting, what it would mean to the GDP, what it would mean for public safety, search and rescue, and more, Mead said. Plus, this is an opportunity to democratize our airspace, and to do it safely.

Photograph: Eric Adams
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