Flying taxis: is it the green turning point of urban mobility?

Debut in 2024 and 2025 in the skies of Europe vertical take-off and landing vehicles, which are watched with interest by Airbus, Boeing and Uber

An eVTOL in flight over Paris: the arrival of flying taxis in the French capital is scheduled for 2024 (Photo: Volocopter)

The idea of ​​being able to fly directly from Fiumicino airport to the square Navona, without having to deal with urban traffic or crowded public transport, it might seem like science fiction. However, this future scenario could come true very soon.

In 2024 and 2025, in fact, the first take-offs of flying taxis are expected in European cities, bringing about a real turning point in urban transport.

Flying taxis are vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) vehicles that can take off and land like helicopters, but fly like aircraft. This technology is increasingly attracting the attention of companies and investors around the world, who see it as a solution for urban traffic and a way to reduce pollution and greenhouse gas emissions.

The adoption of flying taxis could have a significant impact on the way we get around our cities, allowing us to reduce travel times, improve transport efficiency and reduce pollution.

It could also increase accessibility to urban areas less served by public transport and consequently improve the quality of life of citizens. However, there are still many unknowns regarding this technology and one of these is precisely linked to their actual sustainability.

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Flying taxis: passengers on board
One of the Lilium company's flying taxi models can accommodate up to six passengers (Photo: Lilium)

An ever-growing global air market

Flying taxis are designed to be used as urban transport, to provide a quick alternative and to decongest road transport. At the same time, the manufacturing companies have also often promoted them in key green, arguing that these aircraft can reduce the environmental impact of urban transport.

Halfway between a drone and a helicopter, they can be designed to carry several passengers, depending on their size and characteristics. Some designs involve using smaller aircraft to carry one or two passengers, while other larger ones can carry up to a dozen passengers.

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The CityAirbus model of Airbus Helicopters
One of the first CityAirbus aircraft designed by Airbus Helicopters (Photo: Airbus)

Which countries rely more on eVTOL

From Japan to the United States, passing through Italy, there are many companies that are testing urban mobility by air - over 250 projects have been launched between 2019 and 2022.

Uber, for example, is developing a flying taxi service called Uber Air, with the goal of offering short-haul urban transport flights by the end of the decade. Airbus and Boeing are also investing in VTOL technology.

Italy was among the first nations to focus on this new urban mobility tool. One of the companies that will sail the skies of the Italian capital is the German one Volocopter, whose model of taxi volocity was protagonist of the maiden flight tested in Rome last October, on the strength of an agreement between the company, Airports of Rome and Atlantia.

Volocopter plans to establish the first commercial flights to Paris and Singapore in 2024. Another German company, Lilium, recently closed a deal with the private jet company GlobeAir for the purchase of 12 aircraft to be made available to its customers in Italy and in the South of France.

In Italy, the National Strategic Plan of the National Civil Aviation Authority (ENAC) provides for the creation of two vertiports urban and two airports in Milan and Rome, and further facilities in Turin, Venice, Bari and Cortina d'Ampezzo, where it is hoped to see the vehicles operational for the 2026 Milan-Cortina Winter Olympics.

SEA, the company that manages the Milan airports Linate e Malpensa, has been studying the project for two years together with the company skyports, with the aim of concluding the first tests next year.

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Flying Taxis: A Demonstration Flight
The demonstration flight performed by one of the jets of the German company Lilium (Photo: Lilium)

From car to air: the promise of a sustainable future

In their versiongreen ” flying taxis are electric vehicles with vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL, acronym for Electric Vvertical Take-off and Lgoing), equipped with engines that allow them to take off and land vertically, without the need for a runway or a long taxi distance and landing in a similar manner to a helicopter.

The first requirement for this technology to be sustainable, therefore, is that it be offered in an all-electric mode.

Many are wondering whether, in addition to making our roads lighter, the new sky taxis will also help reduce CO2 emissions. Ispra data reveal that the transport sector in Italy is responsible for a quarter of greenhouse gas emissions.

Of these, more than 90% are due to road transport. Focusing on electric flying taxis could be a turning point green for urban transport?

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Flying taxis: a passenger boards a VoloCity
A passenger ready to board the VoloCity model of the Volocopter company (Photo: Volocopter)

The green and "political" challenges of flying taxis

- eVTOL they are, in fact, designed to have a lower environmental impact than traditional means of transport. Being powered by electric batteries they do not emit pollutants but there are still some unknowns to be resolved regarding their ecological footprint. For example, the production of batteries for these vehicles can be polluting and may require large quantities of raw materials.

As electric aircraft, they could be a more sustainable solution for urban transport provided they are powered by renewable energy sources and are designed to reduce noise impact.

The company Lilium, for example, declares that its models travel in the direction of a decarbonization of air transport, since they do not emit polluting emissions and are designed to minimize noise pollution. It is important to note that their actual sustainability will depend on their diffusion and the technologies used, and constant monitoring may be necessary to assess their real environmental impact.

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Flying taxis: Volocopter's VoloCity model
The VoloCity eVTOL model of the German company Volocopter ready for take-off (Photo: Volocopter)

An innovation that "flies" between the present and the future

Almost certainly flying taxis will soon appear in our cities, but their large-scale diffusion still appears far away. The tests will have to be concluded and later it will be necessary to regulate the sector and draw up ad hoc protocols.

In the meantime, we must try to do everything possible to make the transport system more sustainable and cleaner, to reduce emissions and make our cities healthier and more livable. Therefore, the projects of Parts and accessories sharing, e-bike and zero-emission buses.

But also ecological and long-lasting road surfaces, such as that of Solid Earth, a leading company in environmentally friendly flooring, for example that of the line City Open Paving, totally recyclable and able to fit perfectly into any urban and non-urban context, without releasing pollutants. If it is right to keep our eyes focused on the future and on the solutions it offers, it is necessary to take care of what we manage today in the most efficient and responsible way possible.

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Flying taxis: a Lilium eVTOL in flight over Montecarlo
A vehicle of the German Lilium fleet flying towards the Principality of Monaco (Photo: Lilium)