Electric-powered taxis that can fly at almost 200mph (320kmh) could be picking up passengers in just four years, according to a British firm.
The inter-city 'flying taxi' service could offer short-haul, inter-city flights carrying multiple passengers using piloted aircraft, according to the founder of Bristol-based flying company Vertical Aerospace.
Since its inception in 2016, the firm has hired 28 veteran aerospace and technical experts from Airbus, Boeing, Rolls-Royce, Martin Jetpack and General Electric.
Founder Stephen Fitzpatrick, who is a one-time Formula 1 racing team owner, said his new venture will apply lessons from F1 racing to build the electric Vertical Take Off and Landing (eVTOL) aircraft.
The battery-powered vehicle has a range of 93 miles (150km) with a top speed of 186mph (300kmh), with a more powerful model set to carry people 500 miles (800 km), which means it could easily take passengers to Paris and back.
The firm conducted a test flight of an unmanned, single-passenger vertical take-off prototype at an airport in Gloucestershire in June.
It did this after being granted flight permission by the UK's Civil Aviation Authority (CAA).
The company is the first in the UK to test an eVTOL vehicle that could be used in some of the most congested air corridors in the world as it doesn't require a runway.
'If you consider that the busiest routes flying in and out of London are to Paris, Dublin and Edinburgh, being able to fly to those cities without the need of a runway would offset the need to expand Heathrow', Mr Fitzpatrick told The Times.
'Passengers will be taking off from locations very close to their homes or businesses and landing very close to the point of their destination rather than having to travel to an airport 40 to 50 miles outside the city', he said.
The black passenger pod is now gearing up to produce a fixed-wing, piloted version of its vertical take-off aircraft capable of carrying multiple passengers.
It will work with regulators to win certification in the first stage of the air taxi project in 2022, representatives from the firm said.
In a later stage, the company will seek to extend the aircraft's range, introduce elements of autonomous flight and expand the number of chartered routes it can serve.
'We are investing in all the technology evolution taking place in aerospace but we are trying to apply that to something that's real world and is possible to execute four years out,' said Mr Fitzpatrick, the Vertical Aerospace founder and chief executive.
'We are not waiting for huge changes in existing regulations', said Mr Fitzpatrick who believes the vehicle could be hailed using a smartphone.
Competitors working toward launching autonomous flying cars range from aerospace giant Airbus to Uber.
German start-up Volocopter is testing drone taxis that resemble small helicopters powered by 18 rotors.
Several of these projects envision services that can be ordered up, on-demand, via smartphones, from skyhubs in city centres.
Belfast-born Mr Fitzpatrick prides himself on developing business ideas in areas where, at the outset, he has zero technical background.
He said he spent years studying energy markets before launching his energy utility firm, Ovo, in 2009.
It now counts around 680,000 customers, or 2.5 per cent of the UK domestic retail energy market and employs 1,200 staff.
His first brush with hardware and physical product engineering came when he was a short-term owner of flagging Formula 1 team Manor Racing.
Mr Fitzpatrick said it dawned on him that many racing car advances also applied to aircraft, from high-powered electric batteries to hybrid power trains, lighter structural materials, like carbon fibre and, of course, aerodynamic design.
'The technology we were using in Formula 1 was just too high-spec to be applied to the challenges of the typical road car,' Mr Fitzpatrick said.
'What you can get from an F1 engine has more power density per kilo than a jet turbine,' he said.
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