Ever wondered how greatly the development of new flying routes would affect the city and make your life easier? Getting to work by air, enjoying spectacular views, avoiding traffic jams – just like in your favorite sci-fi movies. Masterfully presented imaginary flying cars projects in “Blade Runner”, “Fifth Element” and “Back to the Future” became an inspiration for some of the current flying machine developers. A roadless reality, “Back to the Future” character Doc was talking about, seems to be much closer than we think. To go even further – how about those machines being driverless and fully-automatic?

Driverless automation systems are already widely used in train and metro operations in more than 20 countries all over the world, but aviation seems to be the last transport industry to start operating pilotless aircraft on a regular basis. Though actively utilized in related fields – serving purposes like aerial surveillance or data collection, unmanned aerial vehicles are not bringing passengers from A to B yet.

A human pilot in an aircraft is traditionally considered to be the key figure by many passengers, even despite common knowledge that in most cases, pilots manually operate aircraft for ten minutes maximum, while the rest of the time it is flown in auto regime. However, famous cases of heroic pilot decisions, like the Miracle of the Hudson or John Coward’s actions during British Airways Flight 38 in 2008, make majority believe that civil aviation is the area where human decision-making might be crucial in saving people’s lives.

There are good reasons for this belief. Aviation has the lowest accident rate of all transportation industry, while the number of ways anything could go wrong in a complicated aircraft outnumbers any other means of transport. Autopilot is not always able to estimate every scenario and it is too risky to leave the commercial aircraft fully automated when lives of hundreds of passengers can be jeopardized. Herewith, not many passengers themselves feel ready to trust an automated system as of now.

It is much easier, both socially and technically, to talk about “pilotless-ness” regarding a different kind of flying machines: machines meant for carrying 1-2 people within one city. Known as the new emerging flying urban transportation mode, they currently involve projects from flying taxis to hoverbikes.

Future is here: ongoing projects

The rise of new urban transportation has been predicted by many market experts. According to the forecast made by Roland Berger Strategy Consulting company, after the flagship projects see the light in 2020, the first active involvement of passenger drones into the urban landscape is expected by 2025 or 2030. The analysts of Morgan Stanley bank predict that by 2040, the market size for automated passenger and cargo flying vehicles will reach around $615 billion, and even $2.9 trillion, in a more optimistic projection.

Numerous unmanned aircraft elaborations are already ongoing in different parts of the planet. Most of them are based on eVTOL – electric and hybrid-electric powered vertical takeoff and landing system, the leading technology when it comes to making passenger drones technically possible. Uber, one of the main developers in the field, expects flying cars to come into operation by 2023 - a truly ambitious deadline.