Yes, the UK Really Plans to Have Flying Taxis By 2028, But Is It Feasible?

It’s hard to fathom — but if the UK government’s Department for Transport (DfT) Future of Flight action plan achieves its goal, hailing a flying taxi could become a reality as early as 2028.

But it’s not only about the potential introduction of passenger-carrying drones. There’s also the enormous financial incentive, with the expectation that drone technology will inject an additional £45 billion into the UK economy by 2030.

The government’s roadmap also paves the way for advanced crime-fighting, medical supply, and mail delivery drones to become a familiar sight over Britain’s skies. However, the DfT is banking on a number of additional benefits for the UK.

For starters, the Future of Flight initiative factors in that advanced innovative drone technology could cut CO2 emissions by up to 99.8% compared to traditional transportation methods. Meanwhile real-time studies have shown drone technology can also drastically reduce noise pollution and slash transportation times by over 50%.

However, if it were simple, everybody would be doing it.

In this article, we’ll explore the appeal of the real-world applications air taxis and drone technologies offer and the hurdles this ambitious proposal faces.

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Key Takeaways

  • March 2024 saw the launch of the UK government’s Future of Flight action plan, promising to bring flying taxis into reality as early as 2026.
  • Passenger transportation, home deliveries, and enhanced emergency services look set to benefit from faster, greener, quieter drone aviation technologies.
  • The plan is a clear statement of the UK’s objective to become the world leader in the nationwide adoption of eco-friendly drone aviation.
  • A collaboration between government, industry, and aviation regulatory bodies could provide a projected £45 billion boost to the UK economy by 2030.

Why Do We Want Flying Taxis?

The exciting prospect of soon being able to catch a sky cab ultimately stems from the continual advancements of electric vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) aircraft. And it’s not just the aviation industry getting involved; automotive giants such as Suzuki are also entering the market.

At first glance, the government’s action plan anticipates that piloted drones could be in the air by 2026, with the first autonomous, pilotless flying taxis taking off by 2030.

While the concept of boarding a flying vehicle may take some getting used to, there are several advantages taxi drones have over existing modes of transport.

Drones have the potential to be more environmentally friendly, particularly if powered by renewable energy sources. Moreover, it could spell the end of sitting in rush hour traffic on the UK’s congested road networks.

Of course, it would be ambitious to suggest that in two years’ time, we’ll all be jumping in a flying taxi to get home after a night out, but who knows – a decade from now, it could evolve to be your first choice.

From the UK government’s side, they see many places across the UK disconnected “due to aging infrastructure and a lack of sustainable, affordable transport solutions.”

The government points to companies like Bristol-based Vertical Aerospace, which is preparing a battery-powered eVTOLaircraft, the VX4, which can carry four passengers over a 100-mile range with no operating emissions.

It could cut journeys such as Liverpool to Leeds — typically 1.5 hrs by car — to 26 minutes or reduce the 80-minute journey between Brighton and Heathrow Airport to 20 minutes.

Vertical Aerospace’s VX4 can carry 4 passengers over 100 miles. (Vertical Aerospace)
Vertical Aerospace’s VX4 can carry 4 passengers over 100 miles. (Vertical Aerospace)
Journeys on the VX4 may cut popular car journeys by two-thirds of the time. (Vertical Aerospace)
Journeys on the VX4 may cut popular car journeys by two-thirds of the time. (Vertical Aerospace)

The government also points to Joby Aviation’s five-seat, piloted, electric aircraft designed to deliver fast, quiet, and emissions-free journeys of up to 100 miles at speeds of up to 200 mph, requiring only a simple landing pad at each end of the journey.

Joby says that take-off on their vehicle generates nearly a third less noise than a helicopter, whilst in-flight noise is measured as being less than a conversation.

To bring these services to life, the government is planning a network of more than 80 vertiports nationwide by 2029-30.

Meanwhile residents on the Orkney Islands, across three months in 2023, became the first people in the UK to receive ‘mail by drone.’

Letters and parcels were transported from Royal Mail’s Kirkwall delivery office to Stromness, from where Skyports Drone Services flew mail to Royal Mail staff on the islands of Graemsay and Hoy.

From these locations, postal workers carried out their usual delivery routes.

The next plan, with funding by the European Space Agency, includes introducing 5G/6G connectivity and drones capable of carrying heavier payloads and with higher wind tolerances.

Alternative eVTOL Real-World Applications

Outside of the fanfare surrounding air taxis, the government also envisions a range of advance benefits for the 999 emergency services, with the DfT hoping it will reduce the strain on the nation’s transport network infrastructure.

You may have already seen or heard of drones being used across the UK’s emergency services. However, current legislation requires drone pilots to always maintain a visual line of sight (VLOS) with the aircraft unless a second pilot is used.

So, what’s going to change?

Well, in partnership with both the aerospace industry and the UK’s aerospace regulators, the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), the government’s proposed blueprint will soon permit autonomous drones to be flown beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS).

Cheaper to buy, maintain, and fly, BVLOS drones could eventually replace police helicopters and air ambulances as a more cost-effective alternative. Furthermore, lower operational costs will allow emergency drones to be deployed in larger numbers across the country, resulting in faster response times.

Similarly, further advancements in battery technology innovation will enable extended flight times between charges. This could prove invaluable for search and rescue operations in more remote regions of the UK and when responding to widescale natural disasters and major events.

Tackling Public Perception and Acceptance

While there is an air of excitement behind the government’s plans, experts warn of the need to educate people about the benefits. This includes addressing concerns about the safety of autonomous drones and eVTOLs passenger aircraft.

To begin with, in a seemingly already overcrowded sky, how will the increased volume of airborne traffic be managed safely, and how will it be regulated? The concept of flying taxis, delivery drones, and cross-emergency service drones flooding the air will no doubt heighten existing safety concerns.

Additionally, with the recent high-profile failings of Boeing – a brand usually synonymous with aircraft safety – people could be forgiven for an initial reluctance to jump in an air taxi. As the sector grows, passenger numbers should rise over time, but there may be an initial financial strain on pioneering companies in the industry.

However, similar to the early years of commercial aviation, people can be won over, and the adoption of drone applications into our daily routines could become commonplace.

Infrastructure and Regulation Challenges

Convincing the public may take time, but for the government’s vision to succeed, the necessary infrastructure to support it must come first.

The physical infrastructure demanded by this venture is an immediate priority. As a result, the government has proposed developing a nationwide network of ‘vertiports’ (urban and rural platforms that support the landing and take-off of eVTOL aircraft).

To achieve this, the government plans to incorporate commercial airports, redevelop existing aerodromes, and establish new purpose-built vertiport venues across the country.

Not only will these sites need to be equipped with electrical charging infrastructure, but the success of their Future of Flight action plan will also rely on creating a reliable, secure, UK-wide connectivity network.

Then, we need to talk about the challenges of regulation.

Here, the government plans to partner with industry operators and the CAA to maintain stringent safety standards. This includes the intense regulation for autonomous drones, air taxis, and other eVTOL operators to ensure their vehicles are correctly maintained and granted regular certification of airworthiness.

Drone pilots too. For the sake of the safety of airborne passengers (and the public below), the government and industry leaders will have to vet and certify pilots’ eligibility to fly and obtain an operating license.

The Bottom Line

The promise of avoiding rush-hour traffic as your air taxi whisks you to and from work is on the horizon.

Add to that the improved efficiency of the nation’s emergency services and transportation logistics, the UK government is clearly setting its sights on leading the world in the country-wide rollout of advanced eco-friendly drone aviation.

The timescales of the government’s plans are undoubtedly ambitious. Still, if the investment materializes and industry-led collaborations succeed, supported by battery technology and drone and eVTOL innovation, the willingness to adopt flying cabs into our daily routines is more a question of ‘when’ rather than ‘if.’

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Stuart Hughes
Technology Writer

A graduate of Canterbury Christ Church University, Stuart Hughes is a freelance writer across technology, finance and travel.