Personal Air Vehicles: An Idea Whose Time Is at Hand

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Personal Air Vehicles: An Idea Whose Time Is at Hand

Whether you’re a professional who takes multiple commuter flights every month or a driver facing daily commutes in stopped traffic, you’ve likely dreamed of having a Personal Air Vehicle (PAV) that would whisk you above the traffic directly from home to your destination.

For decades, engineers have worked on delivering such a cost-effective solution, only to conclude the technology wasn’t ready. But now, advances in multiple disciplines are finally bringing the era of the PAV to reality.

One of the big advances was regulatory, rather than technological. Implemented in 2004, the FAA’s Sport Pilot/Light Sport Aircraft Rule provided a modification in light-plane build standards, and streamlined the process for pilot certification.

These changes, and the resulting potential new market for personal aircraft, caused many innovators and entrepreneurs to jump into the game or to renew efforts they had already begun. This has created a growing market for owner-piloted Personal Air Vehicles.

At the same time, the introduction of Very Light Jets created a growing market for medium-range air taxi services. Very Light Jets carry six to eight people and require only one pilot.

Because they are fuel-efficient and typically cost between $1 million and $2 million, they have attracted affluent owner-pilots as well as entrepreneur-pilots offering jet services at very competitive prices.

To date, demand for VLJs has been stunted by the Great Recession, but we expect a strong comeback in the coming decade.

Despite these regulatory and marketplace changes, people still face significant obstacles when they consider becoming a pilot and owning a plane. These obstacles essentially boil down to six challenges that are rapidly being resolved.

The first challenge is the need for an air traffic control system suited to controlling a swarm of relatively small, slow aircraft flying at low altitude.

Such a control system will be required to efficiently use the airspace around and within urban areas, ensuring that collisions are avoided. Today, low-altitude airspace is “uncontrolled,” except in the immediate vicinity of major airports. As PAVs become commonplace, air traffic density will rise dramatically, adding to the level of awareness needed to pilot a plane.

Fortunately, technology already exists to create an automated air traffic control system that monitors the flight path of every aircraft and defines a “highway in the sky” for it to safely follow.

The second prerequisite for the PAV mass market will be vehicle designs that are safe in spite of unavoidable mechanical failures...

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