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Boeingfs Autonomous Taxi Takes Flight - boeing taxi.jpg
Aircraft, which takes off and lands like a small helicopter, faces uncertain
path to commercial use
Boeing Co. BA -0.33%£ said its prototype for an autonomous air taxi
completed a first test flight, heating up a race among aerospace companies
hoping to transform urban transit.
Boeing competitors including Airbus SE and Textron Inc.fs TXT +1.28%£
helicopter unit Bell are also developing autonomous flying taxis to transport
passengers around cities. Tech giants such as Intel Corp. and ride-sharing
specialist Uber Technologies Inc. are investing in those and other projects to
put urban passengers into the skies.
Itfs not clear when such vehicles might enter regular use. The air taxis and
the software that runs them would face rounds of testing and signoff from
municipal and safety officials. Obtaining such approvals could take years.
Recent flight stops involving remote-controlled drones have highlighted
potential for such vehicles to interfere with existing commercial aviation
Each of the autonomous-taxi vehicles under development generally takes off and
lands like a small helicopter that could carry a handful of passengers. They
would shuttle passengers between predetermined sites, such as building rooftops.
Boeing said its electric-powered concept demonstrator, designed to have a range
of 50 miles, flew for the first time on Tuesday in Manassas, Va. The
30-foot-long, 28-foot-wide aircraft took off, hovered and landed, the company
said. A spokeswoman said the flight lasted under a minute.
Future tests of the vehicle would attempt forward flight, and a challenging
transition phase between vertical and forward flight modes, Boeing said.
Attempts to test self-driving cars in cities have also faced setbacks, raising
questions about their readiness for widespread public use.
Last year, a self-driving Uber vehicle struck and killed a pedestrian in
Arizona. The company halted its Arizona test operations and suspended
test-driving autonomous vehicles on public roads elsewhere.
Still, industry leaders predict flying cars and taxis will become part of the
urban transit mix sooner than skeptics expect.
gThese vehicles are going to start flying around in the next few years,h Greg
Hyslop, Boeingfs chief technology officer, said at an air show in July 2018.
gI donft think wefre talking decades.h
Bell, which is working with Uber, unveiled a full-scale design of its air taxi
earlier this month at the Consumer Electronics Show.
Airbus has invested in several air taxi concepts and last year flew one called
Vahana for the first time.
Guillaume Faury, the head of commercial aircraft who is due to become Airbus CEO
in April, said he expected demand to come initially from premium customers
traveling between airports and downtown business districts.
gThere is a need for mobility in megacities,h he said.
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