The idea of flying cars – no, not the rallying kind – have been bandied about for a long time, and now, passenger aircraft company Airbus is looking at a more localised need where aviation appears to come in handy: congestion in cities. Airbus calls it Project Vahana, “an autonomous flying vehicle platform for individual passenger and cargo transport,” and so far the company’s studies have concluded that the autonomous flight programme is feasible.

In other words, Airbus is working on a flying car. Most will undoubtedly be asking the same thing: can these unmanned drones operate safely?

“If we really want to resolve this fundamental question, we have to demonstrate the system under real conditions. This view is shared by the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore,” said Bruno Trabel of Airbus Helicopters, explaining why Singapore was chosen as the location for demonstrating the flight systems.

Despite there being no legal precedents allowing flights of unmanned aircraft over populated areas, Airbus is going ahead with the testing of drones over the National University of Singapore (NUS) in mid-2017, having signed a memorandum of understanding allowing Airbus Helicopters to test a drone parcel delivery service over the campus grounds.


The CityAirbus, in principle, would be made affordable by sharing. Airbus says that a flight would cost each passenger the equivalent of a normal taxi ride, albeit one that is faster, more environmentally sustainable and exciting. “A taxi ride through a new city is a nice experience as it is, but flying over that city would be much more thrilling,” said Marius Bebesel, head of helicopter demonstrators at Airbus Helicopters.

Working with experts from strategy, engineering and finance teams from al over Airbus, Jörg Müller from the Airbus Group’s corporate development department discovered a big opportunity for the Airbus Group. “When looking at the transport needs of business travellers to and from airports or between business districts, you quickly realise that the potential demand corresponds to about 100 times the yearly production of Airbus Helicopters. And that this would only require replacing one out of a hundred ground taxis,” Müller said.

In practice, the benefits are tangible. Airbus illustrates the long-haul passenger as an example: after a flight on a commercial passenger aircraft, he or she can get on board an aerially operated vehicle in in nine minutes, compared to a taxi ride which might otherwise consume 90 minutes in gridlocked traffic.

Flying taxis might sound like science fiction, however the Airbus Group believes that the vision is already taking shape. “I’m no big fan of Star Wars, but it’s not crazy to imagine that one day our big cities will have flying cars making their way along roads in the sky. In a not too distant future, we’ll use our smartphones to book a fully automated flying taxi that will land outside our front door – without any pilot,” said Tom Enders, Airbus Group CEO.