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Science

Will flying cars like the AeroMobil ever take off in Europe, or hit a wall of regulation?

Slovakia's AeroMobil says a future of flying cars is closer than we think. Competitors include myCopter and Terrafugia. But skeptics say none will take off anytime soon. Laura Postma in Bratislava.

From the outside it looks like a dragonfly with a low, sharp nose and wings that are folded horizontally on the side. From the inside it is more like a spacecraft, with two sports seats and high-tech gear - avionics equipment, autopilot and a parachute deployment system.

The flying car was unveiled at the Pioneers Festival in Vienna by Slovakian innovators, AeroMobil.

Its latest prototype, the AeroMobil 3.0, will be the last, they hope, before a fully-fledged commercial model.

The Bratislava- based company wants to turn a futuristic thought into reality: providing a fast way to travel directly from door to door, using both the road and the air.

Hundred year dream

The idea of a flying car isn't new.

People have been working on flying cars for almost a century.

"The first flying car was produced in 1917, I think," says AeroMobil's Stefan Vadocz. "There have been a lot of attempts around the world to build a flying car."

There are seventeen different projects worldwide - including AeroMobil - focused on building a flying car.

Engineer with a model of the AeroMobil flying car

Slovak engineer Stefan Klein with models of his flying car

In terms of design, Terrafugia's TF-X model comes closest to the AeroMobil.

Then there is the European Union supported project myCopter - a collaboration of six European universities and institutions of technology that are working on a Personal Air Transport System (PATS).

New category for transportation

All of these projects hope to forge a new market of transportation.

"We think it's a new category for which we might not have a name yet," says AeroMobil's Vadocz. "It's actually similar to the motorcycle category that some time ago presented a crossover between the bicycle and the car. So this has been our thought behind creating a new category when we built the AeroMobil."

Their main priority now is to get the necessary certifications so that their flying car will be allowed to drive on public roads and to fly in European airspace.

The AeroMobil flying car

The future will be expensive

But not everyone is convinced flying cars will be a common sight anytime soon.

Clear safety regulation

"The idea of running into a traffic jam and then just taking off in the air sounds great. But what if, let's say, ten percent of the traffic is flying cars? You would need very clear safety regulations," says Jan Lesinsky, professor of transport technology and automobiles at the Slovak University of Technology

"Owners would have to be trained pilots and drivers. There would have to be organized communication to decide routes in the air."

Lesinsky says globally we build about 80 million cars per year, and if we want to keep up with a growing world population and its demand for cars, that production will have to increase to 120 million.

Flying cars, says Lesinsky, will not solve that problem, but they could be an interesting alternative - for those who can afford it.

A thing of luxury

Flying cars will not be cheap, admits Vadocz.

"Expect the price combination of a sports car and a sports aircraft, which might be several hundred thousands of euros," he says.

AeroMobil says it has interest from potential buyers, but the company is not taking any orders yet.

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