New Zealand prime minister Jacinda Ardern is set to announce a new agreement with a company financed by Google co-Founder Larry Page to test autonomous air taxis for official certification in the country, reports The New York Times. Kitty Hawk, the company building the autonomous planes, has aspirations the partnership will lead to a commercial network of taxis in the country in the next three years. Kitty Hawk is already reportedly working on an Uber-like app that will allow customers to hail one of its air taxis.
In an email to the NYT, Ardern said; “We’ve got an ambitious target in New Zealand of being net carbon zero by 2050… exciting projects like this are part of how we make that happen.” Kitty Hawk’s self-piloted air taxi is called Cora, which has a wingspan of 36 feet and operates via a dozen battery-powered rotors. It takes off like a helicopter and flies like a plane, is 100 percent electric, can fly as fast as 110 mph, has a flying distance of 62 miles, and can carry two passengers. Kitty Hawk said it shipped its first air taxi to New Zealand in October 2017, with initial tests beginning shortly after.
Kitty Hawk says it chose New Zealand as a launch pad for the Cora because the country has a dynamic economy and its Civil Aviation Authority has “the respect of the worldwide regulatory community.” (Zephyr Airworks is Kitty Hawk’s operator in New Zealand). Talks had reportedly been ongoing for 18 months, with multiple government agencies involved.
Kitty Hawk is also known for its other “flying cars” including an all-electric aircraft that’s designed to operate over water and doesn’t require a pilot’s license to operate. While the concept of an air-taxi is nothing new, there haven’t been substantial developments in commercializing a fleet for consumer use. As we’ve previously reported, at least 19 companies are developing air taxi plans including Boeing, Airbus, Uber, Bell Helicopter, Joby Aviation, and Volocopter. Most notably, Uber is working on an aerial taxi service it hopes to pilot in Los Angeles, Dallas-Fort Worth, and Dubai by 2020. Dubai began testing crewless two-person flying taxis in September, and has a target for autonomous transport to account for a quarter of total trips by 2030.