The long-running “Back to the Future: Part 2” joke that it’s 2023 and Americans still don’t have flying cars (in the seminal sci-fi film, America had flying cars by 2015) may finally be put to rest — but is that a good thing?
The jury may still be out on that verdict, but that hasn’t stopped the FAA from giving a special stamp of approval to Alef Aeronautics, allowing the California-based company to begin taking very real pre-orders for flying cars that aren’t quite real yet.
In a Tuesday news release, Alef announced that it had received a “Special Airworthiness Certification” from the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration.
— Alef (@AlefAeronautics) September 10, 2022
“We’re excited to receive this certification from the FAA. It allows us to move closer to bringing people an environmentally friendly and faster commute, saving individuals and companies hours each week. This is a one small step for planes, one giant step for cars,” said Jim Dukhovny, Alef Aeronautics CEO.
The release noted that this is “the first time a vehicle of this nature has received legal approval to fly from the U.S. government.”
The “nature” of this vehicle is certainly the stuff of science fiction movies.
The vehicles, aptly named “electrical vertical takeoff and landing” vehicles are exactly what they sound like — fully electric cars that can maintain some low-level elevation.
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In theory, this certainly sounds like the breakthrough every Star Wars fan has ever dreamed of.
In practice? There are a few more hurdles to overcome here.
First and foremost, these vehicles simply won’t be widespread due to the cost of them.
In short, most Americans would have to choose between buying a house or an eVTOL vehicle.
According to Alef’s pre-order page, the “expected price” of its flying cars is a cool $299,999. (“General queue” pre-orders begin at $150, and “priority queue” pre-orders begin at $1,500.)
Second, even if you had $300,000 burning a hole in your wallet, the news release makes it clear that eVTOL vehicles will not be granted unbridled freedom in the skies.
— Reuters (@Reuters) October 20, 2022
“The FAA is actively working on its policies for electrical vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) vehicles, as well as governing interactions between eVTOLs and ground infrastructure,” the release said. “Alef’s Special Airworthiness Certificate therefore limits the locations and purpose for which Alef is permitted to fly.”
Third, as exciting as the prospects of flying in a car may be, it’s still uncharted — and thus potentially very dangerous — waters.
But even if Alef could guarantee that the flying part of the eVTOL was 100 percent safe, the same simply cannot be said about fully electric vehicles writ large.
As electric vehicles have gained in popularity, so too have some of the horror stories associated with them — whether it involves the potential damage EVs can cause, skyrocketing insurance premiums, concerns over vehicle charging or exorbitant repair costs.
If none of those concerns move you, CNBC reported that Alef has promised that these flying cars will be available by 2025, although the pre-order page and news release make no mention of a release window.