Could Flying Cars Work in India?

PAL,V,Flying, Car
Image: PAL-V Europe NV/ Creative Commons
The first buyer for a flying car in India has already made his purchase. But is it as simple as getting in and flying away?

Subhash Shihora bought the first flying car in India for a steal – two crore rupees in 2009. But by the time he was done with duties and taxes, the price had escalated to almsot five crore rupees before he’d even gotten airborne.

Flying a car over Indian skies is no longer a dream limited by technology. Companies from across the world have been testing prototypes of flying cars. Dutch firm PAL-V International B.V. has been working on a Personal Air and Land Vehicle (PAL-V) for 16 year years now. With three wheels, their model handles like a nimble auto-rickshaw on the roads. Give it a runway, switch on a button – and a set of foldable rotors extend out, turning it into a gyrocopter. The company claims it can fly at 180 kilometres per hour (kph), running on regular gas from a petrol station.

The dream, rather, is dependent on navigating regulations. PAL-V International spent more than half their development budget making the vehicle comply with American and European flying norms. India is a whole different ball game when it comes to aviation regulations.

In 2007, they filed a patent application with the Indian Patent Office in Kolkata. The plan was to sell a vehicle in India by 2018 for a price of Rs. 3.79 crores.

The patent was rejected. The reason? The idea wasn’t novel enough – the Patent Office pointed out three previous instances of flying car that had been demonstrated before. PAL-V re-worded their application to match US standards, but this was rejected again. Another attempt aligning it with their European patent was rejected as well.

Ultimately, they got the job done by rephrasing how they described their rotor-blade technology. In June 2016, the patent was granted.

Receiving a patent doesn’t mean the technology is free to spread its wings in India just yet – but it’s a start. At the AeroIndia 2008, a Bangalore-based company revealed a modified Maruti 800 – with rotor blades. However, they never demonstrated it in flight.

It’s not impossible to make a flying car in the 21st century. The real battle comes for the buyer.

Learning to fly

Subhash was a frequent flyer for years. His faith in the system was shattered after he was prevented from boarding a flight he had a ticket for – with the airline citing technical difficulties. He sued the airline, which was then owned by Vijay Mallya. After his experience with private airlines, he decided to pick up a flying car. Today, he’s still waiting for his vehicle.

Speaking to Madras Courier, he said he was still waiting for a few more permissions and modifications to the vehicle in the United States. But he’s excited nonetheless, saying that flying cars reminds him of the thrilling spying machines that James Bond and MI5 use.

One could well argue that a flying car is not very practical. For one, you can’t take off at your own convenience – you’ll have to drive it to the airport and get a slot on the runway. With most airports far from the city centres, you might spend more time getting your car to the runway than you will flying its destination.

But in the early days of flying cars, it will be a status symbol. As Subhash says:

[It] could become a passion for some people [who] like to… wear Rolex, Rado and hold such big branded and royal cars.

But there’s another problem. Flying cars are still too slow in the air. Most of their air speeds range around 140-180 kph. Which makes them little faster than a car on a good expressway. What really builds appeal is the novelty of the technology. However, the technology needs improvement in order to be feasible. Currently, noise regulations that could see them banned over urban areas, the technology needs to grow in order to feasible. Flying cars rely on fossil-fuels – but there’s hope that they could be powered by renewables in the future.

Buying a flying car could mean clearing through some red tape. You will need either a light or microlight pilot’s license to fly one, depending on the vehicle’s weight. It’s mostly accessible to the wealthy – learning to fly and getting the licence could cost up to five lakh rupees (roughly $8000). There are security concerns as well. There have been cases where people received pilot’s licenses without undertaking the complete training for it, which could mean damage to key infrastructure and could also risk many lives.

Realistically though, the idea of Indian traffic translating itself to the skies sounds apocalyptic. The alternative could be an automated flight. Airbus has already revealed a ‘self-flying car’ concept, and everyone from Google to Uber and Elon Musk has plans on the chart.

Famous for its stories of flying carpets, India will take many more years before becoming a land of flying cars.

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