QIS: Passenger Drones Gain Altitude
November 28, 2017
As pilotless flying taxis edge closer to commercial reality, a host of important questions remain unanswered.
(Pleasanton, CA), November 28, 2017—In September, the German aeronautics firm Volocopter announced the initial unmanned test flights of its passenger drone. Less than a month later, a company called Passenger Drone announced that its product, a pilotless two-passenger aircraft, had completed its first successful flight tests with people on board, and that the vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) vehicle, also known as the Passenger Drone, will be for sale shortly in the United Arab Republic, at a price of less than $100,000.1
“As we noted earlier this year, this technology is moving faster than practically anyone expected,” said Michael Macauley, CEO of Quadrant Information Services, a leading supplier of pricing analytics services to property and casualty insurance carriers. The Volocopter and Passenger Drone announcements, Macauley noted, come on the heels of last winter’s successful test flights by Shanghai-based Erhang and the Israeli firm Urban Aeronautics.
Another indication of the growing potential importance of pilotless passenger flight was a conference sponsored by Uber Elevate, the airborne wing of ride-sharing service Uber. Taking place April 25-27 at Dallas’s Union Station, the conference featured presentations by Trish Gilbert, executive vice president of the National Air Traffic Controllers Association, and Dr. Jaiwon Shin, associate administrator for the Aeronautics Research Mission Directorate at NASA, as well as representatives of aircraft companies such as Embraer, Aurora Flight Sciences Corporation, Bell Helicopter, Pipistrel Group and Mooney International, as well as investors such as Ross Perot, Jr., of the Perot Group. At the conference, Uber Elevate announced plans to debut its flying taxi service by 2020.2
The enthusiasm of attendees at this and similar events does not necessarily indicate clear skies ahead for the passenger drone industry. On September 28—the day after the successful manned test flight by Passenger Drone—the Federal Aviation Industry passed an order restricting the unauthorized use of drones over the Statue of Liberty and a number of well-known Department of Interior sites, adding to the list of existing no-fly zones for drones within the United States. And the new FAA restriction is just one of a number of steps recently taken to regulate the unauthorized use of drones. In August, for example, the Pentagon approved a policy allowing military bases to shoot down private and commercial drones that are considered a threat.3
Macauley points out that an issue which, so far, has been little mentioned in discussions of a possible flying-taxi future, is air traffic density. For example, a white paper released last fall by Uber Elevate details the space thriftiness of VTOL aircraft, both in eliminating the need for runways and in the compactness of the aircraft themselves. Per the white paper, widespread adoption of the technology could relieve a city of literally hundreds of the four-wheeled vehicles people currently use to transport themselves4—which, Macauley notes, might or might not be a useful thing to do. It’s estimated that on any given workday, there are approximately 6.4 million cars and trucks in greater Los Angeles alone. In the urban area of New York City—which is both geographically smaller and more densely populated than Los Angeles—there are about 7.7 million cars and trucks.5 For the new passenger-drone technology to make a dent in this congestion—to make things better, in other words, and not worse—a way would have to be found to manage not hundreds, or even hundreds of thousands, but millions of unpiloted aircraft at rush hour in a very small space—safely and with no more delay and aggravation than we have now, Macauley adds.
“It may happen,” said Macauley. “There are some very smart people working on these problems, who think they solvable. But they’re not small problems, and they’re not going to be solved as quickly as the leaders in the flying taxi industry would like them to be solved—which is good news for us and for the insurance industry, because it gives us time to understand the risks and benefits of this technology, and thus properly protect the users of it when and if it becomes prevalent. At QIS, we’ll be gathering information about passenger drones, and every potentially disruptive insurance-related technology that comes along, to help our clients stay competitive in a fast-changing world.”
About Quadrant Information Services:
Quadrant Information Services, headquartered in Pleasanton, CA, provides pricing analytics solutions for property and casualty insurance companies. Quadrant gives actuary, product development, pricing, sales and marketing personnel at its client companies—which include all the major insurance carriers in the United States—the data they need to make accurate, data-driven decisions. An industry innovator since its founding in 1991, Quadrant has provided the P&C insurance field with a long series of technological advances, including InsureWatch, the industry’s first cloud-based pricing tool, which allows the user to produce unlimited combinations of reports with the click of a mouse. For more information, and to learn why Quadrant is for insurance companies that are tired of losing the right customers and winning the wrong ones, please visit www.quadinfo.com.
Langton, James, “Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No, it’s another flying passenger drone,” The National, November 27, 2017.
Williams, Brett, “Uber plans to have its flying car ready by 2020,” mashable.com, April 25, 2017.
Jain, Rishabh, “Despite New FAA Drone Restrictions, Proper Legislation Needed Urgently,” International Business Times, September 29, 2017.
“Fast-Forwarding to a Future of On-Demand Urban Air Transportation,” Uber Elevate, October 27, 2016.
Newton, Damien, “Density, Car Ownership, and What It Means for the Future of Los Angeles,” streetsblog.org, December 13, 2010.
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Karla Jo Helms