Interest and investment in electric vertical takeoff and landing aircraft (VTOLs), commonly known as flying cars, have grown significantly. However, their sustainability implications are unclear. We report a physics-based analysis of primary energy and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions of VTOLs vs. ground-based cars. Tilt-rotor/duct/wing VTOLs are efficient when cruising but consume substantial energy for takeoff and climb; hence, their burdens depend critically on trip distance. For our base case, traveling 100 km (point-to-point) with one pilot in a VTOL results in well-to-wing/wheel GHG emissions that are 35% lower but 28% higher than a one-occupant internal combustion engine vehicle (ICEV) and battery electric vehicle (BEV), respectively. Comparing fully loaded VTOLs (three passengers) with ground-based cars with an average occupancy of 1.54, VTOL GHG emissions per passenger-kilometer are 52% lower than ICEVs and 6% lower than BEVs. VTOLs offer fast, predictable transportation and could have a niche role in sustainable mobility.
CSS Publication Number:
April 9, 2019
Kasliwal, Akshat, Noah J. Furbush, James H. Gawron, James R. McBride, Timothy J. Wallington, Robert D. De Kleine, Hyung Chul Kim, and Gregory A. Keoleian. (2019) “Role of Flying Cars in Sustainable Mobility.” Nature Communications 10:1555.