Anticipating a move toward commercial use in the coming years, Italian aviation authorities have unveiled plans for a test-phase of flying taxis — or “piloted transportation systems” — across two airports in the city of Rome, The Washington Post reports.
The test flights will take place at Rome Fiumicino airport on the outskirts of the Italian capital, the civil aviation authority ANAC said in a statement. Italy’s tourist-heavy capital is a major destination for domestic and international flight.
“The arrival of ‘flying taxis’ in the next decades could make it possible to transport millions of people per day in a single flight within 20 years, which will be a huge improvement to the existing ways of travel,” the announcement said.
Conducted under the terms of a licensing scheme, the proposed first-phase flights will consist of a cluster of autonomous test planes that will circle over a chosen “eastern area” of the airport. After positioning themselves at the rear of the field, the aircraft will open the “hole” themselves before their controllers take over, the authority said.
According to ANAC, one pilot will oversee the flights. Officials say the idea was introduced after “the growing concern about the impact of these flying vehicles on the surrounding land.”
The initial flights will be broadcast via a real-time stream to Rome residents on social media platforms as the test takes place. Borrowing the concept from Google’s Jump BaseX project, all the flying vehicles in the initial tests will be constructed of 3D-printed pods, just like in the plans for the autonomous pod buses the Internet giant envisions. The design, the FAA notes, is intended to maintain “a level of autonomy and safety” similar to Tesla’s Autopilot system.
“Until now, these flights require three pilots in a control tower on the ground. But once these flights begin in 2023, each pilot will go to the field and take over as the flight begins,” the ANAC statement read.
The tourism authority said the initial tests would begin in the winter of 2022 and last for two years. After the first few successful flights, the pilotless vehicles will return to the air in another phase.