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Flying taxis: The next big practice area for lawyers?

The technology in the emerging flying taxis sector is well ahead of current regulations, and the opportunity for lawyers to play an important role from the ground floor will only come once, writes Tom Young and Julie Brown.

user iconTom Young and Julie Brown 26 June 2023 Big Law
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Imagine a scene in which your working week comes to an end, and the traffic trying to get home for the weekend is heavy. However, you are not too fussed because waiting for you on the roof of your Brisbane work building is a flying taxi, which will fly you at a height of 500 metres along the coast and to your Sunshine Coast home in just 20 minutes.

Pure fantasy, you might say? The Council of Mayors of South East Queensland (Council) doesn’t believe so. The Council has examined advanced air mobility (AAM) vehicles, which includes electric vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) vehicles, both manned and unmanned, during a recent 11-day fact-finding mission to California and Canada.

The Council has seen enough potential in the technology to enter into a partnership with Wisk Aero, a company producing four-seater flying taxis based on this eVTOL technology.


The regulatory framework to govern such technological advancement is also underway.

The Commonwealth government has produced an issues paper on AAM, and the nation’s aviation regulator, the Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA), has issued a road map to reshape the regulation of Australia’s airspace to accommodate the rapidly evolving aviation technology.

In fact, CASA is planning to roll out the necessary rules for flying taxis by 2025 and then deployment of those regulations the following year depending on foreign initial airworthiness certification and the commitment of eVTOL manufacturers to the Australian market. CASA is currently undertaking public consultation on the guidelines for the design of vertiports, the areas at which flying taxis will take off and land.

The industry is expected to grow so big so quickly that Morgan Stanley predicts the global market for AAM will be valued at $2.2 trillion by 2040.

With the technology moving at pace, the federal government knows that legislation regulating this will need to be developed quickly. The only similar industry that legislation can be modelled on is the drone industry. However, the existing legal framework that governs the safe and lawful use of drone operations is not fit for purpose to regulate flying vehicles that are not delivering food or a pair of shoes, but rather people.

A new and bespoke legislative regime is urgently required. Fortunately, aviation is subject to international conventions that the signatories to adopt best global standards, which means we can learn from what is happening overseas. The US, France, Germany, Brazil, and Singapore are already putting in place the infrastructure or legislative frameworks to deal with flying taxis.

The full passenger journey from terminal to take off is already being tested at a passenger terminal testbed in France, in time for the 2024 Paris Olympics. Billy Nolen, acting administrator of the US Federal Aviation Administration, has been reported as saying that with the Los Angeles Olympics on the horizon, “we’re talking about probably having hundreds if not thousands of AAM vehicles by the 2028 time frame”.

There are also other legal issues outside of safety that will need to be addressed. Noise pollution is an important one. If flying taxis use airspace over densely populated areas, as is envisaged, this could create a significant noise pollution problem. Technological developments may take care of these noise levels anyway; however, excessive noise will limit the locations of vertiports.

While much of the regulatory heavy lifting will be done at a federal level, state and local governments also have an important role to play. State governments and local councils must be able to massage their respective legislative regimes with the overriding need to facilitate a legal framework to support a flying taxi ecosystem.

Possibly the greatest hurdle state governments will have to overcome is the necessary amendments to local authority’s planning schemes and building codes. This may involve legislating planning directives to local authorities to facilitate the necessary infrastructure to support the AAM ecosystem, especially the vertiports.

There will also be a need to integrate the new legislative regime for the safe operations of flying taxis into the existing regulatory matrix governing privacy, environmental impacts, cultural sites, and cyber security.

At this stage, the idea of an air taxi flight over the city to home is a pipedream. But the fact remains that the technology is well ahead of the regulations, and the opportunity to play an important role from the ground floor in this emerging industry will only come once.

Tom Young is a partner, and Julie Brown is a special counsel at global law firm K&L Gates.

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