Flying cars have been part of the public imagination for so long, it’s almost hard to believe they could be anything other than flights of fancy. However, the prayers of flying car optimists seem to have answers! A fully electric flying car, inspired by Marty McFly in Back to the Future, received a special airworthiness certification from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). This brings us one step closer to living in a world where cars zip around overhead. Here’s everything there is to know about Alef Aeronautics’ “Model A” flying car, set to take flight in 2025.

What is Alef Aeronautics’ ‘Model A’ flying car?

California start-up Alef Aeronautics has been granted testing certification for its vehicle/aircraft, the “Model A”. The first fully electric vehicle can both drive on land and fly. It is the first such vehicle to receive U.S. government approval. The Model A is the first flying vehicle that’s able to drive on city streets and park in normal car stalls. It has now received approval for test runs on both land and up in the sky. The FAA confirms that it has issued the company a special airworthiness certificate, allowing for limited purposes that include exhibition, research and development.

‘Marty McFly’ influence

The company says its inspiration for the Model A came in 2015 — the same year Marty McFly, the main character of the Back to the Future movie franchise, travels to the “future.” Dukhovny, along with friends Konstantin Kisly, Pavel Markin and Oleg Petrov, met up in a café and sketched out the first design on a napkin. According to the company, an initial automated test flight of a skeleton version of the car was successfully conducted in 2018, and a full-size prototype was flown the following year. But Alef said that the FAA’s special airworthiness certificate was a requirement to continue conducting the necessary research and development.

Up, up and away: A flying car makes its debut

Last October, Alef introduced the “Model A” to the world as the first electric flying car with real street driving and vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) abilities similar to a drone. The company says it will be able to carry one or two passengers. As an aircraft, it will be able to fly about 177 kilometres at a time, while having the ability to travel approximately 320 kilometres at a time as a vehicle. The car will be a Low-Speed Vehicle (LSV). It doesn’t go faster than about 25 miles per hour (40 km/hr) on a paved surface, keeping it within the legal speed limit in most places. If a driver needs a faster route, they will be able to use the vehicle’s flight capabilities, according to Alef. Before heading out on the road, the company still needs approval from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to operate on roads.

“We’re excited to receive this certification from the FAA. It allows us to move closer to bringing people an environmentally friendly and faster commute, saving individuals and companies hours each week. This is one small step for planes, one giant step for cars.” ~ Alef CEO Jim Dukhovny.

Where will you see the ‘Model A’ flying car?

According to Business Insider, the special certificate currently limits where the car will have allowance to fly and why. The FAA is working on policies specifically for electrical vertical takeoff and landing vehicles. “Designed to drive on the street, take off vertically when needed and fly overhead above traffic, we’re building the solution to the issues of modern congestion,” Alef says on its website. “We enable faster and easier commutes, driven by proprietary technology that elevates the vehicle without the need for runways.”  

What is the price to fly?

The electric flying car is now available for pre-order, as per the Santa Clara, California company website. Carrying one or two occupants, the vehicle will sell for about $300,000. After pre-sales began last October, Alef says it had collected over 440 reservations by the end of the year. Deposits range from $150 for the regular queue or $1,500 priority queue deposit. Dukhovny told CNBC’s Make It in December that the company is aiming to begin delivery of the vehicles by the end of 2025. Alef is also developing additional models, including a four-person sedan, “Model Z,” slated to debut in 2035, with a starting price of $35K. The company claims it will have an over 300-mile flying range with an over 220-mile driving range.

Competition closing the gap

The FAA said that Alef is “not the first aircraft of its kind” to get a special airworthiness certificate. However, Alef notes that its vehicle is different because of its ability to function both on roads and in the air, to appear like a normal car and to park in a normal parking space. Several other automakers and start-ups are also working on bringing “flying cars” or eVTOLs to market, such as XPeng. The EV start-up’s Aero HT was the first crewed eVTOL to receive a flight permit in China earlier this year. Numerous companies around the world are trying to solve the problem of urban congestion by lifting travellers above the traffic. Plus, it’s just a cool way to travel!

The problems with insuring a flying car

Frank Peppard, Finance Director at Carpeesh, notes that providing insurance for cars is entirely different from covering aviation and motor transport vehicles. “It might be a combination of aviation insurance and motor vehicle insurance, plus commercial insurance. [This will depend on whether] the nature of the vehicle is designed for ride-sharing or taxi services rather than personal use,” Peppard says. This isn’t to say that providing car insurance for a flying car is entirely out of the picture. If only for when it is being driven on the road. The flying car can receive insurance using traditional underwriting and data withdrawn from telematics– also known as ‘black box insurance.’ Let’s examine some issues that arise when looking at insuring an electric flying car:

1. Vehicle use

When calculating premiums for insurance, one of the determining factors is how the vehicle itself will be used. Flying car insurance may cover personal use, such as driving around for shopping, visiting family and commuting to work. Additionally, it may have usage for businesses. This will cover driving to external meetings, or a mix based on a consumer’s preference. Similarly, you can fly aircrafts for a wide range of activities. These include for pleasure, sporting and recreation, or travel for business. They can also be flown for business, such as aerial photography, crop dusting, and transporting passengers or cargo for money.

2. Which coverage applies?

While insurance coverage can have approval, knowing when the different types of coverage applies can be tricky. General Manager of General Insurance, Stephen Zeller, notes that a flying car can have a motor insurance policy, which will only cover it for regular road use. “There may be crossover when the car turns into an aircraft and starts flying. Say, for example, a flying car has an incident while it is on the runway; was it still driving or flying? In this hypothetical situation, it’s important to understand exactly what coverage applies and when it applies,” says Zeller. Having a vehicle that can both fly and drive presents additional risks, making it hard for the vehicle to get coverage after an incident. An insurance company can refuse to issue aviation insurance on an aircraft that has been in an automobile accident.

3. Telematics

Telematics provides the insurer information about how the vehicle will be used. This includes what speed it travels at and how hard the driver applies the brakes. Using telematics can be the key for an insurer dealing with a whole new unknown vehicle. A flying car can have a motor insurance policy, which will only cover it for regular road use. “In a future where flying cars are a reality, it’s possible that flying cars [can] get a policy, depending on what insurance providers offer. This [will] then have to be taken in conjunction with an aviation policy to cover the vehicle in the air,” says Zeller.

Final thoughts on flying cars

Whether flying cars have coverage from

  1. One single policy that includes car insurance and aviation insurance OR
  2. The owner gets coverage by purchasing separate policies for the specific modes of transportation,

there are a variety of factors that are going to cause headaches for insurance providers.

So, what will this mean for the car insurance industry? Car insurance for a flying car will only cover one aspect of the vehicle’s use – when it’s on the road. Specialty products will likely need to be made that cover the use of the vehicle as a whole (driving and flying), including:

  • Aviation insurance
  • Motor insurance
  • Personal injury cover
  • Legal liability

The alternative to a combination of car insurance and aviation insurance will be a whole new insurance product that incorporates both. However, it remains to be seen what insurers will do when it comes to electric flying cars. What isn’t under debate is that the value of a flying car, in combination with how much coverage a driver will need, means the insurance premiums will likely be pricey.

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