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Flying taxis, drones spark high hopes — and safety worries — among Canadians

Concerns over flying cars

Canadians feel both "optimism and concern" over the prospect of flying cars and drones whizzing between remote communities and above city blocks, a new report says.

The Léger study commissioned by Transport Canada found residents hold a broadly positive attitude toward so-called advanced air mobility, which refers to both drones and electric vertical takeoff and landing aircraft (eVTOLs) — drones' larger, typically human-piloted cousins.

Despite limited knowledge of the futuristic transport mode, respondents liked advanced air mobility's potential for search and rescue, firefighting, medical use and other critical services, the survey showed. Comfort with those three uses of the technology in urban areas hovered at around 80 per cent. Surveying, inspections — of power lines, for example — and cargo shipment also had overwhelming support. Only transport of people, rather than things, notched below 50 per cent in favour.

“If we are talking about emergencies, then it’s a no-brainer. We are going to save lives and put out fires. But when it comes to transportation, it’s a no,” one participant told the pollsters.

Further concerns over safety, affordability, environmental impact and privacy tempered enthusiasm for the aerial vehicles.

"The outlook on advanced air mobility (AAM) in Canada is a complex blend of optimism and concern," the report stated.

"Issues such as the safety and privacy risks associated with drone use, the environmental footprint of AAM operations and the readiness for autonomous functions are especially significant worries."

More than half of respondents had reservations around safety and potential crashes. Well over one-third pointed to security threats and privacy fears. And between a quarter and a third highlighted prices, noise pollution and the impact on the environment.

The "cautious optimism" of respondents toward drones and eVTOLs underscores their perceived benefits, the authors concluded. "Yet it also sends a clear message about the necessity to tackle safety, environmental, and social issues."

In Canada, drones are deployed for tasks ranging from aerial photography to search-and-rescue missions and wildfire detection.

Meanwhile air taxis, long hyped as the next giant leap in short-haul passenger transport, are coming closer to being a public reality — even as skepticism lingers over their ability to change commuter behaviour and emissions output.

In the U.S., electric air taxis will be cleared for the skies by 2028, according to a regulatory timeline laid out by the Federal Aviation Administration last July. Some manufacturers have 2025 as their target, such as Silicon Valley's Archer Aviation and Joby Aviation.

The whirly machines carry the promise of delivering people and goods across congested urban and suburban areas and between nearby cities. But headwinds around technology, regulation and investment remain, with Canada lagging behind some of its peers on policy. And whether aerial vehicles can move beyond a sleek slice of the ultrarich and the medical and cargo niches in the near term remains up in the air.

Last week, Boeing Co. pledged $240 million toward a Montreal-area aerospace cluster that will include advanced air mobility research pertinent to its Whisk Aero subsidiary, which makes self-flying taxis.

"The expertise here in autonomy is as good as, if not better than, pretty much everywhere else in the world," said Boeing Global president Brendan Nelson in an interview, adding that certification is on the horizon.

Despite ongoing innovation in Canada, more than three-quarters of respondents to the Léger survey had never heard of advanced air mobility. Awareness was higher among Canadians aged 18-34, those with a university diploma, men and Indigenous people and people of colour, the report found.

The 99-page paper was based on two studies carried out between November and January, with a survey sample size of 2,717 participants as well as four focus groups.



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