In Defense of the Drivable Airplane—Terrafugia CEO Responds to Legions of Doubters

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normal automotive construction techniques. That is the basis on which we can build a vehicle that is designed to take automotive crash tests and yet still be light enough to fly.

X: High insurance, liability, and litigation costs kill off every company that attempts to build a flying car.

CD: I don’t think anybody has actually gotten to the stage where it had the opportunity to put them out of business. Moult Taylor, the most successful roadable aircraft builder in history, only built five prototypes and never went into production, so he never had the opportunity to get into that position. We are anticipating that we will get farther along. And we will be in that position where somebody will, one day, crash in one of our vehicles. And we want to provide them with as much protection as possible so that their insurance rates will be low, and that’s why we are investing in these technologies for crash protection. In terms of litigation, that is why we will be insured as a company. There are always risks when you are operating a vehicle. But we are trying to do everything we can from an engineering standpoint to satisfy both the need for this vehicle in the marketplace and the need for it to be insurable.

X: We already have enough trouble with greenhouse gas emissions. Why put all this brainpower into one more CO2-emitting vehicle? Wouldn’t it be smarter to come up with a better bicycle, or a way to get people to stop driving?

CD: This is a philosophical question, so I will respond with a philosophical answer. But I will qualify it by saying this is my personal view. I believe that it is in our global interest to do things that improve the quality of human life and the freedoms of humanity. I don’t think forcing people to ride bicycles does that. I love riding my bicycle into work. I am not trying to de-emphasize the importance of being a conscientious user of natural resources. But what we’re talking about here is fundamental human progress. I don’t believe that it is in our interest as a society to restrict technological development when there is a clear market for it, it happens to improve freedom, and it has a lower impact on the environment than other means of transportation like driving your car.

Terrafugia’s Transition in a Lightning StormWhen you combine those things, I think you have an enabling technology. If people can travel to more places, faster, using less gas, who knows what it will spawn? It is a net-win scenario. Does that mean everybody should travel in a Transition? Of course not. But there are times and places for it. And the bottom line is that there is a real demand for it, and that is what we are seeking to satisfy.

X: Others have tried to build flying cars or roadable aircraft, and they have always failed. What makes this attempt any different?

CD: The short answer is, timing and technology. From a timing perspective, we have the emergence of the new light-sport aircraft rules, which not only create a new type of license but an entirely new way of bringing a sport aircraft to market in a very short amount of time. So from a business perspective, this is an incredible opportunity to get a high rate of return. The other reason is the technology. With advanced carbon-fiber composite materials and modern glass-cockpit avionics, we can provide a lot more functionality in a smaller package that is also safer and have it be insurable. That convergence of timing and technology is why I think this can finally work now.

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Wade Roush is a contributing editor at Xconomy. Follow @wroush

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