How would you like to own your own drone — and not just a camera drone? A personal passenger drone. Just as you very likely have your own car that you park in your own driveway or garage , one mobility company based in Tel Aviv, Israel thinks you’ll want to have your own personal passenger drone, too.
That company is called AIR, and it just made a major move in the UTM space that shows it’s committed to making passenger flights on unmanned aircraft a serious proposition. That’s because AIR recently announced a partnership with yet another Israel drone company, High Lander, to use its UTM software.
UTM, short for uncrewed traffic management, is one of the hottest topics in the drone industry this summer. High Lander, which builds a proprietary UTM solution called Universal UTM that is drone-agnostic (but that is able to monitor all airborne activity over territories of any size in real time) wiill be the provider of AIR’s UTM operations. With it, High Lander’s Universal UTM will provide flight plan approvals and adjustments, real-time flight monitoring and in-flight conflict warnings to AIR’s eVTOLs, all to theoretically ensure that all flying vehicles are compliant with aviation regulations, all the while avoiding conflict with other crewed and uncrewed aircraft, geographical obstructions, and NFZs nearby.
And in fact, AIR just showed off its integration with High Lander when it made its first UTM-integrated flight in an airfield in the south of Israel at the May 2023 iteration of the Israel National Drone Initiative. Of course, that light test was highly controlled, conducted with the aircraft within line of sight and remotely piloted.
But the test was still somewhat of a feat. It was done at an active airfield with a military base nearby, so there were multiple aircraft flying in the area, according to a company spokesperson. And High Lander’s UTM worked as planned, registering a flight plan, getting approval after calculating that there were no conflicts, and tracking the AIR ONE.
What to know about AIR
Unlike other passenger drone models that seem to function more like an Uber for pilotless flying taxis where it picks you up, drops you off and then goes to its own base to recharge and get tuned up, AIR is betting that you would own a pilotless aerial vehicle yourself.
Just as you’d take your own car out on errands at your own leisure, without waiting for an Uber to pick you up, you’d also take your own aerial vehicle out with you. And you likely don’t need any special type of parking space or landing pad for it. AIR’s vehicle, called the AIR One, can take off and land on most flat surfaces. When folded, it can even fit in spaces designed for moderately-sized cars.
The company says the vehicle is designed to fly for an hour on a single charge. For now though, the company has been conducting test flights with flight times not exceeding 20 minutes.
Designed with two seats, it can carry two people and their luggage. The maximum additional (meaning passengers and their stuff combined) is 250 kg, which is about 500 pounds. And according to the company, it’s supposed to be used daily with the vehicle parked in your standard garage.
“AIR sees the aircraft as being as accessible as a car, and even used for daily commutes,” a company spokesperson said.
And AIR isn’t a brand-new company. AIR first announced its vehicle to the public in October 2021. By July 2022, it had received its airworthiness certification and was able to demonstrate its first public hover test.
What’s next for AIR?
But while the tech is mostly there, it’s showing that it’s viable and functional in the real world — against a backdrop of a potentially crowded sky — that really matters. After all, AIR is designed to provide an alternative that gets people out of traffic. But crowded skies might just bring the traffic on a new, well, plane.
That’s why UTM systems like High Lander’s automated platform are crucial.
“By taking advantage of the scalable and comprehensive air traffic coverage of High Lander’s tried-and-tested UTM system, we feel confident that AIR ONE will overcome its last regulatory hurdles and begin to show people around the world that piloting a personal aerial vehicle is as safe and reliable as it is easy and exciting,” said Rani Plaut, CEO and co-founder of AIR.
Given the emergence of eVTOLs, regulators are right now developing certification and modes of operations for new types of aircraft, like what AIR is proposing. High Lander’s UTM system has already received official approval from the Civil Aviation Authority of Israel (CAAI), which is among the reasons why it made sense to incorporate High Lander into AIR’s flight testing under the CAAI.
A company spokesperson said AIR was “on track to eventually prove it meets the safety standards.”
How High Lander works
High Lander’s system monitors airborne activity in real time. From there, it autonomously approves, denies, and suggests alternative flight plans as needed, providing complete airspace coverage for businesses and government authorities. High Lander already has some fairly notable clients, including the Israeli national police force and Speedbird Aero, the biggest drone delivery company in Brazil.
High Lander, which launched in 2018, has two different software products. One, called Mission Control, is there to manage and automate drone missions. The other is the aforementioned Universal UTM.
High Lander has made some major moves on the global scale lately. In May 2023, High Lander became a member of the Global UTM Association (GUTMA), which is a Switzerland-based organization that includes other key members including Boeing, the Australian Civil Aviation Safety Authority, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration, Israel Aerospace Industries and Switzerland’s Federal Office for Civil Aviation.
When can you get your own personal passenger drone?
That’s less clear — and it’s less because of the tech but more because of drone regulations.
“Full regulatory approval for drones will only come when we have fully functional U-spaces in which all forms of aerial vehicles can operate in harmony,” a company spokesperson said. “And there is no U-space without a UTM.”
Luckily, companies like High Lander are pushing to make that happen. For example, High Lander is working with Israel’s CAAI, which just ruled that police forces will be able to create temporary U-spaces for up to 48 hours when they need to control an airspace.
But when pressed for a year when you might get your own personal passenger drone, the company says it might not be that far away. AIR said it is planning to start flying with its mass production unit in early 2024. It plans to fly that unit manned after going through its initial testing and proof phase, which could be in 2025.