SpaceX-Backed Flying Car Gets FAA Approval
SpaceX-Backed Flying Car Gets FAA Approval

By Naveen Athrappully

A flying car from SpaceX-backed mobility firm Alef Aeronautics has been granted certification by federal regulators, the first time such a vehicle has received “legal approval to fly” from the government.

Alef’s flying car has been granted an experimental special airworthiness certificate by the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). An experimental certification is issued for vehicles for purposes like research and development, training of crews, market surveys, exhibitions, and showing compliance with regulations. This is the “first time a vehicle of this nature has received legal approval to fly from the US Government,” according to the California-based company’s June 27 press release.

The certification has been granted to Alef’s Armada Model Zero, the FAA told Flying magazine. Armada is a precursor to the company’s $300,000 Model A vehicle which was unveiled in October last year. “Our flights were very limited without this certification,” an Alef spokesperson told the outlet.

“This certification now gives us the ability to fly in locations we need (for example, near our headquarters in Silicon Valley) and purposes we need (like exhibition, for example).”

The Model A, which is currently on pre-sale, is a 100 percent electric vehicle that has vertical takeoff and landing capabilities. It is expected to be on sale by 2025.

Since the limited certification has been granted to its precursor model, the Model A will have to get a certification for flying from the FAA. In addition, it will also have to meet the safety standards as proposed by the National Highway and Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).

“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 a one small step for planes, one giant step for cars,” said Jim Dukhovny, CEO of Alef.

The Alef Model A flying car in a computer generated image. (Courtesy Alef Aeronautics)

Model A

The Model A is currently on pre-order at an estimated value of $299,999. The company is charging a fully refundable $1,500 deposit for the “priority queue” on the pre-orders, with the “general queue” costing $150.

In a Jan. 24 press release, Alef revealed that it had received more than 440 pre-orders for its flying car, which represents more than $132 million in revenue. This includes a large order from a Hong Kong-based aviation firm.

“The Alef Model A aims to be the first flying car with both street driving and vertical take-off capabilities. It is designed to fit within existing urban infrastructure for driving and parking,” the company said.

The Model A is a low-speed vehicle and can only travel at speeds of up to 25 miles an hour on public roads. “The assumption is that, if a driver needs a faster route, a driver will use Alef’s flight capabilities,” according to the company.

“Alef flying car offers a unique experience of flight in any direction (forward, backward, right, left, up, down, at an angle). It offers the ability to bypass the problematic areas on the ground, by flying over them. It offers a cinematic 180-degree plus view for safe and enjoyable flight.”

In addition to the electric option, Alef intends to offer its flying vehicles with a hydrogen fuel option that will come at a higher price but with an extended drive and flight range.

Flying Vehicle Challenges

The flying car industry is still in its nascent stage but has triggered some serious safety and security concerns. A September 2022 study published by the NIH points to the issue of regulating the traffic of flying cars.

“Once air taxis are established in the real world, they will share airspace with other vehicles, including drones, commercial planes, and other air taxis. As far as we know, there is still no in-depth research focusing on the safe planning of this shared space between air taxis,” it states.

“A simple failure can lead to the loss of high-value assets, loss of the vehicle, and/or injuries to human lives, including fatalities.”

Additionally, factors like bad weather, wind gusts, unexpected air events, and thunderstorms can negatively affect flying vehicles. Cybersecurity threats also need to be addressed.

Flying cars can face higher regulatory scrutiny as they have to meet safety standards for both automobiles and aircraft. Vehicles like those being developed by Alef face another challenge as they are designed to take off from roads in urban settings unlike specialized take-off locations.

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