Flying cars may be a reality sooner than we know it, if Japan has anything to do with it. klibbor/123RF Stock Photo
Flying cars may be a reality sooner than we know it, if Japan has anything to do with it. klibbor/123RF Stock Photo

Tokyo — Japan is making a push to develop flying cars, enlisting companies including Uber and Boeing in a government-led group to bring airborne vehicles to the country in the next decade.

The group will initially comprise 21 businesses and organisations, including Airbus, NEC, a Toyota Motor-backed start-up called Cartivator, ANA Holdings, Japan Airlines, and Yamato Holdings, according to a statement on Friday from the trade ministry in Tokyo. Delegates will gather on August 29 to help chart a road map this year, it said.

"The Japanese government will provide appropriate support to help realise the concept of flying cars, such as the creation of acceptable rules," the ministry said.

Flying cars that can zoom over congested roads are closer to reality than many people think. Start-ups around the world are pursuing small aircraft, which were, until recently, only in the realm of science fiction. With Japanese companies already trailing their global peers in electric vehicles and self-driving cars, the government is showing urgency on the aircraft technology, stepping in to facilitate legislation and infrastructure to help gain leadership.

The technology, just like aviation, would need to win approvals from several regulators, which can take years. This would also happen only when safety standards are set by agencies, without which commuters won’t embrace the flying craft.

"It’s necessary for the government to take a lead and co-ordinate on setting safety standards," said Yasuo Hashimoto, a researcher at Tokyo-based Japan Aviation Management Research. "They are trying to set a tone for the industry ahead of other countries."

Japan’s economy minister Hiroshige Seko told reporters this month that flying cars could ease urban traffic snarls, help transportation in remote islands or mountainous areas at times of disasters, and can be used in the tourism industry.

Many have already had a head start in the race. Uber, which will invest €20m over the next five years to develop flying car services in a new facility in Paris, has set a goal of starting commercial operations of its air-taxi business by 2023. Kitty Hawk, the California-based start-up founded and backed by Google’s Larry Page, in June offered a glimpse of an aircraft prototype: a single-person recreational vehicle.

Other global companies envisioning this new form of transportation include Volkswagen, Daimler and Chinese car maker Geely Automobile Holdings. Japanese car makers have not yet announced their plans to develop flying cars.

With Nao Sano, Yuki Furukawa, Katsuyo Kuwako and Yuji Nakamura.

Bloomberg