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Drones, uncrewed aircraft systems (UAS), and electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) air taxis may fly in the U.K. as soon as 2028, according to the country’s Department for Transport (DfT).

The DfT on Monday released the Future of Flight action plan: a joint blueprint created by industry and government stakeholders that aims to get eVTOL air taxis, crime-fighting drones, and emergency service UAS flying routinely by 2028.

The document seeks to ensure the proper regulations and infrastructure are in place to open the country’s skies to quiet, sustainable aircraft, providing guidance for the next five years.

“Aviation stands on the cusp of its next, potentially biggest, revolution since the invention of the jet engine,” said Sophie O’Sullivan, head of future safety and innovation for the U.K. Civil Aviation Authority (CAA). “Drones, eVTOL, and other different vehicles have the potential to change transportation options forever.”

Drones are already being deployed by U.K. groups such as the West Midlands Police and Medical Logistics U.K. In just a few short years, they’ve demonstrated the ability to identify suspicious subjects and reduce travel time between hospitals by up to 70 percent. Meanwhile, air taxi models under development are expected to begin flying passengers in the coming years.

A study conducted by the DfT estimates that drone technology alone could boost the U.K. economy by 45 billion pounds—or about $57 billion—by the end of the decade.

“Drones help professional teams capture data from the sky in a safer, cheaper, smarter, and greener way, and, in the future, they will help transport cargo and people,” said Anne-Lise Scaillierez, CEO of the Association of Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems UK (ARPAS-UK), a drone trade association.

The DfT plan predicts the first piloted flying taxi will take to the skies in 2026, with regular service following by 2028 and the first autonomous eVTOL demos by 2030. Regular drone deliveries are anticipated by 2027.

Anthony Browne—the U.K.’s aviation and technology minister, who on Monday is due to visit Bristol-based eVTOL air taxi manufacturer Vertical Aerospace—said the plan will make the country a leader of an approaching “dramatic shift in transportation.”

“Cutting-edge battery technology will revolutionize transport as we know it—this plan will make sure we have the infrastructure and regulation in place to make it a reality,” said Browne.

The CAA, which has already begun the authorization process for Vertical’s VX4 air taxi, will provide regulatory support for the Future of Flight plan and ensure new aircraft comply with the safety standards for traditional models. The agency figures to be a crucial stakeholder in the industry’s near-term development.

“The UK has a long heritage in aerospace, and the publication of this plan sets out how we will lead the next revolution of flight,” said  Stephen Fitzpatrick, founder and CEO of Vertical. “With government and business working together, we can unleash the huge economic, environmental, and social benefits of zero emissions flight globally.”

Among other things, the action plan calls for rules that would permit beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS) drone flights, allowing the sector to grow without interfering with other aircraft. It also encourages engagement with communities and local authorities and the creation of standards to improve drone security. Drone operators would have access to new digital platforms, which could minimize the red tape associated with getting them in the air quickly.

The plan further sets out how smaller aerodromes could serve as vertiports for eVTOL aircraft, including the development vertiport certification standards. Crucially, it calls for stakeholders to study how existing infrastructure could be used to establish vertiports quickly but safely.

In the coming months, the DfT and its partners will conduct a series of trials to explore BVLOS drone flights and demonstrate electric aircraft, with the aim of minimizing accidents. The trials may include finding and repairing faults on railways, assisting emergency services, or using air taxis to create new connections across the U.K.

The action plan was released before the fifth meeting of the Future of Flight Industry Group: a joint force created in February 2023 to help government and industry leaders address key challenges. Members include air taxi manufacturers Vertical and Joby Aviation, operator Bristow Group, vertiport developer Skyports, and the U.K. National Air Traffic Service (NATS).

“The U.K. is home to one of the world’s most important aerospace industries and is in an ideal position to be a pioneer in the next era of aviation,” said Duncan Walker, CEO of Skyports and chairman of the Future of Flight Industry Group. “The government and industry have a joint commitment to support the development, industrialization and introduction of new aviation technologies. Continued collaboration will ensure that we capitalize on the significant domestic and international market opportunities presented.”

Parallels can be drawn between the Future of Flight plan and the FAA’s Innovate28: a blueprint also targeting widespread drone and air taxi operations by 2028.

Like the U.K. plan, Innovate28 proposes a “crawl-walk-run” approach to air taxi operations in the U.S., focusing on a near-term rollout in stages over the next five years. It also proposes heavy reliance on existing infrastructure to decrease complexity.

As in the U.K., U.S. air taxi services are likely to be niche early on, with flights limited mostly to narrow corridors. Drones, which are already used widely, are expected to expand with the implementation of rules for BVLOS flights, among other provisions.

Ultimately, Innovate28’s goal is for eVTOL air taxis to fly at the 2028 Olympic Games in Los Angeles, by which time operations are expected to have scaled in major cities.

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