Driver Knowledge Tests

Are flying cars a good fit for Australia?

Marketed as a utopian dream for commuters since the 1950s (or even earlier), would flying cars be suitable for Australia? They would certainly bring both benefits and drawbacks. Let’s explore them.

Roadkill risk

This is by no means the biggest implication, but it’s the one that many of us relate to. If you’ve ever gingerly made your way down a rural road at dusk, fully expecting a wallaby or roo to jump out, it would be a much more reassuring journey. However, you still wouldn’t want to impact a brolga or wedge-tailed eagle, so care would still be required.

Rural connectivity

We’re one of the more urbanised countries in the world, but around 3,500,000 live in rural areas. There are advantages in terms of access when roads are impassible (e.g. flooding or a bridge is out), or where a journey may be winding and inefficient. While we are good at building very straight roads between rural centres, there are still destinations that are challenging to get between

Flying cars could be the difference between life and death for rural healthcare access (either flying doctor equivalents, midwives, etc, or a person being able to get to a hospital themselves quicker than could be done by road). It would be reasonable to assume that a flying car would travel at a similar speed to our fastest roads (around 110km/h) for efficiency and should be able to travel at least a couple of hundred kilometres before refuelling. That could cut at least a third off many journey times, and perhaps more.


There are over 2000 airstrips and airfields and 250 airports in Australia, so there are already plenty of places to take off and land, but to land at an airport would require a pilot’s licence to ensure that the driver/pilot can understand the protocols required for safe air traffic.

The real appeal of a flying car is if it can be VTOL (vertical take-off and landing, like a drone), in which case it would be very flexible in where it could land. Small landing areas would be established, perhaps close to parking buildings, or using the top storey of a multi-storey car park.

If flying cars are only using roads for the final mile, fewer multi-lane highways and motorways would be required. However, congestion would still exist around designated landing points. In urban areas, it would not be able to be a free-for-all with VTOL vehicles landing anywhere due to the risks posed to other traffic and pedestrians. This would mean that in already densely packed urban areas, the closest landing point might still require some on-road travel. In rural areas, there is more scope for landing areas.

Showrooms and purchasing

It would be reasonable to assume that once major manufacturers team up to build flying cars at scale (think, perhaps Tesla + Cessna), then automation technology would be a prominent feature of the vehicles. This would be the only feasible way to eliminate the pilot licence requirements – a way of making air travel foolproof by automating take-off, landing and collision avoidance.

Demonstrator vehicles would be required to give prospective purchasers the opportunity to try a vehicle. This would need to be done in a safe area, so don’t expect functional demonstrators to be operating from within highly urbanised areas. There may, however, be simple showrooms to look at a vehicle before then trying it at an airfield.

Geofencing and unwanted sightseers

There’s a reasonably high barrier to entry to private pilots for planes and helicopters, plus they have to comply with air traffic rules. In uncontrolled airspace, a helicopter, for example, cannot fly any lower than 1000 feet (around 300m) over an urban area and 500 feet (around 150m) over any other area. Controlled airspace, for example, is that around and above airports. This prevents a helicopter from landing in your back garden unless you have special planning permission.

Flying car drivers would need to know and respect this both for privacy and safety. If we assume that the vehicles contain a large level of automation, it may be possible to geofence certain areas (i.e. automatically make them out-of-bounds unless it’s an emergency).

Air traffic safety

This leads us neatly to air traffic safety and, of course, the safety of other road users. Air traffic is controlled by air traffic controllers. Aircraft use corridors to travel within. However, flying cars, with drivers who are looking to minimise journey time, may come into conflict with one another, increasing the risk of a mid-air collision (assuming automation isn’t controlling it). Having air traffic control tracking potentially thousands more vehicles in the air would require a large staffing upgrade.


There’s an obvious tourist angle for flying cars, and not just for the thrill of flying in one. Flying cars would enable us to visit places that were previously not very accessible. However, this could lead to crowding and overtourism in many places. We would also need to be able to stop people from doing stupid things like landing on top of Uluru or buzzing Sydney Opera House.


Flying cars may make crime (e.g. drug trafficking) easier, and could put people more at risk if chases ensued. If a flying car was stolen for a joy ride by an unqualified person, the consequences could be serious. They might easily be able to be flown out of the view of air traffic control.


If you live in Sydney, the harbour forms a natural barrier with some bottlenecks (the bridges). If you coulda avoid queuing on the motorway in your daily commute, you’d do it, right? Especially if you live in south Sydney but you live in north Sydney.

It also makes travel times more predictable when dropping kids off to school or going to visit friends.


Flying cars could mitigate the negative impacts of rush-hour traffic, to an extent, but could also create damage to places that would ordinarily be out-of-bounds to terrestrial vehicles. Flying vehicles tend to use more fuel per kilometre than terrestrial vehicles, but the shorter distances would counteract that.

New businesses

Training will be required for purchasers. Mechanics will need to understand both terrestrial and airborne vehicles. Design of infrastructure will become a task for town planners, architects and engineers. Anti-crash technology will keep computer programmers busy.


If the legislation can be written, flying cars could become a reality. Initially it will be for rich people and those who have a very specific niche (e.g. law enforcement). Wider adoption will come with economies of scale.

Given Australia has a large landmass with plenty of space, flying cars could be a relevant mode of transport, but are likely to be constrained to close by existing vehicle corridors for refuelling.

Darren is an expert on driving and transport, and is a member of the Institute of Advanced Motorists

Posted in Advice