By Chloe Aiello
Flying autonomous transportation may not be mainstream yet, but if you believe companies like Uber and Ehang, it's just around the corner. James Van Meter, North American head of aviation at Allianz, said autonomous technology will change many things, not least of which is how insurance liability is assigned.
"Today in most aircraft, there's a pilot involved. The operator has a majority of the liability. But as soon as we get into autonomous and semi-autonomous aircraft, just like driverless cars, we could see a significant shift in liability from operator to manufacturer," Van Meter said.
Insurance and asset management company Allianz released a report detailing its findings on risks and liability in an industry that has yet to take flight.
"The goal is to look at this new technology, that we see as an emerging market and address some of the risk issues we see as forthcoming," Van Meter said.
Among the challenges that the report identifies are infrastructure on the ground, air traffic control, vehicle inventory, safety, and regulations. Van Meter called a friendly regulatory environment one of the "big keys" to determining where the technology will ultimately be in use.
But most important of all are safety concerns ー and who is responsible when something goes wrong.
"Everyone will really need to have insurance and need to be able to cover their risks ー the operational risks, the manufacturing risks," Van Meter said.
Likely everyone involved with flying taxis, including the vehicle manufacturer, the operator, and the intermediary ー the Lyfts or Ubers of the flying taxi world ー will need to have some sort of insurance to protect passengers as well as people and property on the ground, Van Meter said.
These types of questions may seem premature, but China's Ehang has already begun testing this kind of technology in China. And Uber is preparing to demonstrate its aerial ride-sharing platform, Uber Elevate, as early as 2020 with a goal of having an operational urban air mobility concept by 2023, according to Allianz's report.
"I think we are likely to see a drone taxi service operational in the next two years ー outside of the U.S.," Van Meter said.