A Virgin Atlantic Boeing 747 jumbo jet sits in a hanger prior to takeoff at Heathrow International Airport in London, U.K. (Photographer: Gill Allen/Bloomberg News)

Boeing CEO Says Air-Taxi Prototype Will Be Ready for Takeoff Next Year

(Bloomberg) -- Boeing Co. says the age of air taxis is getting closer.

A prototype will be in the air next year, Chief Executive Officer Dennis Muilenburg said. The planemaker is also working with regulators to develop a traffic-management system for the aircraft in five years.

Boeing CEO Says Air-Taxi Prototype Will Be Ready for Takeoff Next Year

“Think about a future in which you will have three-dimensional highways to relieve traffic congestion,’’ Muilenburg said in an interview Wednesday with Bloomberg TV in Seattle. “So we’re working on both the ecosystem -- the regulatory framework -- and the new vehicles. All of that is happening now.’’

The Chicago-based aerospace giant is investing heavily in a vision that evokes the futuristic world of “The Jetsons,” the 1960s-era cartoon show. Pilotless rotorcraft will eventually ferry people and cargo across clogged urban areas, Muilenburg said. To hasten that goal, the company last year bought drone pioneer Aurora Flight Sciences, which is among the companies vying to develop a flying taxi with Uber Technologies Inc.

‘Rapid Progress’

Boeing is also working with a startup called SparkCognition and U.S. regulators to design an air-traffic system to keep the aerial vehicles safe and operating efficiently, Muilenburg said. He didn’t specify if the prototypes would be pilotless right away.

“I would expect that within five years we’ll see initial operational capability being fielded,’’ he said. “You’re going to see rapid progress here over the next several years and you’re going to see Boeing with our partners right at the forefront.’’

Boeing is also working on a hypersonic aircraft capable of zipping passengers between any two cities in the world in a couple hours. The engine technology is “in hand,” he said. The main sticking point is to ensure there would be enough paying customers to make the investment pay off.

“This is something again I expect to see happen over the next decade,” he said, “so a little bit longer time frame.”

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