The solution in search of a problem

Thanks to this newly-posted Ted Talk video (sent to me by my pal, Michael Wells), the infatuation with an airplane you can drive like a car is back in the news.

As a pilot, I’ve always found the Terrafugia to be interesting, but once you get past the “isn’t it interesting?” what are you left with? I thought the idea would die before it ever came to fruition, just as every other similar idea has died. But next year, the company will start selling them.

If someone in Minnesota, for example, should buy one of these, state officials will have to get together and decide whether this is a car or a plane.

The definition is significant. It’ll probably be an airplane, which means you’d have to pay a registration tax of 1 percent of its list price, which is expected to be about $279,000. Compare that $2,790 to the price you pay for your car’s license tabs.

When you’re driving it as a car, is it a car or an airplane? Are you covered by your auto insurance or your aircraft insurance? Minnesota laws require $100,000 of coverage for each person in the aircraft (it’s a two-seat plane) and $300,000 for bodily injury per occurrence.

For auto insurance, Minnesota requires only $60,000 of coverage for injury liability for two or more people.

Would you need to buy both an auto insurance policy and an aircraft insurance policy? There’s no savings in that. I pay $900 a year for insurance now for an airplane project that’s not flying. That will probably go to more than $2,000 a year when it does fly, which is, by the way, one of the big reasons it’s not flying now.

My 2004 Chevy Cavalier costs me about $650 a year to insure.

So it’s hard to see where the market is for this air/car among the general population.

“Great idea,” a commenter on the Ted Talks website said. “Early adopting might have some issues, but will be a great way to solve traffic issues.”

No, it won’t, actually. The only place where it’d be legal to take off is at an airport. You can’t, for example, see a traffic jam ahead, and decide to unfold the wings and take off.

Anna Mracek Dietrich says an advantage is if pilots encounter bad weather, “just land and drive home.” Fair enough. But that will most certainly lead its owners to head out on a flight when the weather is questionable, and that’s never been a very good idea. Alternately, a pilot who might fly often in bad weather, could get training and instrument rating for a fraction of the cost of the Terrafugia.

The company says over 100 people have put down deposits on the Terrafugia.

  • Jeff

    The woman in the video identifies the problem well. She says that you drive the plane to the airport, fly it to another airport, and then drive home. So now private plane owners no longer need to spend money on a car or two or costly taxis to get them to or from the airport!

    Or is this for the person who asks, “How can I get more attention for myself? How can I get people to look at me? Is that the problem that this solves?

  • David

    Even though it drives like a car I don’t see how it can be considered a car. Cars have specific road requirements, safety, impact, design etc that I’m sure this airplane doesn’t meet. For example, I’m pretty sure that rear bumper doesn’t meet the legal definition of a rear bumper.

    I really doubt this thing is road legal.

  • Bob Collins

    //Even though it drives like a car I don’t see how it can be considered a car. Cars have specific road requirements, safety, impact, design etc that I’m sure this airplane doesn’t meet.

    they got a waiver from the government for those requirements.

  • Bob Collins

    //So now private plane owners no longer need to spend money on a car or two or costly taxis to get them to or from the airport!

    That only works if this is the ONLY car you’re going to own and, for the life of me, I can’t imagine why it would be given its cost and insurance requirements.

    Also, most small airports — and I presume this thing flies into small airports — have courtesy cars to use (although they might be beat-up old police cars).

    Still, $279,000 can buy you a lot of taxi rides.

  • Anon

    If I’m not already a pilot, how much is it going to cost me to learn to fly this thing? And how does the cost of the Terrafugia compare to a plane of similar flying characteristics?

    I already know how the cost compares to a car of similar driving characteristics…..and it’s not a favorable comparison!

  • jon

    until I can manage a vertical take off from my drive way, and clear the power lines on either side of my property (and the neighbors trees) before traveling horizontally, the flying car concept is dead before it begins.

    And if flying cars ever do actually catch on, we’ll have issues with sky traffic jams… and people flying the same way they drive now (with their feet while talking on a cell phone.)

    I’ll wait for the self flying cars thank you…

  • Bob Collins

    //f I’m not already a pilot, how much is it going to cost me to learn to fly this thing?

    You could fly the thing under a recreational pilots license (no night flying) , which could get you in the air in about 20 hours of lessons which would run you about $3,000.

    //And how does the cost of the Terrafugia compare to a plane of similar flying characteristics?

    About the same as a new Cessna 172, although you can get a light-sport aircraft for under $140,000.