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Flying Motorcycles and Legal Frameworks

It has become evident over time that inventions, in general, are more likely to be incremental or at the very least, not flashy. On occasion, however, we do get inventions which feel like they come straight out of a story. A patent application was filed for one of these inventions in early March. Auto manufacturer Subarus’ “land-and-air vehicle” proposal describes what’s essentially a flying motorcycle.

The proposed vehicle exists in two forms, and the user can switch between them depending on if they want to be on land or in the air. The accompanying illustrations show a cross between a motorcycle and single-person capacity propeller plane, with the wings folded back in the land phase. Propellers on the wings and tail provide lifts for vertical takeoff. The mechanism is reminiscent to that of helicopters or drones, which makes sense given Subaru’s portfolio.

The company has files multiple patents on the concept- this patent focuses on aspects like the controls for the vehicle, which is very similar to that of a motorcycle. These controls include additional levers to what would be the acceleration throttle on a motorbike in order to regulate propeller speed and nose tilt when in the air. In addition to integrating flight controls with normal motorcycle controls, the patent also describes an autopilot mode to handle air-specific problems like pitch and rolling.

Of course, the chances of a viable flying motorbike coming into play anytime soon is unlikely. Apart from issues of cost-effective production and consumer markets, present laws do not take land-air vehicles into account. Take, for example, drones. Small, unmanned drone usage in the US requires registration with the Federal Aviation Administration. These users are also required to pass a variety of competence tests. Recreational drone usage does not, although recreational users are strictly limited in how they can use their unmanned vehicles, including prohibitions to having the drones leave their operators visual line of sight.

US drone laws evolved over time- on 2007, drones were prohibited for all organizations that were not the government or associated with the government. The FAA eventually gave in to market pressures and underground drone usage, providing legitimate ways for commercial and recreational drone usage. The laws were eventually relaxed to their present-day format, allowing widespread usage. They prescribe certain limits, such as maximum height, speed, weight and area of operation. The classification of a drone as a type of “aircraft” is still somewhat controversial, given how the same logic can be applied to flight-capable model airplanes. Various other jurisdictions have enacted similar laws, most of which are still being updated according to emerging circumstances. In particular, drone laws are very much interconnected with privacy laws, as most commercial drones are equipped with cameras. In India, for example, all drone operations are to be conducted in daylight and within line of sight unless shooting is done in enclosed premises.

Drones, comparatively small and mobile, have and are still attracting legislative attention. As new technologies come into play, laws struggle to keep up with them, and often ban them altogether until the potential ramifications are understood. Subaru’s future flying motorcycle is likely to face similar restrictions, except in a larger scale due to considerations of increased size, noise and airspace requirements. Neverthless, I’m sure we are all excited to come one step closer to the sci-fi inspired aerial highways in our imaginations.

Author: Varsha Valsaraj, Legal Associate at PA Legal.

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