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Flying cars? Study shows American consumers are ready with a parachute
A Terrafugia prototype of a flying aircraft. A new survey shows how consumers in America feel about flying aircraft. - photo by Amy Joi O'Donoghue
In the 1985 blockbuster "Back to the Future," Dr. Emmett Brown reassured Marty McFly: "Roads? Where we are going, we don't need roads."

A new survey of American consumers shows people are interested in flying cars, with a few stipulations.

For example, an overwhelming majority would insist on a parachute for their ride. Makes sense.

The survey also shows Americans would be most comfortable in an autonomous or self-flying vehicle, they'd like one that takes off and lands vertically (no need for a long runway) and ideally, they'd like to take the spouse and a couple of the kids along for a flight.

An online survey of 508 adults across America was done by the University of Michigan's Transportation Research Institute and authored by Michael Sivak and Brandon Schoettle. Sivak is director of the institute's Sustainable Worldwide Transportation, which conducts a wide range of studies on topics that include self-driving cars, vehicle fuel economy, transportation emissions and road safety.

An abstract of the study notes that while flying cars used to be in the realm of science fiction, recently there has been a "rapid increase" in the interest for flying cars, with multiple companies on differing paths to successful takeoff.

As an example, Terrafugia was founded in 2006 by five MIT graduates and now, according to the company's website, it is taking reservations for The Transition, for which two prototypes have already been tested and flown.

An Israeli company, Urban Aeronautics, is developing the CityHawk, which envisions one pilot in a flying vehicle that seats four. Those, too, are available for preorder.

The online survey using was done in April and designed to gauge attitudes on a variety of flying car attitudes, including likely benefits, major concerns, desired minimum flying range, affordability and overall interest in operating or using the craft.

Key findings include:

About four-fifths of respondents considered having a parachute for flying cars either extremely important or very important

Three-fourths of respondents picked shorter travel time as the most likely benefit of flying cars

People most preferred a seating capacity of three to four people

About half of respondents indicated they would be interested in attending training for an appropriate flying license if 20 flight-training hours were required.

The study notes that men tended to have more positive attitudes toward flying cars than women, and that positive ratings for flying cars increased the younger the age.

While nearly 65 percent of survey respondents indicated they were familiar with the concept of flying cars, worries continue to dominate how they may function in the future.

At the top of the list were concerns of overall safety (62.8 percent of respondents were very concerned) while next up was congested airspace at 61.8 percent.

Other concerns included performances of the craft in poor weather and at night, and learning to use them.

One environmental benefit that could help people overcome their concerns, especially along smog-congested transportation zones, is that people would prefer their flying vehicles to be powered by electricity, not combustion.