How Flying Cars Could Make Up for Africa’s Infrastructural Deficit

Economic freedom depends on the unconstrained ability to move to where the money and jobs are. When provided with more opportunities to earn more, people can secure the financial security and resources needed to pursue their professional and intellectual ambitions.

This truism applies particularly to Africa. Data from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development shows that workers in major cities of the continent earn an hourly wage twice as high as their rural counterparts while securing 30 percent more working hours per work. The fastest way to help Africans suffering from poverty, war, and famine is to provide them with the ready ability to move to the continent’s dynamic cities. It is the key to unlocking the potential of Africa’s labor force, which is the world’s youngest and fastest-growing at 2.42 percent a year for three decades.

Africa’s deficit in traditional infrastructure 

Yet, this economic freedom remains unrealized due to the difficulty of moving around Africa. On one hand, there are no enough roads. Africa’s road density, as of 2019, is about half that of North America, a third of East Asia, and a third of Europe. On the other hand, the roads are not in the right places. A 2019 research paper found the continent’s road network spatially inefficient. It argued that the unequal concentration of infrastructure investment and aid ensures that the roads built do not connect towns and villages in the most direct and fastest routes.

Given the massive cost of building traditional infrastructure, channeling limited financial resources into purchasing these flying vehicles may be an innovative solution.

Worse yet, even that unbalanced investment in African infrastructure is disappearing at a rapid speed. Between 2011 and 2022 alone, foreign direct investment into African infrastructure shrank by 44 percent, with the part accounted for by China declining even more at 55 percent. It is not good news for a continent facing a shortfall of USD 100 billion annually in infrastructure funding. Who will pay for the roads, railroads, airports, and ports needed to move people to more productive big cities? 

Given the funding shortfalls, it will be a tall order for Africa to replicate the dense physical infrastructure of its American, European, and Asian counterparts. Instead, it should consider alternative methods to move people around quickly and cheaply without “traditional” infrastructure.

The flying car solution

The solution may be flying cars. Technically known as electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) vehicles, they are pilotless, large-scale drones that can carry multiple passengers. Various Chinese firms, leveraging existing electric vehicle (EV) and drone manufacturing advantages, are rushing to make eVTOLs a commercial reality. Drone maker EHang received the country’s first license for mass production in April. EV-maker Xpeng also promised last month to mass-produce eVTOLs by 2026. 

Given the massive cost of building traditional infrastructure, channeling limited financial resources into purchasing these flying vehicles may be an innovative solution. The cheapest eVTOLs are priced at around USD 100,000 each, about a third of the cost of building a kilometer of paved roads in Kenya and a tenth in Uganda. With a fleet of eVTOLs, citizens can access the remotest, roadless villages on the continent at a reasonable cost.

The final missing puzzle for flying cars in Africa to take off is government policy. The Chinese government has gone all in with regulatory support to operate eVTOL taxis in demonstration zones by 2025. There is no reason that African governments should not follow suit. Rwanda and Ghana have already pioneered policies for nationwide medical drone delivery. These governments can expand the policies to include commercial drones and eVTOLs. Government encouragement, then, can facilitate the mobility needed for greater economic freedom without the expensive physical infrastructure.

Xiaochen Su, Ph.D. is an educational and business risk consultant currently based in Malta as a digital nomad. He previously worked in Tanzania for a US-based non-profit.

Photo by Jopeel Quimpo via Unsplash.