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Broadly speaking, there are two likely pathways to a future of autonomous passenger flight. There is one in which crewed aircraft increasingly offload duties from their human pilots, to the point where regulators feel comfortable removing pilots from the aircraft altogether. There is another in which uncrewed aircraft gradually prove their capability and reliability, to the point where regulators feel comfortable allowing passengers on board.

Both represent measured approaches to introducing new technology into a system that is intolerant of rapid change. While it may be more efficient from a technical perspective to start with uncrewed aircraft, the vast regulatory and social inertia behind conventionally piloted flight has pushed many autonomous aircraft developers toward the first approach.

Related: Electric aircraft unknowns spur new approaches to leasing

Pyka, a startup based in Oakland, California, is an uncrewed electric aircraft developer with grand ambitions for autonomous passenger flight and no illusions about how difficult it will be to get there. Rather than selling investors on its lofty future goals, Pyka is focused on developing a viable commercial business now, while trusting that the experience it gains in the process will ultimately position it for the passenger market.

The company has already been flying commercial missions with its first product, a fully electric cropdusting plane called the Pelican Spray, for over a year. Last week, it unveiled a cargo version of the Pelican, and announced UK-based drone operator and vertiport developer Skyports as a launch customer.

“Really the goal of the company is to be the ones that bring autonomy to the passenger-carrying space someday,” Pyka co-founder and CEO Michael Norcia told The Air Current, acknowledging that the company is “taking a very different approach to it than most.”

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As Senior Editor, Elan spearheads The Air Current’s coverage of electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) aircraft, along with a focus on emerging sustainable technologies. A commercially-rated helicopter pilot and FAA Gold Seal flight instructor, Head brings a unique vantage point to explore this critical new sector.

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