Tel Aviv - Flying cars are moving from the realms of science-fiction to reality in a relatively short space of time as ever-worsening traffic congestion is moving us towards 3D mobility: the utopian ideal of being able to soar over the gridlock instead of being stuck on the ground.

Israel's Urban Aeronautics (UA) has announced it plans to be one of the first to put a VTOL (Vertical Take Off and Lift) car into series production.

The CityHawk VTOL six-seater flying car is an air taxi that’s scheduled to hit urban skies in around 2021. Initially it will run on a hybrid petrol-electric setup with a claimed top air speed of 273km/h. Later, when hydrogen filling stations become more common, the vehicle will be converted to run on hydrogen fuel cells.

Designed like a giant drone, the CityHawk features a large propeller at each end, with power supplied by two 750kW turboshaft engines. There are also two rear-mounted props to generate forward thrust.

Helicopters have been performing much the same task as this vehicle for decades, but the CityHawk is a more practical city-hopper due to its compact size – it’s no larger than a car – and its enclosed propellers don’t pose as much of a safety risk to bystanders in densely populated areas. It’s also a lot quieter than a chopper.

As a safety measure the CityHawk is equipped with a ballistic parachute. This ejects from its casing by means of a small explosion causing it to open much quicker than a conventional parachute, making it more suited to emergency situations that occur close to the ground.

The CityHawk is just one of a number of flying car projects trying to get off the ground. Nearly a dozen companies around the world are competing to be the first to develop an aircraft that enables commuters to glide above crowded roads – including the ‘Pop.Up Next’, a collaboration by Audi, Airbus and Italdesign which conceptualises an autonomously-operated two-seater cabin that can be attached to either a car module or a flight module.

There are some hurdles to overcome before flying cars - both piloted and automated - start buzzing around our skies in great numbers, not the least of which is figuring out how to prevent them from crashing into each other. NASA is developing an air traffic control system for small drones that possibly could be expanded to include flying cars.