Flying cars, like this one in the Czech Republic, may soon become viable in Japan, where a large consortium is involved in making them a regular feature in the skies. Photo: AFP/Michal Cizek

A man wearing a jet pack opened the Olympic Games in Los Angeles in 1984. In Tokyo in 2020, could a similar role be played by a flying car? If related plans bear fruit, the answer could be yes.

But Tokyo’s ambitions soar high above Olympic publicity stunts. At a time when the global auto industry is a hive of R&D into autonomous vehicles, electric vehicles and hybrid vehicles, Japan is boldly seeking to capture the lead in arguably the most exciting sub-sector of all: flying cars.

Twenty-one top flight businesses and organizations, including Airbus, Boeing, NEC Corp, a Toyota Motor Corp-backed startup called Cartivator, Yamato Holdings and Uber will form a government-led group on flying cars, Bloomberg reported.

The group will hold its first meeting on August 29 to create a road map – or should that be a flight plan? Japan’s trade ministry said the government would provide “appropriate support,” including the creation of related regulations.

With Japanese companies trailing global rivals in other areas of automotive R&D, such as electric vehicles and self-driving cars, the government is seeking to take the lead in aircraft technology, Bloomberg reported.

Technologically, the sky is the limit, as the concept of a flying car has moved well beyond the pages of science fiction novels or James Bond thrillers: Startups and inventors globally have already come up with working prototypes.

Many are based on the designs, engine configurations and aerodynamics of drones, a relatively new flight format that is ideal for small, airborne vehicles, rather than conventional aircraft, such as planes and helicopters.

For Asian megacities like Tokyo, Seoul and Beijing, flying cars represent one feasible solution for congestion. They would have equal application in areas such as mountains, deserts and jungles where road networks are poorly maintained or limited in scope.

However, even though the technology is already taking shape, a high hurdle faces the nascent sector: Regulations and safety standards would need to be in place before flying cars could take flight as a working, commercial proposition.