While we are not yet living in the Age of The Jetsons, we’re likely not more than a few years away from being able to take a flying taxi across town or into the city for a meeting.
A 2021 Deloitte Insights report estimates there are more than 200 companies around the world in some stage of development for electric vertical take-off and landing aircraft — eVTOL — with “more than a dozen projects receiving significant private investment.”
As early as 2024, companies like Archer and Joby Aviation expect to start commercial operations for their eVTOL taxi services in the US, with companies like the Vertical Aerospace in the UK, Urban Aeronautics in Israel and Volocopter in Germany targeting timeframes for commercial operations by the late 2020s.
The cargo air mobility market is expected to grow and scale faster than the passenger market in the early years, $13 billion versus $4 billion by 2025. However, the passenger market will quickly catch up. It is expected to scale and catch cargo capabilities by 2035, with cargo hitting $57 billion compared to $56 billion for the passenger market, according to the Deloitte report.
Mark DeAngelo, aerospace initiatives manager for SAE International, also expects the cargo market to have the potential to grow faster early on, due to the potential for lower operating costs associated with electric propulsion, and public acceptance. (SAE is a global association of engineers and related technical experts serving the aerospace, automotive and commercial vehicle industries, with the mission to advance mobility knowledge and solutions.)
He also sees several use cases for the passenger market.
“There’s an on demand concept where I’ll book a trip at any time and I’ll go to the designated spot and board that flight,” he says.
“There are other concepts that these would be just for particular communities, like a neighborhood would share a vehicle and take residents to a city center or some fun place to go.
“For most parts of the country and parts of the world, these trips would be for traveling across city centers or maybe from outside a city, like a suburb or rural area to the city center, or from one community to another. We’re talking a maximum of 60 miles and flights from 15 minutes to maybe a half hour,” he said.
Archer, an eVTOL manufacturer, sees more urban applications at first — though also sees where these VTOL aircraft could give people more freedom to explore.
“Within large cities, we’ve found that most of the traffic occurs within a 60-mile radius of the city center. Our aircraft, which will carry four passengers for 60 miles at speeds of 150 mph, will enable users to get to the airport, office or other local destinations faster and more responsibly and cleaner when compared to traditional ground transportation, at a comparable price to an UberX,” said Archer Senior Director of Marketing and Communications Louise Bristow.
“Beyond commuting, we believe urban air mobility will usher in the age of the micro explorer, untethering people from their daily lives and allowing them to take to the sky. Micro-exploration will become a new way of life, putting soul-satisfying adventure at your fingertips and creating transformative travel experiences each day,” Bristow added.
But, will there be infrastructure to support air mobility?
On the regulation side, an FAA spokesperson says the agency “evaluates each application based on its unique technologies. The FAA applies existing rules to an applicant’s new concept to determine the certification requirements for the design, production, airworthiness and operation.”
To date, only one UAM company — Joby — has received FAA’s G-1 certification. G-1 is essentially an agreement that lays out how Joby’s eVTOL aircraft requirements will be commercially certified.
Joby spokesperson Katie Pribyl says some of the infrastructure already is in place.
“eVTOL operators will be able to make use of more than 5,000 public helipads and runways that already exist across the US. Over time, as the number of these flights increases, more places to take off and land can be added to a network, increasing the number of routes available exponentially,” Pribyl said.
SAE’s DeAngelo also sees the growth of eVTOL aircraft helping communities with small airports.
“These can help reinvigorate the smaller communities to provide transportation. You have approximately 20,000 of these airports spread across the country. There are many small airports where people are or want to go, and don’t have to land at large airports,” he said.
Other infrastructure-related challenges DeAngelo sees include scaling up manufacturers’ supply chains, which would lower costs and allow for the production of more eVTOL aircraft to carry more people, and for communities to build landing pads and provide electrical and other support.
Manufacturers like Archer, Joby and others say safety is a top priority, as are considerations like reliability, noise and range.
They also see themselves as not just providing another transportation option, but in improving our world.
“Our eVTOL will address the environmental issues caused by road transportation and urban overloading, working to curb carbon emissions, decrease traffic and create the multimodal transportation networks of the future,” Archer’s Bristow said.
Joby’s Pribyl’s added, “Electric aircraft are allowing us to completely rethink how air travel is delivered. They have the potential to open up new ways of moving around congested cities and under-served rural communities, helping to tackle congestion and climate change at the same time.”
While George Jetson once asked his wife to “stop this crazy thing,” it seems there’ll be no stopping a future of catching that air taxi to do a little micro-exploring.
12 UAM considerations
The above is just the tip of the iceberg for considerations and the potential future of urban air mobility. There are nearly countless other considerations, and SAE’s Mark DeAngelo provided a taste of the questions that manufacturers, government officials and others still must answer:
- What are the special considerations for the certification of electric aircraft? (SAE International recently published an Edge Research Report called Unsettled Issues Regarding the Certification of Electric Aircraft.)
- What are the standards and gaps in standards associated with unmanned aircraft systems such as UAS operating as air taxis and cargo aircraft? (Refer to the ANSI Standardization Roadmap for UAS V2.)
- How will the adoption of blockchain impact the aerospace industry? (SAE International recently published an Edge Research Report called Unsettled Topics Concerning Adopting Blockchain Technology in Aerospace and the SAE G-31 Electronic Transactions for Aerospace Committee is developing standards.)
- What are the opportunities and challenges associated with eVTOL aircraft during a global pandemic? (Last year, SAE International published an Edge Research Report called Unsettled Issues Concerning the Opportunities and Challenges of eVTOL Applications during a Global Pandemic.)
- What are the development assurance and safety assessment considerations for highly automated/autonomous air taxis and UAS? What about artificial intelligence in aircraft and air traffic systems? (The SAE S-18A Autonomy Working Group and the SAE- G-34 Artificial Intelligence Committees are developing standards.)
- How is the multi-mobility industry protecting itself from cyber security threats? (SAE International recently published an Edge Research Report called Unsettled Topics Concerning Airworthiness Cybersecurity Regulation, and the SAE G-32 Cyber Physical Systems Security Committee is developing standards.)
- Resiliency to external interference and hazards — How can aircraft be designed to be resilient from electromagnetic interference/radio frequency interference, both of which are prevalent in urban environments? Can they withstand icing? These are areas for SAE AE-4 Electromagnetic Compatibility Committee and SAE AC-9C Aircraft Icing Technology Committee.)
- Noise Standards — How will noise standards be determined? Will these standards be stricter than they are for traditional manned aircraft? Will local communities have a role (or be consulted) in determining noise standards? (SAE A-21 Aircraft Noise Committee standardizes the measurement of noise.)
- What are the training and certification requirements of airmen, maintenance and operations personnel? How will off-nominal situations be managed and what is the role of the flight crew? How does this differ if there is no crew member onboard the vehicle?
- Who will own the vertiports?
- What will the community and economic impact be? What are the necessary ground infrastructure and utility requirements?
- Weather Sensor Requirements — Will weather sensors be required equipment on vehicles? What additional weather infrastructure is needed to obtain adequate climate information given the unique microclimates that exist in urban areas?
Mike Driehorst is a SmartBrief editor, working on newsletters covering social media, advertising, agencies, interactive and multicultural marketing, as well as automotive and transportation industries. After an early career in newspaper journalism, Mike worked in public relations, social media and digital marketing on both the agency and client side for 20 years before joining SmartBrief in early 2019.