- Urban Air Mobility (UAM) is promising faster, safer, and cleaner solutions, driven by collaboration among aviation giants, automakers, governments, and tech firms worldwide.
- Escalating urbanization, traffic, and living costs are demanding a swift remedy as UAM envisions a skyward escape from congestion.
- UAM is riding the wave of mobility-as-a-service trends, offering multidimensional travel possibilities and reshaping urban mobility.
- By leveraging electric vehicles for eco-friendly airborne travel, UAM offers a transformative solution for traffic reduction and greener urban living.
Ground transportation networks are being strained as a result of increased urbanization and traffic in megacities with growing populations. Possibilities exist for a quicker, safer, cleaner, and more integrated transportation system by taking urban mobility into the third dimension. Flying automobiles and autonomous aircraft are already the subject of ongoing projects and tests all around the world. Major aircraft and automakers, municipal governments, and digital firms are developing creative approaches to urban transportation.
According to the United Nations, by 2050, of 68% of the world’s population, upto 13% from 2018 started residing in urban areas. This includes skyrocketing living expenses, increased pollution and traffic. Undoubtedly, the current urban traffic situation results in enormous daily time losses due to traffic congestion. According to INRIX’s Global Traffic Scorecard, America lost 3.4 Bn hours to congestion in 2021. The scorecard also identified that London lost 148 hours due to traffic congestion, followed by Paris.
With the rise of on-demand mobility concepts like Uber and Lyft, people are seeing the convenience and financial benefits of mobility-as-a-service, which circumvents many of the costs and maintenance considerations of vehicle ownership.
The third dimension—the sky—holds a potential solution. New business models and technological advancements are emerging to address the problem of mobility as big cities around the world are getting congested. Urban Air Mobility (UAM) is a viable future alternative for quick, efficient, and cost-effective transport around the world.
UAM, including the inter- and intracity transportation of people and products, as well as special missions like air ambulance, emergency supply delivery, organ transfer, and search and rescue support. Urban air mobility makes better use of the sky to connect people to cities and regions and increase their opportunities for connection. UAM can benefit from a system of multimodal transportation. Sustainable city development is made possible as urban transportation takes to the skies.
The three primary pillars must all be considered in an integrated manner to develop a sustainable UAM. All three components must line up exactly as required. An integrated strategy based on the three key pillars are:
- Aerial vehicle technology
- The UAM infrastructure
- The business model to operate and finance it
What is Urban Air Mobility (UAM)?
Urban Air Mobility (UAM) is a form of air transportation that uses VTOL (Vertical Take-off and Landing) aircraft or air taxis to transport passengers and cargo within cities. These aircrafts will have a pilot on board or be remotely piloted. UAM has the potential to be the next major advancement in transportation. UAM will deliver transportation in the air, similar to taxis or ridesharing today, clearing our streets of traffic, and offering a practical and quick way to move around urban areas.
Electric vehicles (EVs) are the main emphasis of UAM to deliver clean, green, and efficient operations. Key components are light materials. The overall carbon footprint of the UAM is improved by reducing the weight of the structure since it increases the vehicle’s ability to carry more cargo or people, increases its range, and uses less energy to operate.
UAM represented a paradigm shift in urban transportation because of novel electric aircraft designs and relentless efforts from academia, government, and industry. Electric vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) vehicles are anticipated to be the fundamental components of the urban air transportation system. eVTOL, a type of EV slowly making its way into the world while electrifying road vehicles such as automobiles, buses, and bikes are the subject of much discussion. Like a helicopter, an eVTOL can land or take off without a runway, making it a viable choice for urban areas lacking in open space.
In other countries, including Sao Paulo and Mexico, the idea of UAM has already gained popularity. Helicopters are common in Sao Paulo’s urban areas, while air taxi services are increasingly common in Mexico. Flying taxis will also be developed to reduce ground infrastructure maintenance and operating expenses, making intercity travel feasible and inexpensive for everyone. Additional emergency services, such as the shipment of organs and blood, as well as commercial use, will now be faster because of the use of urban air mobility.
According to NASA-commissioned market studies, where the focus was on implementing this smart air mobility technology and making it safe and effective for moving people and goods across cities, UAM might become a successful, relevant business by 2030 with as many as 500 Mn annual flights for package delivery services and 750 Mn annual flights for air metro services.
In the coming decade, we can see significant growth in urban air mobility as a kind of air travel. The global market for urban air mobility is anticipated to be worth of USD 7.6 Bn by 2027 growing at a CAGR of 12% in the new post-COVID-19 business environment. Businesses like Uber Air, Airbus, Boeing, and many others are developing top-notch UAM machines for city-based air transportation.
For instance, Uber Air is well-known in the industry, and will quickly become a leader in the UAM. For the development of eVTOL aircraft for airborne ridesharing, the business is currently collaborating with six aircraft manufacturers. Airbus offers CityAirbus NextGen eVTOL passenger aircraft. Wisk Aero, a joint venture between The Boeing Company and Kitty Hawk Corporation offers with world’s first eVTOL air taxis with four or six-passenger carrying categories.
What benefits could air taxis provide to cities?
- Alternative for intercity or intracity travel: Providing a faster, and hopefully more efficient, alternative to land travel.
- Emergency responder: Cover things like helping with serious medical problems that might need an air ambulance, delivering medical supplies, and conducting fire rescue operations.
- Extensive infrastructure: eVTOLs can be implemented without a substantial infrastructure. In large cities, for instance, installing charging stations, overhead wires, or both would be necessary for electric road vehicles to be powered or recharged. Instead of building roads or rails to support it, eVTOLs simply require the construction of transportation hubs
- Traffic management: With fewer automobiles on the road, traffic congestion should be lessened and some of it might be moved to the air. As a result, the noise and carbon emissions from vehicles would decrease, leading to a cleaner city
- Reduction in CO2 emission in urban areas: Air taxis will take the place of conventional vehicles that use fossil fuels, hence lowering vehicle emissions of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide and monoxide.
UAM is becoming more widely recognized as a potential future option for affordable, quick, and sustainable intercity travel, and some businesses are looking to launch their services in the next few years. In 2022, Los Angeles unveiled the UAM partnership last year, a project that intends to build an air taxi system and increase the city’s transportation options. Other large metropolises are looking into the possibilities of urban air mobility, including Paris and London.
Approximately 200 companies are engaged in the development of eVTOL. Even though companies are still in the development stage, the novel technological advancement has inspired an increasing number of start-ups and aerospace companies to create UAM vehicles, all of which are imagining the potential of UAMs in future urban mobility. Let’s look at some of the leading eVTOL companies.
The top eVTOL businesses were established more than ten years ago, and they aim to begin operations as early as 2024. However, there are now very serious restrictions on the use of UAMs in cities. UAM faces the following challenges:
- Operational limitations: The main operational hurdles for airplanes are public acceptance and airworthiness standards. While aviation authorities may issue regulations and certifications to guarantee a safe aircraft through extensive testing and modification of existing aviation legislation, public acceptance is more difficult to handle.
- Technical specifications: Existing battery technology severely limits the airplane’s operating capabilities (flight time and range), necessitating a significant infrastructure for battery charging.
- Vertiports: The aircraft need specialized landing fields, or “vertiports”, which take up space and are consequently unsuitable for cities.
- Air traffic regulations: The fact that air traffic is much more strictly regulated than road traffic, it takes time to develop and test policies and regulations before this mode of transportation may be used by the public without risk.
With UAM, there are still challenges to be resolved, just like with any new technology or system. For instance, the public needs to be convinced of the safety of eVTOL technology. Compared to driving, air travel has a far lower accident rate, but there are also many more risks especially considering that businesses want these cars to operate automatically and without a pilot. Before sufficient trust can be established between this technology and its user, it can take a lengthy time.
Europe is currently evaluating UAM solutions through demonstration projects and pilot programmes. Within three to five years, UAM operations could become commercial in the EU. For the successful implementation of urban air transportation in Europe, the acceptance of the people and the confidence of prospective passengers are vital. To direct this effort, EASA conducted a comprehensive assessment of the societal support for UAM operations across the European Union. Approximately 83% of respondents had an initial favorable opinion of UAM and ranked the emergency or medical transport use case as the most important.
What’s new in eVTOL?
The majority of recent eVTOL news has been centered on fundraising and new partnerships as start-ups and established aerospace firms compete to develop their own aircraft. The technology supporting eVTOL has advanced almost as quickly as the technology supporting consumer drones, and money is flowing in.
For instance, recently a Memorandum of Understanding between Airbus and Ecocopter paved the way for the two companies to begin working together on the introduction of urban air mobility services in several Latin American nations. Another collaboration activity, a South Korean air taxi service will be introduced by Joby Aviation in partnership with SK Telecom (SKT), one of the country’s largest telecommunication companies.
Through a SPAC merger, Joby Aviation obtained USD 1.6 billion, bringing in fresh funding from Uber, BlackRock, and Fidelity. Beta Technologies has signed agreements to supply 20 helicopters to Uber-For-Helicopters start-up Blade and to sell UPS helicopters for cargo delivery, with the first aircraft arriving in 2024.
Within the next decade, UAM is expected to start off, initially focused on piloted cargo, emergency vehicles (such as ambulances and firefighters), and passenger shuttles that travel along predetermined routes, such as those that connect airports with urban areas.
Related reading: How intelligent transport systems help to build smart cities
The 2024 Olympic Games will be held in Paris, and the city’s administration has announced plans to introduce air taxis there for better control of urban transportation. To carry out this ambitious strategy, leading companies in the urban air transportation business, like Lilium, and Volocopter, have been enlisted. Municipal administrations in London and Los Angeles have also stated that they intend to implement urban air mobility systems per the infrastructure of their respective cities. Overall, it appears that in the near future, traditional modes of transportation and commuting will be completely replaced by urban air mobility systems.
UAM is definitely the new game-changer for green mobility. A sustainable mobility environment is one with higher speeds, less pollution, and fewer road improvements. Many advantages to UAM should be expected in the majority of towns. UAM has a very promising future.
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Based on insights by Priyanka Jain, Senior Research Analyst, Market Research