Imagine a day when you can just fly over jammed traffic, miss the hour commute into the office, and be home in just six minutes.
Flying from an outlying regional airport to downtown Boston in a single piston engine Piper Cherokee offers a different perspective on the flexibility offered by air mobility.
While there are challenges associated with aircraft congestion, integration into the National Airspace System, and accessibility for the general public, you soon will be able to travel like this, saving time and reaching remote facilities and off-site meetings. What impact will that have on your decisions as to where to locate your home and office?
What is Urban Air Mobility?
The Federal Aviation Administration envisions Urban Air Mobility (UAM) as a …“safe and efficient aviation transportation system using highly automated aircraft that will operate and transport passengers or cargo at lower altitudes within urban and suburban areas.” (https://www.faa.gov/uas/advanced_operations/urban_air_mobility/)
The UAM concept is built upon the growing Advanced Air Mobility (AAM) segment, which uses new technology electric Vertical Take Off & Landing aircraft (eVTOL), for transport not only in and around urban environments, but also for: commercial inter-city travel, cargo delivery, public services, and private/recreational vehicles.
UAM will become a reality for public and private transport out of local and regional airports, including those without any regular commercial air service. This makes it accessible even to those who don’t use the air transportation system regularly.
Regional airports offer extensive opportunities for innovation and sustainable travel, connecting outlying suburbs and industrial parks via this new, fuel efficient, and environmentally friendly mode of direct air transport. Most local and regional airports already have customer-centric operations and businesses. Intermodal connectivity – optimizing the ground and air transport combination for more efficient transport of people and things – is key when looking at reducing travel times between these airports and city centers and with larger airports. UAM also supports economic development in communities further away from large hub airports, providing much faster access for people and e-commerce.
As with any new technology, there will be challenges with eVTOL, including:
- An expanded grid to accommodate electrical load/charging/battery demands
- Infrastructure to meet current and future needs
- Integration into the National Air Space system (NAS)
- New FAA regulations and compliance oversight
- Public funding/private partnership
- Facility and aircraft maintenance
- New training systems
Community/Public Buy-in and Participation
Community participation and buy-in is one important factor in making the system successful. Since many regional and local airports are located in city metro areas and suburban neighborhoods, the expanded air system will be more accessible to more people. The minimal increase in noise, smaller environmental impact, and use of clean energy will help blunt the “not in my backyard” objections to aircraft, often voiced in residential areas and communities – particularly when compared with the proven economic benefits of having access to local air transport.
Smaller airports may be able to adapt to change more rapidly than larger airports. Maintaining airports is costly and highly regulated. Regional and local airports have an opportunity to make these investments and keep the incremental revenues by strategically partnering with the eVTOL, electric short takeoff and landing (eSTOL), and other electric Conventional Take-Off and Landing (eCTOL) companies. Passengers are already comfortable with their local airport’s environment and its security, with its infrastructure, runways, and aprons already in place, versus taking off and departing from a mall parking lot, or a similar structure not designed as an air terminal.
Air travel always has been about reducing time lost to city street traffic; Urban Air Mobility via eVTOL is one more way to apply new technology to the furthest reaches of the hub-and-spoke system. And, as a business proposition, using established local airports helps ensure a reasonable return on investment, until inner city landing pads/spaces are built.
Gloria Bouillon is Beverly (MA) Airport Director, Incident Commander, commercial pilot, aircraft owner, international speaker, and aviation professional. She led two airports to significant infrastructure development through stakeholder engagement and collaboration with key decision-makers.