The way we live and the way commuters really want to live is, excuse the pun, “driving” industry to make transportation and logistics more and more efficient. The ability to order goods and have them delivered on the same day or in the case of food and medicine, within minutes, is building our expectations and pushing the industry to follow suit with more convenient solutions and more timely transportation overall.
The Urban Air Mobility movement is creating a market for small electric Vertical Take-off and Landing vehicles (“eVTOLs”) designed to carry a small number of passengers or cargo over congested urban areas, to make transportation and delivery services faster than ever before. In large East Coast cities, like greater Philadelphia here where I and many more share congested roadways, it is estimated that drivers spent an average 128 hours in traffic in 2018 (according to data tracker INRIX), and the cost of sitting in that traffic is around $1800 per person. FYI#1: My commute is 2.5 hours roundtrip; I’m keen on the eVTOL dream!
I would argue that for many who commute more than a short distance, the cost could be much more, in terms of lost productivity, stress, wear and tear on the vehicle, and loss of personal time to unwind. While we are starting to get packages and groceries delivered in previously unbelievable timeframes, commuting just hasn’t gotten any easier. The issue is unfortunately constant here in greater Philadelphia, as well as other major cities, like Boston, Washington DC, and obviously New York City. FYI#2: East Coast city roads and “expressways” were laid out by 18th Century architects… assuming infrequent horse-drawn wagons!
The push for Urban Air Mobility will bring about a 3-dimensional approach to getting where we all need to go when we need to get there. The movement is pushing for “flying taxis” that will make it possible to hop from one end of congestion to the other with no stress, no risk of road rage, and a beautiful view.
With ridesharing, Jump Bikes and Electric Scooters as a supplement to public transportation (as well as food delivery), taking advantage of Uber-like services is becoming an affordable way of life. In fact, they want to make it more affordable than owning a personal vehicle. There are a few critical goals, however, that need to be accomplished before we can add the flying taxi service to this list.
The core of the movement will lie in lightweight and efficient battery technology. Due to the current state of technology, this is one of the challenges in getting to a Cost per Flight Hour (CPFH) that makes aerial taxis truly affordable for the masses. The CPFH goals is $700 per hour, including maintenance and energy, which will take a bit of effort to achieve from the current estimates of existing vehicles around $1200.
And, of course, the other major tenet will be related to reliability and safety. The goal is for aerial taxis to be safer than driving a car, which should be very doable, given the guidelines and automation that are planned to support this new form of transportation.
It will take time and ingenuity, but the pressure is on, and all the partners involved are in a race to reach these goals. Our team is supporting the analysis of cost and technology as the air taxi manufacturers work their way toward these goals. FYI#3: I cannot wait to take my first eVTOL flight over a rush-hour gridlock that looks up at me and my new ride!