Urban Air Mobility: Taking Traffic Into the Third Dimension

By Patric Scheidner
Corporate Vice President Global Head of Aviation, Space, Rail

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Global urbanization continues at a rapid pace, increasing congestion times around cities. Urban Air Mobility (UAM) has the potential to take traffic into a third dimension of more efficient city travel.

Ground traffic has reached its limits. In LA and Sydney, Australia, people spend the equivalent of seven working weeks each year commuting, two of which are spent in gridlock1 . By 2050, two thirds of us will live in urban areas2.

To meet the demands of modern living, and the aim of taking traffic into the third dimension, transport connections must be more seamless. We need to make it easier for people living in rural areas to commute to work, to reduce travel times within cities and deliver a superlative passenger experience. Vital supplies such as medicine and food need an easier route to delivery.

UAM changes the shape and nature of traffic in a congested world, delivering innovative and dynamic mobility solutions to the smart cities of the future.

Transport options include air taxis, which in essence operate the same way as a taxi on the ground, and shuttles, comparable to a bus, tram or train service, operating over short distances (30 km) or longer intercity connections (up to 300 km). 

Urban Air Mobility: Unlocking the vision to the third traffic dimension 

How do we bring taxis into the air? 

Since 2018, demo flights have been carried out in Guangzhou, China, plans are in place for participants to be transported around the Olympic games in Paris, France in 2024 and test flights are planned for Dallas3. Over 100 projects in total have taken off globally, half of which are in Europe4.

In its report “The high-flying industry: Urban Air Mobility takes off’’’ Roland Berger predicts that by 2050, a global fleet of 160,000 eVTOL (electric Vertical Take Off and Landing) air taxis will be generating annual revenues of nearly US$90 billion, delivered across a combination of airport shuttle, city taxes and intercity services5. A network of small, electric aircraft will deliver rapid, reliable transportation to urban areas and ultimately across cities.

eVTOLs replace the engine and rotors of a helicopter with a distributed electric propulsion system which turns smaller rotors. FEV highlights three main concepts, suitable for either intra- or intercity mobility6:

  • Tilt-Thrust: Tilt of wings or rotors for lift and cruise.
  • Lift and Cruise: Independent propulsion used for lift and cruise.
  • Multirotor: Wingless with multiple fixed rotors for lift and cruise, tilt of airframe.

Challenges to progress in Urban Air Mobility 

Technology, infrastructure and business are the three key pillars of UAM. Unlocking this vision requires us to overcome multiple challenges. eVTOLs will operate in close proximity to the ground, using new technologies and giving rise to concerns over safety and noise pollution. Aircraft noise levels must be acceptable to the communities in which they operate.

Furthermore, helicopters are not economically viable. To drive efficiencies and cost savings, the goal is for autonomous vehicles, meeting demands for clean energy and powered by electricity, ideally by charging or removable batteries to enable a rapid ascent and take-off.

Uber Elevate’s Fast Forwarding To a Future Of On-Demand Urban Air Transportation7 highlights these issues in more detail and notes additional challenges, including:

  • Compliance with aviation authority regulations: new aircraft require certification.
  • Batteries: Today’s batteries offer insufficient power for long-range journeys and recharging is currently too slow for the frequency of operations.
  • Emissions: UAM aircraft must be ecologically responsible and sustainable.

Collaboration and connectivity

The key to success is collaboration.

The automotive sector is already experiencing the move to e-mobility. Roland Berger reports there are 230 electric aircraft projects globally, 95 of which involve UAM. However, over three quarters are start-ups lacking experience in scaling and production in this area. Strategic partnerships are key to success. Uber Elevate has implemented a collaborative approach with aviation companies to deploy aircraft across its network8.

Meanwhile, Airbus describes connectivity as the ‘’unseen backbone” of UAM anticipating digital air traffic management solutions rolled out over three phases. These are emergent, including low density UAM flights with human pilots, early expanded, with some aircraft piloted remotely and mature, where the global vision of long high-density autonomous flights is possible.

Henkel has experience in the requirements of materials for battery packs or heat dissipation, plus battery capacity.

The race is on to take traffic into the dynamic new dimension of Urban Air Mobility.

I’d really like to hear from you. Please do connect with me on LinkedIn.

About the author

Patric Scheidner

Corporate Vice President Global Head of Aviation, Space, Rail

 

Patric has been serving the chemical industry for more than 25 years.
He has mainly supported customers in Heavy Industries across four continents. His focus has been to develop customer-centric organizations and processes following continuous improvement methods, such as Lean Six Sigma. Being experienced in Supply Chain / Operations as much as Sales he fostered a culture of increasing customer value through the optimized combination of chemistry, process improvements, equipment as well as digital interfaces.

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