Though still in its early stages, urban air mobility has a diverse array of aircraft at its disposal that are either currently being utilized or have been proposed for future use.  -  Jaunt

Though still in its early stages, urban air mobility has a diverse array of aircraft at its disposal that are either currently being utilized or have been proposed for future use.

Jaunt

While breakthroughs in space travel are often seen as the more alluring and attention-grabbing aviation and aerospace innovations, there are some more terrestrial efforts underway that could lead to a significant change in how cities operate and how we approach them as individuals and as members of businesses. Chief among these is the rise of urban air mobility, also known as UAM.

When examining urban air mobility in the long-term, it’s easy to notice how many aspects of not only city life but rural and suburban life could be reshaped in the coming years and decades. Let’s take a look at what the future holds for all of us via urban air mobility.

UAM’s Aircraft

Urban air mobility utilizes both piloted and heavily automated smaller aircraft for the transportation of people and goods at altitudes lower than those used as part of standard flight paths for airplanes. With the lack of congestion in the air when compared to the traffic patterns of roadways, and the speeds that can be reached safely, urban air mobility aircraft can result in much quicker and more efficient trips.

This can lead to a stronger supply chain, more options for parcel delivery, improved profits for businesses, new modes of public transportation, an ease of intracity and intercity travel, an influx of pleasure rides within metropolises, and more.

As a concept, urban air mobility is quite recent, though the desire for it stretches back decades. The applications for intracity travel via flight for both consumers and businesses are widespread, which can be seen in the popularity of news, weather, corporate, and private helicopters in metropolitan areas. More impractical options, such as the jetpacks and flying cars of science fiction, and the abandoned docking station for airships on the Empire State Building in the 1930s, further highlight the public’s continued desire for intracity flight options, something that urban air mobility is turning into a reality.

What Aircraft Are Being Used for Urban Air Mobility?

Though still in its early stages, urban air mobility has a diverse array of aircraft at its disposal that are either currently being utilized or have been proposed for future use. These including the following.

Urban Air Mobility Helicopters

With helicopters already being used for medical, news, corporate, governmental, and private functions within cities, making them a major component of urban air mobility is obvious. Along with piloted helicopters, however, autonomous helicopters are likely to play a key role as well, since these are becoming more common and UAM companies are exploring them as options.

Vertical-Takeoff-and-Landing Aircraft (VTOL)

This type of vehicle is an aircraft that can take off, hover, and land completely vertically, removing the necessity for, and expense of, a traditional runway. One popular subcategory of VTOLs is the eVTOL, standing for electrically propelled, vertical-takeoff-and-landing aircraft.

Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV)

More commonly referred to as drones, unmanned aerial vehicles have seen increasing usage in commercial and leisure spaces, with more prevalent use and further applications likely to follow. The regulations that will be applied to urban air mobility as it continues to emerge will also likely dictate safety guidelines for drones.

Where Is UAM Being Implemented Currently?

To fully implement all of these aircraft types into metropolitan spaces, additional helipads would need to be created and Air Traffic Control services would require expansion. For the latter aspect, the FAA and NASA are both developing an approach to unmanned aircraft system traffic management, one which utilizes more automation than the standard model. Safety concerns are also of paramount importance, since the influx of more aircraft poses additional risks, which is one reason why many locations are taking a slow approach at adopting UAM.

Due to the technical, logistical, legal, and safety issues that need to be addressed and cleared for urban air mobility, most locations are therefore in the nascent stages of adopting it. Some recent movement for the trend includes the following examples:

  • German aircraft developer Lilium is prepping for commercial flights of eVOTL aircraft in Bavaria and Orlando, Fla., with the latter aimed at tapping into Florida’s rich tourism industry and facilitating easy travel between Orlando and Tampa, St. Petersburg, Fort Lauderdale, and Miami.
  • Another eVOTL aircraft from Japanese company Tetra is being crafted for personal use, and recently had test flights in California, which were unmanned.
  • When it comes to drones for use in the transport of goods, Volocopter recently engaged in a public test flight of its VoloDrone in Hamburg, Germany, with the drone able to carry 441 pounds of material over a 25-mile range.
  • Meanwhile, major cities all over the world, including New York, Los Angeles, Boston, Dallas, Shanghai, Canberra, London, Geneva, and elsewhere have been working with aerospace companies and UAM startups to find ways to practically and safely implement the practice for commercial, civilian, and governmental purposes.

Though it may take some time for these initiatives to reach their full potential, urban air mobility is primed to be a major component in future air travel, much like self-driving cars are likely to alter the landscape of the roadway. Together, these approaches and technologies could very well reshape travel as we know it.

Author

Linton  Lewis
Linton Lewis

Aerospace

Linton Lewis works with Cutting Dynamics, an aerospace components company with over 35 years of experience in the industry.

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Linton Lewis works with Cutting Dynamics, an aerospace components company with over 35 years of experience in the industry.

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