Urban transportation worldwide faces the challenge of traffic congestion. High population density and increased privately-owned vehicles are the two major reasons behind traffic congestion in urban areas, especially during rush hours.
The negative effects are higher noise levels and harmful emissions, and an increase in the so-called door-to-door travel time. In major cities like Los Angeles and New York, the average commuter spends more than 90 minutes stuck in traffic, contributing to increased stress and anxiety. It not only harms commuters’ health and the environment, but it also contributes to economic loss. Manhattan, for example, loses $20 billion per year due to traffic congestion, with excess fuel and vehicle operating costs accounting for nearly a third of the total loss.
Therefore, exploring beyond ground transportation modes is imperative to facilitate faster everyday commutes for passengers in urban areas and alleviate road congestion. One possible solution is the extension of the urban transportation system with an Urban Air Mobility (UAM) concept, using fully electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) vehicles and air taxi service (ATS) for transporting passengers within the city. Air taxi services can offer faster, reliable, flexible, and energy-efficient, point-to-point transportation, quieter than any modern helicopter.
Aircraft makers such as Airbus, Lilium, and Kitty Hawk, and companies like Bell, Embraer, Hyundai, Rolls-Royce, and Toyota have been actively involved in air taxi manufacturing over the past few years. Besides, Uber estimates the launch of its air taxis in 2023. Other companies such as Zephyr Airworks and Airbus are also currently taking measures to conduct tests with their electric aviation taxis, namely Cora and Airbus-Vahana, respectively, in countries across the world, such as the USA and Japan, Singapore, New Zealand, France, and India.
Benefits of Air Taxi Services
1. Fastest travel option
The ability to save time is one of the major advantages of using an air taxi service. A city-to-airport air taxi transfer in Paris, for example, could be 2 to 4 times faster than a car journey during rush hour on a Thursday evening. In addition, using the example of a trip in Berlin on a Thursday evening during rush hour, medical transportation of equipment or organs could be completed 73 percent faster by drone than by ambulance. Passengers would find that using urban air services saves them a significant amount of time compared to taxis and subway lines. Air taxis would relieve traffic congestion and reduce daily commute times for commuters in congested cities.
2. Reasonable fares
Ultrahigh-net-worth individuals and top executives in megacities such as São Paulo and New York already commute by helicopter. Eventually, the switch to electric propulsion and autonomous flight operations will slash eVTOL vehicle purchase and operating costs by order of magnitude, allowing a much broader target group to enjoy the urban air experience. Unmanned flights based on self-driving technology will cut costs even more. Combining the above cost reductions with passenger pooling (e.g., from the airport to the city center) could make the urban flight experience available at prices that are still higher than taxis but much lower than today’s helicopter services.
3. Safe and enjoyable flight experience
Anyone who has ever flown over a city in a helicopter knows the adrenaline rush and joy that such a flight can provide. Even though safety is more important and must be guaranteed at all times, the human desire to fly is an appeal that should not be overlooked. Passengers must also believe that this mode of transportation is safe and dependable, and a strong regulatory framework will go a long way toward assuaging passenger concerns. Flight attendants provided by flight operator companies could also help many people overcome their understandable psychological reservations about autonomous aircraft, particularly in the early stages.
Another factor that will add to electric propulsion’s real and perceived appeal is its role in reducing carbon emissions in cities. However, it is not just the technical aspects that will ensure that passengers have a safe and enjoyable flight. Environmental factors, such as harsh weather conditions that make the flight uncomfortable or dangerous, will require special attention.
4. Reduce emissions
The development of battery technology has accelerated, and significant research is being funded to improve the development and adoption of electric vehicles and autonomous vehicles. Air taxis are well-suited to technological advancements in autonomous and electric vehicles. Electric power rather than traditional fuel-powered flying cars is especially important because the air taxi infrastructure will be integrated into urban cities. Noise and emissions must be kept to a minimum for the network to be viable. If battery-electric propulsion systems are used, local emissions from air taxi services in the city environment could be almost zero.
5. Infrastructure costs
While there is some skepticism, the costs of constructing an air taxi network may be less expensive than constructing infrastructure for ground transportation. The infrastructure required for air taxis is far less expensive than ground transportation because it does not require the construction and maintenance of roads and the infrastructure that supports them. Air taxis, in particular, can take off and land vertically and do not require runways.
Risks of Air Taxi Services
There are a few risks associated with the implementation of air taxi services. Amongst the top concerns in the literature or stated by experts are:
- Noise: is perceived as a prevalent risk of air taxi service. This includes the noise generated by the vehicles when they take off and land and while they are in flight.
- Safety: The risk is high among the UAM, as an unsafe system could have widespread implications for public acceptance.
- Privacy: Society may also be concerned about privacy, as UAM aircraft like air taxis and drones may fly above or close to places of residence.
- Visual pollution: is a potential nuisance, which may hamper public acceptance of UAM and is, therefore, a risk to its widespread rollout.
- Job losses: Some jobs may become obsolete due to the introduction of air taxi services, which could lead to resentment against it. Affected industries could include logistics and taxi services.
- Environmental issues: The environmental impact of UAM may be almost zero on a local emissions level for battery electric vehicles, but the required electricity still has to be generated, and the vehicle components have to be manufactured, assembled, and eventually disposed of.
- Affordability: Another risk for air taxi services is the affordability of the services for a large part of society. If the services are only available to more affluent individuals, but everyone bears the disadvantages (like noise), this could hamper the acceptance of UAM within society.