Cost-benefit analyses of urban air mobility operations point the way to larger vehicles
An important research paper “Vehicle Design and Optimization Model for Urban Air Mobility” published on the Aerospace Central Research platform, examines the various costs-per-kilometre of competing designs for UAM vehicle configurations. The conclusions, broadly, are that the costs associated with UAM operations are less than current helicopter urban missions but more expensive than conventional taxi rides. No surprise there.
According to the text: “The cost per passenger kilometre (including deadhead effects) ranges from as low as $2.37 for the tilt rotor to about $3.20 for the compound helicopter. For comparison, the average prices of UberX and UberPool rides in the United States in September 2016 were $1.45 per passenger kilometre ($2.34 per passenger mile) and $0.86 per passenger kilometre ($1.38 per passenger mile).”
This important research offers some compelling evidence for the positive business case of UAM proponents. It does, however, not go quite far enough in providing the full picture of UAM economics, especially taking into account the costs and time involved in battery charging and/or replacements and the number of passengers per vehicle. The first generation of UAM vehicles are likely to have relatively small cabs, with room for one, two or four passengers at best. If the sector is to reach is full potential there will need to be a second generation waiting in the wings with much larger cabs, for between five and seven passengers. This fact is, of course, not lost on the vehicle developers (See article) and it is therefore highly likely that these small, first generation platforms will quickly be replaced by larger models and sent out to pioneer route-proving services in new markets.
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