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Implementing Urban Air Mobility

It Ain’t Gonna Be Easy

Illustration of a futuristic city skyline at dusk with many different types of aircraft.
Every urban landscape and environment is different. Proceed with UAM development accordingly. (Image copyright and courtesy of NASA)

A group of Brazilian researchers – Bruno Garcia Franciscone, Elton Fernandez, and Alberto Liuz Coimbra – raised an important issue as the urban air mobility movement readies for takeoff in cities and urban environments around the world.

Writing in the August 2023 issue of the Journal of Airline Operations and Aviation Management, the authors note that, while there are many similarities to urban environments – a dense concentration of high-rise buildings and large populations to name just two – there are an equally large number of dissimilarities from city to city.

New York City, for example, is visibly different from Los Angeles. Paris and London can be easily distinguished from their skylines alone, let alone conditions on the ground.

Metro Differences

The researchers’ study, Challenges to the Operational Safety and Security of eVTOL Aircraft in Metropolitan Regions: A Literature, cites several considerations the UAM community must consider as work toward a fast-approaching industry introduction and operation approaches. Among the differences from metro region to metro region: weather, topography, building densities, and the existing air traffic control (ATC) systems.

To mitigate the challenges, the authors conducted a review of the existing UAM literature and proposed that local studies be conducted that can provide metro-specific provide data, such as real-time meteorological conditions. With these data in hand, eVTOL operators, regulators, and the infrastructure developers can overcome these challenges and safely implement and operate an UAM system the public can trust and will more easily and rapidly adopt for urban transportation.

Weather or Not

The authors believe the greatest challenges eVTOL operators in the UAM ecosystem overlook is that of weather conditions. Extreme heat or cold can wreak havoc on eVTOL operations; everything from frozen aerodynamic surfaces, to an overabundance of air rarefaction, and loss of power. It might be prudent, the authors argue, to develop adaptations for each aircraft system that can mitigate these rapidly changing environmental conditions, especially ones that provide the full-space data pilots and even autonomously-operated aircraft need to implement in real time.

Put Your (Verti)Ports Where the Money Is (Or Will Be)

As conventional aviation developed, urban populations were substantially smaller – think early Dutch New York City or the massive urban/suburban sprawl that became the City of Los Angeles. When Hollywood Burbank Airport was developed, the San Fernando Valley in which it sits, was out of sight, out of mind. Today, nearly 1.5MM people call “the Valley” home and aviation noise and traffic have been an unresolved issue for 50+ years.

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Dave Clarke

Dave Clarke is a California-based writer who is fascinated by the way technology changes our lives.