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Rich Man, Poor Man

For Whom Will eVTOLs Fly – and Where?

Photo of a futuristic flying taxi
Executives and the blue-collar workforce may impact the introduction and evolution of UAM. (Image copyright and courtesy of NASA)

Let’s begin with the obvious: The extremely wealthy travel by private jet or limousine. Those traveling on commercial flights are literally divided into classes: first, business, and coach. Where the topography permits, e.g., in the continental U.S. and the European Union, the working class frequently travel by car or bus.

There’s been much discussion about urban air mobility (UAM)-enabling technologies, the supporting ecosystem, and environmental and noise concerns. Recently, a trio of Dutch researchers, Anna Straubinger, Erik T. Verhoef, and Henri L.F. de Groot, posed a different question: What effect will, or should, income levels have on where metropolitan vertiports are located?

The answer, as it turns out, is different for different metropolitan areas. In Paris, the upper class (those likely to be early adopters of air taxi services) resides in the heart of the city; in the U.S.’s Detroit, Michigan, the executives reside in the suburbs while the factory workers, often referred to as the “working class,” live inside the city limits.

The resulting study, Will urban air mobility fly? The efficiency and distributional impacts of UAM in different urban spatial structures, the authors hope, will enable “urban economists to give policy advice for the introduction of – in this case – UAM, with a special focus on the impact of initial spatial structures and the impact on households with different skill levels.”

An Inconclusive Conclusion… But That Could Change

Straubinger, Verhoef, and de Groot’s work calculated the outcomes by factoring in various UAM limitations such as: cost-per-mile/kilometer, airfares, real estate costs, travel times, vertiport accessibility, and getting to and from the points of departure and arrival.

After a great deal of mathematical calculations across myriad data points, the study concluded “that the initial spatial patterns have a minor impact on UAM’s effects, and that local authorities have to carefully monitor UAM introduction in order to ensure a welfare enhancing UAM introduction.”

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Dave Clarke

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