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The elevated future of mobility
What’s next on the horizon?
Hybrid-electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) vehicles have the power to transform the air traffic ecosystem. Learn about the challenges aerial transport faces and how companies can take advantage of new opportunities.
The eVTOL evolution
Much has happened in just the last two years in the eVTOL journey. To tell a complete and timely story, here is a summary highlighting the main findings of the five Deloitte articles published, updating them where appropriate:
1) Elevating the future of mobility: Through the cumulative efforts of eVTOL manufacturers, operators, and other key stakeholders, elevated mobility will likely become a reality over the next decade. Despite challenges, manufacturers have begun testing vehicles; ecosystem participants are collaborating on developing a robust regulatory framework; and technology is advancing swiftly.
Deloitte’s initial review focused on the movement of people, but over the course of our research, it became apparent that the movement of cargo is just as important. In fact, it will likely drive the early adoption of eVTOL aircraft. Similarly, while the initial focus has been on the end goal of fully autonomous vehicles, this under-acknowledges the potential that early eVTOL vehicles will most likely be piloted in order to accelerate commercialization. Overall, there has been rapid progress in the last two years, with many stakeholders believing: “If you build it, they will come.”
2) Managing the evolving skies: As the skies get busier, it is expected to be an ongoing challenge to manage and maintain an increasingly diverse airspace while keeping all air traffic moving safely and efficiently. A key enabler for the future of eVTOLs could be unmanned aircraft system traffic management (UTM), which would have to work in conjunction with existing air traffic management systems.
This “system of systems” is complicated to establish, but it is being pursued by a diverse group of stakeholders, including eVTOL operators, communication-system service providers, data-service providers, and regulatory authorities. Success depends upon all stakeholders having trust in the essential elements of the air-traffic management system. This will require reliable and available communication, predictable and consistent navigation, and accessible, trusted surveillance. These elements, coupled with tried-and-tested procedures, coordinated teams, redundancy, and continuous training, will be mission-critical in enabling the system to operate reliably and safely.
3) Psychological barriers to the elevated future of mobility: Social acceptance, or overcoming the psychological barriers, are expected to play a major role in shaping the eVTOL industry, as consumers are at the core of the elevated-mobility ecosystem. For this article, Deloitte questioned a global group of 10,000 consumers about their perception of fully autonomous eVTOL aircraft with respect to safety and perceived utility.
Nearly half of the respondents viewed autonomous aerial passenger vehicles as a potentially viable solution to roadway congestion.7 However, 80 percent of the total either believe that these vehicles “will not be safe” or are currently uncertain that they will be safe. eVTOL aircraft can become part of the new mobility ecosystem only when creators and operators convince skeptical consumers that airborne vehicles are both useful and safe. Shaping consumer attitudes will be the joint responsibility of regulators, creators, and operators of this new breed of aircraft.
4) Technological barriers to the elevated future of mobility : Several complex technological issues need to be addressed before air taxis and cargo transports take to the skies. These persistent challenges are primarily related to propulsion, situational-awareness systems, and advanced detection and collision-avoidance systems. While onboard technology is maturing quickly, efficient energy management (including battery capacity, speed of recharging, and cost per kilowatt-hour) remains a limiting factor and is proving to be a difficult challenge to solve. It will likely take a group effort to eliminate the remaining technological barriers to urban air mobility.
To strengthen collaboration within the ecosystem, participants should develop and work on an integrated framework—spanning manufacturing, operations, and certification—to advance technologies involved in eVTOL aircraft. This framework should provide a structure for encouraging collaboration within the ecosystem, harnessing electric propulsion technology through alliances and partnerships, leveraging advancements in ground autonomy, and investing in cognitive automation capabilities.
5) Infrastructure barriers to the elevated future of mobility: Although pilot projects are underway in major cities around the world, the infrastructure necessary to enable large-scale passenger and cargo transportation in urban and suburban areas is not yet in place. The missing pieces include the ground infrastructure (takeoff, landing, and service areas), a robust communication and UTM system, and a seamless mobility operating system. To pave the way for widescale deployment, eVTOL operators and local authorities (such as cities and municipalities) should start identifying feasible locations for components of the ground infrastructure, such as takeoff and landing, charging/refueling stations, parking facilities, maintenance, and contingency landing sites. They should also enlist the help of information technology providers, who can assist in building a well-connected infrastructure, and regulatory authorities, who can assist in designing a policy and control framework that is robust, safe and secure.