Aerospace & defenseOctober 26, 2022

What is Urban Air Mobility?

Dassault Systèmes is powering the emerging urban air mobility industry by equipping eVTOL players with its Reinvent the Sky industry solution.
Avatar Melissa Russell

Imagine you are stuck in traffic, heading toward the airport. Will you catch your flight? What will you do if you miss it?

The stress! The agita!

We’ve all been there.

Now, imagine you are being whisked to your gate in a four-seat, electric power flying taxi. Look at those cars below you. What a relief you’re not in one of those dinosaurs, right?

When United Airlines announced in September that it had invested $15 million in Eve Air Mobile, an air taxi start up, it signaled that urban air mobility, once the domain of science fiction was taking a giant step toward becoming an every-day reality. Last year, American Airlines made a large pre-order from Vertical Aerospace. Many companies in the aerospace and automotive industries – from Airbus to Uber to Boeing to Brazil’s Azul – have also made investments in development of this technology. Even some cities have begun making investments in infrastructure that will permit urban air mobility vehicles to take off and land on buildings, parking garages and other structures.

There is much to do however, before we are out of traffic congestion and up into the skies. Beyond financial investment, effective collaboration between companies, regulatory bodies, cities and the public will be necessary to achieve a viable urban air transportation system.

What are examples of urban air mobility vehicles?

Flying taxies, or vertical-takeoff-and-landing aircraft (VTOL) are just one example of urban air mobility vehicles. Electric and hybrid-electric vertical-takeoff-and-landing aircraft (eVTOL) and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) show potential as air ambulances as well as airport shuttles and on-demand air taxis. Surveillance, emergency services and even deliveries will be among other early uses of urban air mobility vehicles.

American Airlines’ pre-order of Vertical Aerospace eVTOLs is a sign of an emerging urban air mobility industry. (Image courtesy Vertical Aerospace)

What problems will urban air mobility solve?

Because they are quiet and carbon-emission free, urban air mobility vehicles are seen as a way to reduce urban congestion, make cities more livable and sustainable, while reducing the environmental impacts associated with congested roadways. Michael Leskinen, president of United Airlines Ventures, said the company’s investment in air taxis “will revolutionize air travel as we know it and serve as the catalyst for the aviation industry to move toward a sustainable future.”

How close are we to urban air mobility?

A 2019 Morgan Stanley report estimated a $1.5 trillion dollar market for urban air mobility vehicles could exist by 2040, and a Honeywell report from that same year predicted limited service in selected metropolitan areas could begin as soon as 2023 to 2025.

United Airlines’ VTOL air taxis could be in use as soon as 2026.  Vertical Aerospace is planning to launch an eVTOL designed for inter- and intra-city travel in 2024. The Paris region plans to have an air taxi up and running during the 2024 Olympic games to shuttle between the airport and stadiums downtown.

“There is already a market in short- and mid-range transportation that eVTOLs will capture, but only if operators adopt a holistic view of the situation, meaning the mission, the vehicle, the manufacturing, the operations of the service, the integration with infrastructure and the recycling and dismantling of the vehicles,” explains Roberto Licata, industry solution experience senior manager for the Aerospace and Defense industry at Dassault Systèmes. “We are partnering with our customers to help them achieve this thanks to model-based and platform approaches.”

Joby Aviation’s eVTOL vehicles will contribute to urban air mobility. (Image courtesy Joby Aviation)

What challenges lie ahead?

Key issues such as developing new regulatory systems, creating new infrastructure and gaining the support of the traveling public are on the list of challenges to be addressed.

Certification:  The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration and the European Aviation Safety Agency will continue to set requirements thanks to the close collaboration with OEMs. Cutting edge technology has enabled the emergence of lightweight composites, distributed propulsion and electric vehicles, and operators need to ensure high levels of safety with this yet-to-be certified technologies.

Infrastructure: A key operational barrier to deploying eVTOL fleets is integrating existing infrastructure and the need for vertiports (large VTOL stations) and vertistops (stations for picking up and dropping off passengers). Repurposed parking garage roofs, existing helipads and shopping mall terraces are some of the proposed locations to be adapted for boarding passengers.

Public support: In surveys conducted by NASA and Airbus, people have indicated concerns related to cost of transportation and confidence in the technology as well as for safety and privacy. The biggest hurdle for industries developing eVTOL vehicles is convincing the public that the air taxi is a safe, affordable, realistic alternative to ground transportation.

Dassault Systèmes powering urban air mobility

In order to address these immense challenges, Reinvent the Sky, Dassault Systèmes’ dedicated solution for UAM, is key. The Dassault Systèmes 3DEXPERIENCE platform is a major player, supporting cities and the industry through all phases of development of urban air mobility, from requirements gathering, planning, and initial conceptual designs, to prototyping, testing and finally manufacturing. The “Reinvent the Sky” industry solution experience within the 3DEXPERIENCE platform speeds up the eVTOL development cycle with the ability to model, analyze, simulate, certify and experience the eVTOL vehicle in a virtual environment, with enhanced collaboration and communication across all disciplines.

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