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Mobility in the 3rd Dimension

2019 11 19 Urban Air Mobility Munich Aerospace Research Group
Munich Aerospce Research Group "Modelling, Simulation and Concepts of Urban Air Mobility Transport Systems" (Source: Kay Plötner)

4 December 2019 - The Munich Aerospace Research Group on “Modelling, Simulation and Concepts of Urban Air Mobility Transport Systems” is studying new ideas for air mobility in urban areas. In an interview, Dr. Kay Plötner from the Bauhaus Luftfahrt think tank talked with Munich Aerospace about the potential benefits and problems these may bring.

 

Flying taxis, skyscraper landing pads, city airports at train stations - many novel transportation concepts sound like science fiction today. What is urban air mobility all about?

Urban air mobility refers to a spectrum of air mobility applications in urban areas ranging from passenger travel, logistics and emergency services to government operations and air surveillance. In collaboration with the Technical University of Munich, the Bundeswehr University Munich and Ingolstadt Technical University, Bauhaus Luftfahrt is studying passenger transport possibilities in the pilot region of Upper Bavaria.

 

According to the United Nations Population Fund, more people have been living in urban rather than in rural areas since the year 2008. The resulting increased traffic has exacerbated environmental and noise pollution. What urban air mobility ideas are there to alleviate these problems?     

The aircraft of tomorrow will be 100% electricity-powered, which will improve air quality the same way ground-based electromobility does. Vertical take-off aircraft however are significantly less energy-efficient than comparable electric ground vehicles.

Noise has emerged as another major development driver, current research focusing on noise reduction gains through vehicle design and flight trajectory planning. In general however noise remains a big challenge particularly in European cities.

 

A recent study by the German Environment Agency showed that road traffic is perceived as the main source of noise while 42 percent of survey respondents said that aircraft are bothersome. How can vertical take-off aircraft reduce noise?  

Maintaining noise levels equivalent to road noise in the immediate area around where the aircraft take off and land will be very difficult but the noise heard on the ground would be relatively minimal once the aircraft reach a certain altitude, as in classic aviation. The key issue though is the estimated number of flight movements. 

 

Traffic jams are an increasing problem in growing cities. Do these new aviation concepts relieve the traffic situation?

One urban air mobility vision is using airspace as a third dimension affording additional transport capacity. There are hopes that urban air mobility solutions will significantly improve traffic congestion in cities and conurbations. This would require providing substantial capacity however at an affordable price. We thus see urban air mobility as only supplementing the existing transportation system in the short run.

 

The practical side of using aircraft for urban mobility is being experimented with in the Ingolstadt pilot region. So we’re talking about air taxis here as well. Does the idea make sense? 

Research now being carried out in the Ingolstadt pilot region is focused on integrating urban air mobility into public transportation. Studies we have conducted have shown that even if more than 100 landing pads were created in various places in Ingolstadt and prices were reasonably comparable to a regular taxi, the offering could only fulfil 0.5 percent of transportation demand. This would not alleviate traffic jams, as only a few commuters could take advantage of such an offering. Demand would be much greater however for non-cyclic journeys or transfers to Munich Airport.

We have run simulations to more closely study interesting concepts like Park & Ride and Park & Fly, enabling initial forecasts of mobility behaviours. Another promising application scenario we see is creating connections from rural areas to metropolitan airports, rail networks etc. Simulations have indicated that urban air mobility could cover a significant share of transportation demand, particularly for longer-distance journeys.

 

When and where can we expect to see the first air taxis in Germany?

Inner-urban helicopter flights are already offered by commercial operators, representing a form of urban air mobility. In such places as New York, México City, São Paulo and now San Francisco as well this option already exists. The industry intends to make commercial flights with purely electric or hybrid-electric propulsion a reality before 2025. And there are now several pilot regions and dedicated test fields for autonomous flying – in Bavaria these are located in Ingolstadt/Manching and Oberpfaffenhofen.

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