2023 and VTOLs flying around Los Angeles

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How Los Angeles could become a flying-car utopia (or nightmare) by 2023

Safety hurdles are not insubstantial

Little defined, much needs be done

Tasks likely to require beyond 2023

America has become a country to instant expectations (or is it reduced patience)—instant soup, FedEx, Instagram and all of the social media with a synapse measured in milliseconds. Reflecting that short term perspective, the visionaries, pursuing a small VTOL as the solution for urban transit problems, opined in the referenced article:

“One of the most seemingly far-fetched modes of transit imaginable might also be one of the city’s nearest automotive alternatives: flying taxis. These aren’t the physics-defying muscle cars whizzing around Blade Runner’s dystopian vision of 2019 Los Angeles. But in most ways, they’re even more impressive: all-electric, autonomous helicopter-like crafts capable of both vertical takeoff and horizontal cruising. And the most unbelievable part? You’ll be able to hail one through your Uber app. By 2023, according to company PR spokesperson Nick Smith.

“While Uber Air might feel like a far away dream, it’s closer than you think,” says John Badalamenti, Uber’s ​head of design for advanced programs and aviation during a keynote earlier this year. “[But] urban infrastructure has to start to evolve now to keep up.”

True, that major companies— ground/air transportation companies, aerospace manufacturers, navigational system developers and even infrastructure/real estate developers—are devoting major resources to achieve a most innovative air taxi system that will/may transform how people[1] move in urban environments.

The airspace, by act of Congress, is a highly regulated atmosphere.

Before a vehicle may operate, it must earn airworthiness certificates for design (Type), Manufacture (Production) and then each individual aircraft must be inspected under regulatory standards.

Before a company may fly these vehicles for compensation or hire, the “airline” must be carefully securitized, must produce manuals assuring safe operations and provide proof that its peoples, systems and aircraft will be safely operated.

The pilots[2] must also demonstrate a high level of proficiency [with a new aircraft type, the experience needed will be difficult to show.].

The landing areas must receive some level of FAA review and likely licensing by cities/counties/states (some or all); those standards will be difficult to write and enforce.

All of that bureaucracy tends to frustrate entrepreneurs who see opportunity, new jobs, reduction of ground congestion (possibly lower carbon emissions) and reduced safety risks on the ground. Those worthy goals then encounter the above endless list of what appear to be impediments. The clash between the regulator and the regulated innovator was the source of controversy when drone technology first hit the marketplace.

 

 

 

 

 

 

That is not to say that every perspective participant is in “damn the torpedoes (FARs) full speed ahead” mode. A number of those entering this space have recognized the value of the time spent with the FAA assuring that these air taxis are safe.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Only very recently, EASA started a long process needed to identify all of the safety parameters and then to define the criteria against which the proposed vehicles will be measured.

Based on some real world experience, here is a short list of the tasks which must be carefully completed before VTOLs are authorized to operate:

 

  •     Aircraft

Type Certification – 3-5 years if you started last week – this is the driver!  Only 1 VTOL is close to TC and that is the Leonardo 609 about 1-1.5 years away – the 609 has a traditional power plant and is not an eVTOL.

Design and performance – payload, range and endurance as well as footprint

Propulsion system

Aircraft maturity and target aircraft operational date

Human factors and passenger ingress and egress

Mission suitability

  • Technology

Cyber Security

Detection and Avoidance

 Air Traffic Management and airspace integration

 Navigation

  • Batteries; energy density and safety
  • Business Model

Public acceptance

Demand forecast

Price points, fare system and customer profile

Route structure

  • ownership, operation and maintenance model(s)
  • Risk Management and Safety (RAMS)

Program and business risks

System safety risks

Aircraft risks

  • Safety Management System implementation
  • Infrastructure

Take-off and landing stations and buildings currently in place?

Monitor, communications and control command center

  • Ground support and safety and security systems, passenger facilities
  • Legal and Regulatory Requirements

certification plan and schedule

Operator certification

repair station certification

Operating rules

Landing/take-off station certification or approval

Noise and environmental assessment

Route structure

ownership, operation and maintenance model(s)

  • Federal, State and municipal regulations
  • Risk Management and Safety (RAMS)

Program and business risks

System safety risks

  • AAV risks
  • Safety Management System implementation

The resources needed for the federal regulators to accomplish all of these tasks could be overwhelming. While some would urge the safety review to be performed on an expedited basis, these is a bureaucrat euphemism “If you want it badly, likely you will get it badly.” There are some clear risks which merit close scrutiny. For example, the eVTOLs will depend on batteries for power. The technology for this “powerplant” is very comparable to the Ion Lithium Batteries which proved to be a challenge for the B-787s and some smart phones. This is but one of several technical issues to be assessed.

 

The mass of creative energy driving these endeavors will likely move the pace towards an early resolution. If that year is 2023, the effort will have been Herculean- possible, but not highly likely.

What is highly likely is that the below map will some day be a reality, but only after (1) the requisite safety issues have been carefully resolved and (2) a systems approach to planning, coordinating, integrating and connecting all of the required components  is completed.

[1] On a parallel tract, package delivery drones/VTOLs and the related systems are the urgent target of many entrepreneurs.

[2] Some proposals intend to use autonomous systems to fly the VTOLs and for those aircraft the TC process will be more exacting.



 

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