Aviation’s development of Longer-lasting Batteries may disrupt Air Travel
May allow every airport open for e-Flights over regional distances
This new ENERGY source will REDUCE Carbon Impacts
Entrepreneurs have cost and demand challenges
NASA and Reason Foundation’s Robert Poole (see below article and linked NASA report) look forward to a radically altered regional air service market. New more durable electric batteries can power the passenger loads and fly the distances needed in regional markets.
RAM will increase the safety, accessibility, and affordability of regional travel while building on the extensive and underutilized federal, state, and local investment in our nation’s local airports.
They both predict that a successful operation could expand the availability of convenient flights to thousands of airports, particularly facilities which heretofore have not received commercial operations. The other big PLUS of this new technology is that these Regional Air Mobility Vehicles (RAM) will have dramatically reduced noise impacts and no direct Carbon Emissions.
The conclusions of their commentaries have been reflected in a number of posts here:
The technology looks promising, but Mr. Poole warns- I have “yet to see a proposed UAM or RAM business model whose numbers are well-grounded and can predict profitable passenger operation.”
There are so many of the dimensions of an eRAM schedule that are unknown and even difficult to project- cost per available seat mile, ground-handling at the new airports, TSA coverage there, maintenance expenses, cost of recharging the batteries, crew (cockpit and cabin) salaries [especially since the flights will be so short haul and not necessarily back-to-back], etc.
On the demand side, this ultra-convenient service may stimulate demand.
The environment is such a critical national and global concern; might the governments subsidize the operations (i.e., free battery recharge?), or not charge landing fees, or provide ground facilities at reduced or no charge levels.
This is the realm of the entrepreneur, where vision does not look to past limitations. These people closest to the planes and the people may perceive how to draw passengers, to operate efficiently and to drive to profitable businesses.
AVIATION POLICY NEWSLETTER
In April NASA released a white paper (attached) developed in conjunction with several companies that are targeting the regional air mobility (RAM) market using small electric aircraft, including Ampaire, Electra, MagniX, Reliable Robotics, and Xwing. As summarized by Graham Warwick in Aviation Daily (April 27, 2021), the white paper concludes that RAM “can offer early benefits for communities, industry, and investors.” The key concept is to make use of more than 5,000 public-use airports, only a handful of which currently have scheduled passenger service.
According to the attached white paper “Most Americans live within 16 minutes of an airport. RAM’s vision is to make these local airports the community hubs they were always meant to be.” It acknowledges that the economics of serving these routes has been challenging, but says that “If an affordable, efficient, robust, and environmentally friendly aircraft network was implemented across these thousands of airports, more people would be able to choose convenient air travel over cars for mid-distant trips around 50-500 miles.”
This concept brings back the VLJ companies such as Eclipse and Adam Aircraft that developed prototypes of twin-engine jets carrying four or five people, with the idea of bringing air travel to thousands of underutilized public airports across the country.
Start-up VLJ airline DayJet of its first locations to be served by its planned fleet of Eclipse 500 aircraft. So seriously was this taken by FAA that its 2006 Aviation Forecast projected the growth of jet-powered aircraft in general aviation and air taxi service to increase by 10.2% annually through 2017, due largely to the expected growth of VLJ air taxi service. This appeared to be based in part on a 2005 study by NASA Langley and Virginia Polytechnic University’s Air Transportation Systems Laboratory, “Future On-Demand (VLJ) Aviation Forecasts Using TSAM, Report to JPDO.”
VLJ cratered with the bankruptcy of Adam, DayJet, and Eclipse, with a lot of venture capital down the drain. Today’s investment in as many as 150 emerging eVTOL startups dwarfs the amount invested in VLJ developers and would-be regional air mobility operators. A growing number of skeptics appear to be seeing parallels with that epic failure.
Richard Aboulafia, vice president of analysis of aviation consulting firm Teal Group, told Flying magazine that compared with conventional airlines serving large numbers of passengers per flight, and thousands of flights, “the math doesn’t work” for an eVTOL fleet transporting a handful of passengers per flight and far fewer total flights. “How Much Will It Cost to Fly on eVTOL Air Taxis?” by Thom Patterson (Flying, Oct. 22, 2021) raises several other concerns about economic feasibility, though its focus is more on urban air mobility than regional air mobility.
I have written before that I admire the creativity and gumption of the numerous developers of eVTOLs, and I’d be glad to see the best of them succeed. But I have yet to see a proposed UAM or RAM business model whose numbers are well-grounded and can predict profitable passenger operation.
Share this article: