NASA urban air mobility studies point to USD500 billion market but large regulatory hurdles

NASA has unveiled the results of two high level studies – carried out by Crown Consulting Inc and Booz Allen Hamilton – looking into the future of urban air mobility markets in the USA.

The Booz Allen Hamilton study focused on three potential UAM markets:  airport shuttles, air taxis and air ambulances, using ten target urban areas to explore market size and barriers. The results suggest the following:

  • Airport shuttle and air taxi markets are viable markets with a significant total available market value of USD500 billion at the market entry price points in the best-case unconstrained scenario;
  • The air ambulance market served by eVTOLs is not a viable market due to technology constraints, but utilization of hybrid VTOL aircraft would make the market potentially viable.

Other important remarks are:

“Significant legal/regulatory, certification, public perception, infrastructure, and weather constraints exist which reduce market potential in near term for UAM ….After applying operational constraints/barriers, 0.5% of the total available market worth USD2.5 billion can be captured in the near term.

“Constraints can potentially be addressed through ongoing intra-governmental partnerships (i.e., NASA-FAA), government and industry collaboration, strong industry commitment, and existing legal and regulatory enablers….Air Traffic Management: High density operations will stress the current ATM system…..private ownership of UAM vehicles could increase the complexity of airspace management and safety Infrastructure….Laws and regulations for flying over people, BVLOS, and carrying passengers (among others) are needed…. Certifications: Gaps in the existing certification framework where UAM will experience challenges, particularly system redundancy and failure management…. Competition: Emerging technologies and concepts like shared Electric and Autonomous Cars, and fast trains….Passengers trust and apprehension with automation and pilotless UAM and prefer to fly with others they know in an autonomous UAS.

The Crown Consulting Inc survey looked at the market for last-mile delivery, air metro and air taxi services. According to the executive summary:

“A path to a commercially viable market could exist for:

  • Last-mile parcel delivery, projecting a potentially profitable market by 2030 – A significant ramp-up of UAS delivery in the years prior to profitability is likely (as ecommerce players “lean in” to the market)
  • Air metro could potentially be profitability by 2030, assuming that regulations are in place to accommodate this market – In anticipation of profitability by 2030, larger-scale “entry into service” may occur in the years prior. Piloted air metro services may be a stepping stone to large scale autonomous operations
  • Although it’s unlikely that there will be a widespread air taxi market in 2030 due to the high investment costs, there may well be concentrated areas of high-net worth individuals and businesses served by an air taxi solution (e.g., Manhattan to suburbs).”

Further comments were that: “It is critical to evaluate UAM in terms of specific use cases (e.g., air metro) to produce meaningful results.  Determining the viability of specific UAM use cases likely requires a holistic approach that takes into account a complex ecosystem….These use cases involved over 100 discrete assumptions (from cost of sensing systems, to battery efficiency, to weather estimates in the 15 US cities studied). Many of the most significant challenges to UAM are regulatory  or policy-related across multiple governmental entities and must address evolving technologies.”

“There is an opportunity to coordinate planning for UAM research with the needs of industry….No single actor (public or private) has yet emerged as the industry convener for UAM, and there is no agreed-upon vision among market participants about each UAM use cases.

“Public acceptance of UAM is likely to be more complicated than asking popular opinion; local policy, interest groups and research (e.g., on noise) each play a major role.”


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