Public acceptance remains the most significant obstacle to establishing successful urban air mobility (UAM) operations, according to leaders of the Community Air Mobility Initiative (CAMI), which was formed in 2019 to stimulate constructive dialogue between the industry and communities where they would like to launch service. CAMI co-executive director Yolanka Wulff told a March 3 press briefing organized by the Vertical Flight Society (VFS) that companies seeking to introduce eVTOL aircraft need to work harder to demonstrate the benefits they will deliver and prove that they will not have an adverse impact.
“If this [UAM] is just seen as flying limos for the rich, the 0.1 percent, it won’t win public acceptance; it’s got to make sense for the general public,” Wulff told reporters. She said that eVTOL aircraft developers and service providers, “need to start a conversation [with cities and states] and recognize that it must be two-way and that there needs to be a balance between hype and realism.”
According to CAMI, aircraft noise is only part of the adverse impact that might raise public concern about eVTOL operations in urban areas. There will also be significant concerns about safety, visual impact and emissions.
However, co-executive director Anna Dietrich maintained that if people can see the public benefit—such as that derived from allowing helicopters to operate emergency medical services—they are more likely to accept some adverse impact. “With noise, perceived value is critical to whether something is considered to be too loud for the community,” she said.
CAMI, which is backed by the VFS and the General Aviation Manufacturers Association, as well as several leading eVTOL developers such as Bell, Joby Aviation and Karem, is seeking to step up engagement with city, state and national government officials in the U.S. “Most cities, for instance, have a 10- to 20-year planning window and UAM needs to be part of this. We need to equip communities with the information they need,” said Wulff.
One key issue to resolve is who owns and operates the vertiports from which eVTOL aircraft will fly. CAMI believes local elected officials will want to ensure that the locations chosen serve the wider public interest in ways such as providing workable connections with other transportation infrastructure, such as mass transit train services.
Initially, CAMI is advocating a “crawl, walk, run” approach to launching UAM operations. Dietrich suggested that it would likely be best to start with very small scale, low profile operations and, hopefully, those with a clear public benefit, such as emergency services.
Some eVTOL aircraft are being developed for autonomous operation, with no pilot on board. CAMI acknowledged that this could raise public concerns about safety. “There is a misconception that there will be no human oversight for these aircraft, and we need to show that this is not the case,” said Wulff. “There is already a lot of autonomy [in transportation technology] and mainly it makes us safer.”
On March 16, CAMA will hold its first UAM 1010 workshop for state and local officials as part of its effort to encourage them to incorporate urban air mobility into their transportation planning. The event will be held at Rowan University in Glassboro, New Jersey, as part of the VFS’s workshop on infrastructure needs on March 17-18.