On The Radar
The UK’s government-backed Future Flight Challenge program has issued a sweeping endorsement of plans to introduce electric-powered and autonomously operated aircraft, based on new research that suggests these technologies will reduce transportation costs by almost half and reduce journey times significantly. A study published this week on the socio-economic impact of advanced air mobility, which has been conducted by the PwC consulting group, also argues that these new modes of air transport will improve worker safety.
The Future Flight Challenge, which has £125 million in funding from UK Research and Innovation’s Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund, commissioned the report as a cost-benefit analysis of new-generation aircraft, including drones. The PwC team assessed the following six use cases in the UK:
- Using a drone to inspect a 220 km (138-mile) powerline in Scotland, which at one point runs more than 2,500 feet above sea level, rather than sending a two-person team.
- Delivering mail from Inverness on the Scottish mainland to Kirkwall in the Orkney Islands using a drone instead of a fixed-wing aircraft.
- Using a drone to deliver medicine from a pharmacy to a home instead of using a car.
- Using a battery-powered “sub-regional air taxi” instead of a train to make the 90-mile trip from York to Preston in northern England.
- Using a battery-powered “air mobility vehicle” to travel 25 km (16 miles) in a rural area instead of using a car.
- Using a battery-powered “air mobility vehicle” instead of a car-based ridesharing service to travel 10 km (six miles) in a major city.
In the case of the York-Preston train journey, which can take around two and a half hours, the study found that electric aircraft could cut journey times and fares in half. It found that using drones could reduce costs by around 35 percent, compared with current methods. For each test case, the PwC study provides conclusions and proposed next steps.
Some of the premises for the research may seem a bit odd to those closely involved with the development of advanced air mobility technology. For instance, in the case of the proposed “sub-regional” air taxi service from York to Preston, the authors envisage the use of an all-electric aircraft seating 12 passengers, which seems to be somewhat beyond the scope of specifications and performance currently in the works.