On The Radar
The urban air mobility (UAM) industry is not short on bullish projections about anticipated demand for air taxi services provided by new eVTOL aircraft. But has anyone asked the as-yet unproven market’s prospective customers what they want?
Wisk—the joint venture by Boeing and Kitty Hawk that is developing the two-seat, fully autonomous Cora eVTOL model—recently did just that. Now the company has published its findings in a white paper called “Autonomous UAM: Taking Mobility to New Heights.” It's a bid to try to determine whether consumer sentiment backs up predictions such as Morgan Stanley's statement that the “UAM ecosystem” could be worth close to $1.5 trillion.
Hypothesis Group conducted the research for Wisk between August and November 2020. This involved 498 participants in initial one-hour interviews, followed by two-hour focus groups, and then an online survey for which data was collected over a month.
The study's participants came from the top 30 U.S. “designated market areas” and met the following criteria: aged 21-65 and currently employed with an annual income of more than $75,000; commute at least once a week for 30 or more minutes each way and using at least one form of transportation in the process; and taking one or more flights each year.
These criteria were relatively generic. However, Wisk’s survey also had other selection factors that might have skewed the collective mindset of the survey sample towards UAM. These factors were as follows: value technology solutions and be among the first to try new technology; have a positive attitude towards electric and autonomous vehicles; be open to [traveling in] autonomous planes and helicopters; have a non-negative economic mindset around the Covid-19 pandemic; and not be employed in a competitive or adjacent industry.
Among the first conclusions from the findings are that just over three-quarters of participants expect to resume regular commuting (post Covid) within 12 months. Looking ahead to this prospect, respondents identified their key “transportation pain points,” including unpredictable traffic, trips taking too much time, services unreliable, and the inability to either be productive or relax during trips.
Presented with flights in autonomous air taxis as an alternative to buses, trains, and private cars, fully 99 percent of respondents said they found that option appealing. Of these, 95 percent said they are likely to try these services.
The survey also asked people to indicate in more detail how they might use eVTOL taxis. The main use cases were as follows: traveling out of town for work (68 percent) or to meet friends (54 percent), traveling around town for work (60 percent) or to meet friends (45 percent), commuting to and from work (57 percent), personal appointments or obligations (40 percent), and running personal errands (36 percent).
Wisk has already made more than 1,500 test flights to develop the Cora and this week announced that it is preparing to conduct a “transport trial” of the eVTOL model in New Zealand during the second half of 2021. The company has not indicated when it hopes to begin commercial services with passengers, and the process for getting approved to operate autonomously will take longer than that for eVTOL aircraft that will be flown with pilots on board.