top of page

Drones are being deployed to improve crop yields, to help maintain critical infrastructure, and to efficiently deliver COVID-19 vaccines in some parts of the world. They may soon be relied on just about everywhere for routine package delivery, and while larger drones remain mostly restricted to the military they are poised for expansion into civilian markets once airspace integration issues can be resolved. Advances in artificial intelligence should open new doors for drone applications in the future, though challenges remain in terms of synthesis with manned aircraft, appropriate infrastructure, regulatory frameworks, and public acceptance. Progress made in terms of power, propulsion and control will enable more sustainable transportation. Traditional methods of flight propulsion and control mean routine passenger and cargo air transport is only efficient at distances greater than 300 kilometres. But relatively recent advances in electric propulsion, electronic flight controls, and flight control software can make it a viable option for shorter distances. This will enable the transportation of cargo and passengers between places not previously served by air - including relatively simple operations in rural areas, and more complex versions in cities. Although the concept of urban air taxis has garnered the most public attention, cargo delivery will most likely be the first viable market; McKinsey has estimated profitability in cargo delivery by 2030. Hydrogen and other electric propulsion is critical for advanced air mobility - compared with traditional fossil fuel propulsion, electric power creates less noise, has lower fuel and maintenance costs, is more efficient at low altitudes and over short distances, and produces fewer carbon emissions (the International Council on Clean Transportation estimates that in 2018, carbon emissions from commercial aviation constituted 2.4% of the world’s total fossil fuel carbon emissions). While the sharp decrease in air travel resulting from the spread of COVID-19 reduced related carbon emissions at least temporarily, air transportation is expected to rebound by 2024. More advanced forms of air travel is a therefore a pressing need, though technological challenges include limited battery life, the need for a viable air traffic management system, and the need to secure communications links in order to ensure connectivity and prevent cyberattacks. In order to achieve pilot-less, remote or autonomous operations, advances in artificial intelligence will be necessary - along with a system to assure traffic separation, and infrastructure to support low-altitude flights. While each country will likely develop their own low-level air traffic management system, international harmonization through the efforts of the International Civil Aviation Organization will be important. Advanced air mobility has the potential to improve access to cities for rural dwellers, and provide safe, clean, and affordable transportation for both high-income and low-income parts of the world. However, the US National Academy of Sciences has identified impediments to widespread implementation related to safety, cybersecurity, social acceptance, and regulation.

Advanced Air Mobility

KEY TRENDS

Advanced Air Mobility