Top 5 Challenges for On-demand Air Transportation Startups (and How to Overcome Them)
An average American spends close to 29.6 Bn hours in commuting, according to a study conducted in 2014. If the same study were to be mapped today, the hours would have increased given the traffic and the number of vehicles out there on the road; not to mention the increase in population.
How would you feel if you could reduce your hours of commute, and use them to spend some quality time with your family? Does it sound like a scene out of a fairy tale?
On-demand aviation is not a dream; it is all set to be a reality, and Uber seems to be on the first page of this reality. Uber is planning to change the on-demand ecosystem completely by reducing travel time, and utilizing the travel space efficiently. With the urban air transportation, you can easily reduce the traffic congestion that occurs on the ground.
The idea is to have a network of small aircrafts that indulge in vertical take-off and landing(VTOL). The future will rely heavily on this concept. Moreover, when you look at the infrastructure needs, you are in for an advantage.
There are significant benefits to VTOL. Let’s have a quick look at them, before we proceed to the barriers that need to be considered.
- Cost advantage is likely with VTOL, as you don’t need to invest heavily in the infrastructure as compared to rail or road transport
- Air congestion would be low; this means you can complete your commute within minutes
- You won’t need to follow fixed routes, thus making transportation easier and faster for you
- Owing to advancement in technology, VTOL aircrafts will use electric propulsion, thus zeroing down the emissions and reducing the population and noise in the air
- Eventually, the VTOLs will become affordable and will be a means of regular transportation, specifically for the commuters
Breaking the Barriers
The VTOL ecosystem consists of five key players who need to collaborate for effective operations, namely the regulators, vehicle designers, communities, cities and network operators. As of today, you will need to break the barriers that exist in the ecosystem, if your startup wants to ensure smooth air travel in the near future.
Let’s have a look at the challenges faced by each of the key element of the ecosystem, and how your startup can overcome these challenges.
#1 Getting the Certification
For VTOLs to operate in the current ecosystem, you will need to take permissions and comply with the regulations set forth by the aviation authorities, namely the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) and EASA (European Aviation Safety Agency). Having said that, the VTOL is a new-on-the-block aircraft from the certification perspective. The certification process for new aircrafts and their concepts is relatively slow, which can prove to be challenging for the carriers. There is however a way in which you can overcome this barrier.
Overcoming the certification barrier
- FAA and EASA who are responsible for 50% and 30% of the aviation activity have adopted a consensus-based standards process. This can be used in place of the slow certification processes that have been adopted earlier. Along with the VTOL certification, these agencies will also look into developing standards for VTOL power-lifted aircrafts by logging in F44
- In order to develop the standards, the various stakeholders will need to come together, and they will also need to look into the existing gaps in the aviation standards, and how that will affect the VTOL.
- There is the experimental worthiness certificate, which is ideal for the VTOLs. The approval process is short and your vehicle can be flown in the air under constrained circumstances. As more flight time is recorded, the constraints will be relaxed, and your flight time will be increased substantially
- Apart from that, you will need to consider opting for an operator certification, and the pilot training in order to boost your opportunities for quick certification
#2 Battery Technology for Long Runs
The VTOLs are a result of electric propulsion, which zero down the emissions and give out a pollution free environment, as in one more supporter for Paris Agreement. The electric batteries are the source of power in this case. However, the batteries, given their size, don’t stand a chance in the long journeys. The charge rate is slow, which makes it difficult for the rides to support high-frequency ridesharing. Again, the cycle life is less than 80%, which means the battery may need to be replaced quite often, increasing the cost.
Overcoming the battery barrier
- VTOLs will need to consider large battery packs, say somewhere around 140kWh pack for a 4 person aircraft combined with high specific energy. You will also need to make sure they don’t discharge at less than 3C rating.
- While a high battery pack is essential, it should be packed in a way that if one cell fails to function, the others keep the aircraft in the air. The battery cell specific energy should be taken into account. At the same time, you should try to keep the battery weight light
#3 Vehicle Efficiency
While helicopters are the closest to VTOL, they are energy inefficient and not economically viable. Helicopters have been created with vertical flight focus. Flights with distributed electric propulsion can be used for ridesharing purposes but, till date no manufacturer has ever created an aircraft of the type for commercial purposes.
Overcoming the efficiency barrier
- Distributed electric propulsion is an excellent way of achieving the specific power and efficiency with requisite reliability and the compactness of the motor. You can enhance the aerodynamic and control measures with DEP.
- With DEP, you can opt for large efficiency improvements and overcome the fundamental limitations that occur with helicopter.
- The DEP based VTOL aircraft can achieve 10times the efficiency
- The charging centers will need to offer low energy delivery for the high demand in order to maintain the electricity pricing, which is a crucial aspect of this challenge
#4 Vehicle Performance & Reliability
When you are opting for the ride-sharing concept, the first thing you want to achieve is best performance in the lowest time. You need to measure and optimize the time lag between request and drop-off. The performance of the vehicle plays a significant role in this measure and the system reliability, which is the measure of the time from request to pick-up need to be taken into account.
Overcoming performance & reliability barriers
- The request to demand ratio plays an important role in measuring the trip reliability. Request to pick-up and pick-up to drop-off are the measures that account for trip reliability. At the time of request, the number of vehicles available is also taken into account. For a reliable journey, these factors should all give out a positive.
- Weather is another element that you need to take into account when measuring the performance and reliability of your journey. If there are serious weather challenges, chances of you reaching on time is pretty thin.
- Your vehicle should be designed for long ride sharing journeys. The cruisers should have more power in order to optimize their performance.
#5 Air Traffic Control
While the ATC systems are pretty efficient to handle quite a moderate amount of air traffic, we are talking about VTOLs which will be used for commuting. The current systems will not be able to handle the exponential increase in the air traffic. Again, most of the operations occur at high altitude, while the VTOLs will operate at a significantly low altitude.
Overcoming the air traffic control barrier
- New ATC systems will need to be built in order to handle the exponential rise in low altitude air traffic
- The regulations will need to be built for the specific case
The VTOL will be effective in a few years. It is time to mould the technology as well as the ridesharing concept for the VTOL. We will need to work on the barriers which include battery and performance in order to ready the VTOLs for ridesharing. Are you ready for the VTOLs?
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A little bit about me: I am a Marketing Manager at Space-O Technologies, expert in developing an app like Uber. Being a member of the mobile app development company, I spend most of my time working on the mobile app ideas and startup trends. I am a regular contributor for Entrepreneur and UpWork. If you have any question, or need any assistance regarding mobile app development process, feel free to contact me.
Top 5 Challenges for On-demand Air Transportation Startups (and How to Overcome Them) was originally published in Hacker Noon on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.