Owing to a century of innovation in aircraft design, for the first time in history, air transport presents a potential competitive alternative to road, for hub-to-door and door-to-door urban services. In this dissertation, we first study the feasibility of uncongested air transport, for moving people and goods in an urban area, based on three metrics - enroute travel time, fuel cost and carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. We estimate the metrics from emission standards and operational assumptions on vehicles based on current market data and compare electric air travel of near future to predominantly gasoline road travel of today. For passenger movement, air is faster than road for all distances. It fares better on fuel cost and emissions for longer distances (specific transition distances are stated in the main text). For consolidated movement of goods, air is at par or better than road dependent on the type of aircraft used. Finally, for movement of unconsolidated goods, air far outperforms road on all three metrics.
To enable the feasible air-based services, a typical metropolitan region's airspace needs to accommodate traffic orders of magnitude higher than the manned airspace of today, while staying uncongested to deliver the afore-mentioned benefits. Hence we also develop methods to study the urban airspace capacity. We use our methods to evaluate the airspace capacity for a specific use case of goods movement under 400 feet (low altitude airspace) and find that with today's technologies at least 10,000 free routed small Unmanned Aircraft Systems (sUAS) flights per day can be safely enabled in the San Francisco Bay area. Better onboard technologies would only improve this number. Furthermore, our methods can be extended to evaluate the metropolitan airspace capacity to accommodate other use cases including movement of passengers and goods in a much wider band of airspace.
Finally, we look at the energy efficiency, travel time and throughput trade-off between speed and direction control. We find that while maintaining a similar decent throughput, direction control is more energy efficient for enroute tactical resolution unless aircraft can be built with very high hover energy efficiency. However, speed control has a lower impact on travel time extension. Hovering capability additionally offers high flexibility for the type of operations that can be enabled in an urban airspace. Hence, the findings of this dissertation also have policy implications for the aircraft design industry for enabling Urban Air Mobility (UAM).
It is quite noteworthy that all our results are based on a road-friendly urban design. Changes in design that facilitate easier access to air-based hub-to-door and door-to-door services, would only make the case stronger for UAM as the next revolution in urban transportation.