‘Who pays’ for UAM infrastructure – the question that still needs answering

The technology to bring “game changing” flying cars to market may be already here, but the question of who funds the infrastructure and how the sector will be regulated still needs answering

New technologies of electrification, autonomy and connectivity have enabled production of nearly 150 flying car prototypes, but questions of funding and regulation need to be answered before these can be brought to market.

Guillame Thibault, a partner at consultancy firm Oliver Wyman, said that while the “race was on” for production of market leading flying cars, with 150 prototypes announced, forecasts for when the vehicles could fly were optimistic. But he added that the urban air market would become a reality.

A game changer for the entire economy

Thibault said: “There are very optimistic forecasts, arguing that 2023, we will see the first commercial routes being open on the market. No matter how long it takes, it will happen and it will be a game changer for the entire industry and a very strong game changer for the entire economy.”

Thibault predicted a move towards consolidation within the market, adding that the business models would be different from those currently used in mainstream aviation.

‘Who pays?’ - an unsolved question

He said: “The business case is not solved yet, we moved from a transactional business model that traditional aviation was used to, to a fully serviced based model. And in this model, the question is ‘who pays for infrastructure?’

“Is it about cities which today experience strong public debt questions. Is it about passengers? Or operators? There are many unsolved questions to date.”

Thibault predicted a “long ramp up” before flying cars could be used for urban transportation but added that is was important for those within the industry to be “excited about launching as soon as possible” as they moved towards the testing and certification stages.

He said regulation would help grow public acceptance and confidence in new urban air transportation. “Regulation is a barrier but at the same time, safety is something mandatory for social acceptance. Today it’s very low - less than 20 per cent would agree with flying through autonomous operation.”

He said the new market would challenge existing conventions of governance. “Certification will need to be agile and interact quickly with the key players, so its also a game changer for the way we manage and govern aviation”

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