Planes Or Trains? For City Trips, Rails Make More Sense

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If you want to put your airplane/avionics/service/gizmo or gadget on the map, sooner or later you’ll have to show it at AirVenture. So this year, Oshkosh will get an eVTOL terminal as a demonstration project and, presumably, eventual working infrastructure. I wouldn’t expect it to be much more than a building and a charging facility, but that’s what eVTOL infrastructure is. So be it. Volatus Infrastructure is building the $500,000 project in anticipation of the aircraft and customers becoming available soon.

I like this kind of forward thinking. It will allow people to see what the emerging new world of electric aircraft might look like rather just reading the press-release derived news stories and fantastical market claims. That said, Volatus may be a little ahead of itself. The company’s announcement said “eight months from now, these vehicles will be available for purchase by anyone anywhere in the world.” Excuse me, but I don’t think so. I don’t see any certification projects that are nearly that close to delivering nor have I seen any experimental/amateur built activity in this space. That’s not the same as saying it won’t happen; it will. Just not that fast. Let’s just give the hype a rest, please.

We also reported that Volocopter has settled on the conforming version of its eVTOL and plans to use it as a technology demonstrator at the Paris Olympics in 2024. This news kind of kicked me off the ledge. For months, I’ve been reading about these eVTOLs, the various configurations and claimed capabilities and thinking two things: One, there are just too many of them to imagine that anything but a giant shakeout is inevitable. Second, related to that, is that the Urban Air Mobility concept supposed to sustain all these machines is looking, if not wrong, then not right, either.

I’m convinced some of these aircraft will be certified. Joby appears to lead the pack with a competent design and generous funding, but there are others such as Archer, Lilium, Beta and Kitty Hawk. Until certification is further along, it’s difficult to judge the competence of these designs. I’m willing to stipulate they’ll clear the hurdles. Market acceptance and practicality is another matter.

None of the coverage I’ve read or events I’ve covered seems to question that UAM is the coming wave. It’s just assumed that it will coalesce around aircraft capability. I’m a deep skeptic of this belief. I’m an airplane guy and I’m supposed to be enthusiastic about all things aviation, but increasingly, I’m wondering exactly what problem UAM is supposed to solve.

The two leading answers are congestion and climate change. But consider Joby’s stated idea of a network that would deliver a passenger to the vertiport in one car and pick him or her up at the destination vertiport in another car. So you’ve already doubled the cars required, even if you have eliminated the longest portion of the drive into the city. Let’s say they’re electric cars, so their carbon budget is minimal. They still take up space.

Just for Los Angeles alone, Joby envisions thousands of such flights a day. If it reaches stated capacity, you wouldn’t be able to look up and not see an eVTOL buzzing somewhere. Maybe a lot of them. The emerging industry claims it has addressed the noise issue, but I’ll believe it when I hear it. I just think it’s weak public policy to try to solve congestion with a boatload of additional, small-capacity vehicles even if they operate in the vertical dimension.

I think as cities confront the planning decisions to bring UAM online, some will conclude there’s a better way: Trains. Yes, trains. UAM advocates say trains—subways, light rail or elevated light rail—are too infrastructure intensive to be realistic. But I think if cities want to solve their congestion issues and lower emissions, they’ll arrive at some combination of taxing or prohibiting personal vehicles, investment in light rail and policies that take advantage of the reduction in commuter volume forced upon us by the pandemic. Do all those people really need to get into the city daily? Maybe they’d really rather work from home. Or go twice a week. This is low hanging fruit compared to a network of thousands of eVTOLs.

Mass transit is both more energy efficient, less polluting and accessible than UAM will be, and a good system would allow the rider who has to go 12 or 20 blocks an option that eVTOLs probably never will. Yes, even light rail is expensive, but if cities want to seriously commit to less congestion and lower emissions, I think it’s going to take the political will to invest in multi-decade urban rail systems for the backbone of intracity transportation. Then everything else just fills in the gaps, including UAM. Directionally, if congestion and climate change are worries, fewer vehicles carrying more people makes more sense than many vehicles carrying fewer.

In my view, having some UAM routes from suburbs into city centers will find a place, if the business models can work without the kind of massive numbers Joby envisions. In this gauzily optimistic analysis, Roland Berger predicts that by 2050, a global fleet of 160,000 eVTOLs will generate $90 billion in revenues by 2050. And I predict that far short of that, if there are any sober journalists left, they’ll be writing stories explaining why UAM is a much smaller industry than anyone expected. But say this: By then, battery limitations won’t be the issue they are now.

So where does UAM fit? In my view it will have a place because the vehicles are just too capable to not find application. Joby’s proposal, for instance, provides for intercity routes out to about 100 miles—say Los Angeles to Palm Springs. This strikes me as perfect for an eVTOL because the route density wouldn’t support trains, it’s a long slog in a personal car and too short for airline service.

At AirVenture, maybe an eVTOL service could eventually whisk passengers from Appleton to the show bus terminal. That would, I admit, be kinda cool. Just don’t expect me to get excited by an airshow of multi-rotors whirring by.  

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54 COMMENTS

  1. Here’s an excellent dissertation on EV charging. In it, he describes the main problem of widespread use of EV’s (I guess we can include UAV’s, too) as one of having enough chargers to make it practical and widespread. He says they won’t sell enough EV’s until the charging infrastructure is there and the infrastructure isn’t economically practical until they sell enough EV’s. He further talks about the lack of standardization of charging systems. He says it’s a chicken or egg came first problem and a standards problem.

    Well done 20 min video:
    youtube.com/watch?v=pLcqJ2DclEg
    I recommend interested readers spend the time to watch it.

    So I guess Volatus is taking the ‘build the charging infrastructure first’ path and betting on the come? That said, in the above video, they say a Tesla Supercharging station for 6-8 vehicles costs ~$250K. And a VW fast charging station will cost $350K. So how did Volatus come up with a $500K cost for a single unit? OH … silly me … maybe the FAA is involved? (Is there an AC for that already?) OR, maybe the station says “airplane” on it?

    You didn’t ask the obvious question, however … what if they build it and no one comes? And just who is paying the freight to install that system? Well, if George Bye ever delivers my 172 electric power system changeout, I can cruise over and fill up on electrons … IF their plug fits the system?

    I agree with you on the trains idea for UAM purposes, however. I grew up in Chicago; even in the 50’s, it was easy to get around using combinations of buses and elevated / subway (depending upon where you were) trains. Transfers were easy. I went to high school using the CTA (Chicago Transit Authority) buses … we didn’t have hoards of taxpayer supported yellow buses. Even now at O’Hare Field, you can get to ‘the loop’ via a subway train right in the terminal area.

    • Without knowing what the actual budget is, and what the $500k is for, it’s hard to just assume this is FAA pork – a Tesla supercharger is 6-8 stalls in a parking lot with no building, and they probably have negotiated contracts to bring the cost down – the artwork provided in the article showed a building – we all know that any structure of any size these days could easily cost $500K or more – our warming hut in a Minneapolis suburb cost the city $1MM! basically a room with two bathrooms – what a rip-off that was.

  2. A while ago I worked In Ottawa and my elderly mother lived in a retirement residence in Montreal about 80 miles away. When I went to visit her I usually took the train. There was plenty of airline flights but the downtown to downtown train was actually faster door to door and importantly a vastly more civilized travelling experience.

    I sometimes drove but found I much preferred sitting on the comfortable train seat watching the countryside glide by, drink in hand, over fighting the crazy Montreal traffic.

    In a perfect world UAM’s would be the best of both worlds, but in the real world there are so many obvious unanswered (or IMO unanswerable) issues that I fear all UAM’s represent is a potential huge diversion of city funding from a model that works, is sustainable and responsible to publicly funded transportation for high net worth individuals

    It is new MBA business model. Capitalization of the profits and socialization of the loses

  3. For some reason Americans can’t get behind trains – politically it has too many enemies and we can’t seem to figure out how to build them in a cost efficient way. Living in Madrid, I went door-to-door to Barcelona (both city centers) in comfort with Wi-Fi and a total of three hours – I did this over 15 times and once I decided to go by plane – the last mile made it downright silly and it took me close to 4-1/2 hours. The price for both was the same (in those days like $200 round-trip)

    As for these UAMs I still don’t know how the public will embrace getting in one of these. The public hates ‘puddle-jumpers, will only get in GA aircaft cause they know someone and are scared to death on commercial flights in large planes when a small amount of turbulence appears – for us in these forums, we’d probably be willing to board a UAM because we’re more comfortable in that environment – so it’s hard for me to imagine how the ‘regular’ will feel – only time will tell.

  4. In the 1970’s a study was done looking at car, rail, and air transport. The conclusion was that the personal automobile was the preferred method for travel up to 300 miles, rail was the choice for trips of 300 to 500 miles, and aviation was the choice for trips beyond 500 miles. This was prior to the spoke and hub systems that airlines use today.

    Personally, I find trips beyond about two hours driving are best served by air. My Baron cruises at about 200 kts so your looking at 35 to 45 minutes flying time for a 150 mile (2 hour) trip.

      • And it can be bad.

        One week Pacific Western went several days being unable to land in Kamloops. The medical system in BC started to transfer customers to Vancouver BC hospitals by road instead of wondering about weather for airplanes, undesirable in winter weather on roads but doable.

    • Interesting.

      300 miles on reasonable roads is a day’s journey. Of course a place to stay is a consideration. Transportation at the other end of a flight is a consideration.

      In your case you can control the timing of your flight, most days.

  5. I’d love to see UAM succeed. But like Paul says, it’s a solution in search of a problem. I think the market is small, perhaps slightly larger than current helicopter market. The tech is there, but I think the cost of one of these things plus infrastructure will stifle the business case for them. They’ll exist, but in a niche market for the wealthy / business crowd to fly in. I hope I’m wrong.

    • “…trains still run…”
      With limitations I say – slippery rails including from leaves, limited visibility to see unexpected obstacles, heavy snow blocking motion, ….

      (CPR gave up on its Kettle Valley Railway subsidiary because heavy snow in those nasty little mountains called Cascades because of months of closure some years and because of safty concerns on the steep grades. (The renowned JJ Hill of GN floated the idea of an 8-mile tunnel into Hope BC, but too little too late and gummint games motivated GN to give up on south central BC despite its long history there.)

  6. ‘Mass transit’ is costly:
    – look at the tunneling effort in Vancouver BC and Seattle WA
    – inflexible (costly route cannot be relocated, except for some rails and signaling equipment)

    Yes, aircraft are costly, airports cannot be moved (except barges ;-), aircraft can be moved more easily than trains (which can be moved as a very heavy haul, easy if tracks connect – for example I saw Sounder locomotives from WA state in the terminal of the Westcoast Express in Mission BC (a heavy rail service), BNSF and CN tracks connect in the New Westminster-Vancouver BC area.

    As for the LA example, I don’t understand the comment about density, question is financial viability (the Westcoast Express and trains on Long Island NY provide commuter service which is of course peaky on demand, the Sounder is probably in the ballpark of the WE’s length – road traffic and cost of parking are incentives).

    FTR:
    – I do not grasp the merit of the ‘e-vtol’ devices out there,
    – Don’t fall for the con of the anti-human climate catastrophists (humans are not and cannot cause runaway climate warming, look at accurate data and the basic physics of ‘greenhouse gas’ molecules like carbon dioxide and dihydrogen monoxide, whose spectra overlap)

  7. A big part of the issue is that new transportation solutions seem to revolve around personal vehicles. The sales pitch is freedom to move about without the burden of sitting next to your fellow humans. Personal vehicles, whether they be cars, planes, or eVtol noisemakers, will never be more energy or spatially efficient than buses or trains. Maybe if we all promise to shower regularly and not look over each others shoulders at what ever TikTok video someone is watching, mass transportation will become more popular. I personally promise not to “manspread”, too. I will keep my bags on my lap and let other people sit next to me. No small-talk. though. I hate small talk.

  8. Last night on 60 MINUTES they did a piece on Jacoby. The new tempory FAA Administrator said they would have the necessary regulations in place for UAM in two years.
    All I could think about was the FAA has spent 20 years and still no unleaded 100 octane approval other than STC’s which doesn’t solve the problem.

  9. I’m with Paul on this. The “build it and they [i.e., the application] will come” article of faith that underpins the EVTOL effort seems poorly thought out.

    To have a chance of revolutionizing urban-suburban transportation, any new system must emulate, or at least efficiently integrate with, the old. The car & truck came along just in time to dictate how the huge urban expansion of the last century was carried out. Build-for-train would have produced highly centralized hubs with clearly defined spokes. Instead, the car and truck dictated our huge spiderweb sprawls of roadways that, for all their downsides & inefficiencies, are infinitely flexible in accommodating travel endpoints. My prediction: For short haul travel we’ll still be dependent on our cars, electric or not, for many decades to come.

  10. Hey Paul, I guess you missed the latest 60 Minutes where the non-biased, technical Einstein level truth tellers featured this industry including Joby. According to them, everything is coming up roses except they did mention that the Joby crashed and was destroyed. Who should we believe? You or 60 Minutes.

    • Me, of course. I did see the report. It didn’t ask many questions…

      The most honest guy was the company proposing full autonomy out of the box. He said there is no timeline. I thought Billy Nolen came off favorably.

  11. It’s hard to understand why there is such reluctance regarding rail transport unless you follow the money. In the period between the world wars, automakers bought up urban rail systems and starved them to death so people would be forced to rely on the cars and buses they were selling.

  12. Well said Paul, as always. We will go electric in the future, no doubt. But trains make far more sense than planes for the city. There are way too many black holes of dollars disappearing into pie in the sky aviation projects. The ALICE project announced that they would have a first flight at the end of last year. That didn’t happen. A lot of dollars are disappearing into projects that might produce one prototype and then fold. If you have been around aviation for more than a couple of decades, you can tell the Popular Science level stuff from the things that will actually work. That first version of the ALICE was so bad that even non-professional engineers saw the dangers in tip mounted props and a taildragger with a prop at the tail.

  13. Surface based urban transport systems are needed worldwide.

    By nature urban transportation has many people wanting to go in many different directions from many different starting and ending locations at speeds less than 30 mph. Urban areas are not conducive to mass aerial based transition systems in my opinion.

    A surface system of moving walkways significantly hybrid to those used in airports are a good starting concept in my opinion. I can visualize integrated walkway systems of different speeds with short (enclosed) interchanges that allow safe transitions between the walkways of different speeds.

    Design of the systems is best done by trying small (concept) systems first at low costs. Design of full blown systems at high costs that may or may not work should be avoided.

  14. Kitty Hawk H2

    There are different philosophies among the prospective eVTOL manufacturers. One manufacturer that caught my eye is Kitty Hawk, founded by self-driving car pioneer Sebastian Thrun and backed by Google co-founder Larry Page. Their initial vehicle (H2) is a single person winged eVTOL with 100 mile range that is intended to be used as a three-dimensional Lyft. They are not planning any eV autonomous detect-and-avoid (DAA) capabilities terminals – equipped with various means to assure the landing area is clear, they claim it only needs the space of 8 parking spaces to land. They seem to have though through the issues related to their stated goal, including noise and fuel efficiency – they say winged flight gives them a significant margin over a 100% rotary wing solution; whether their proposed solutions work out of course remains to be seen. One thing that sets them apart is their vehicle can be flown via remote pilot (1:6 pilot to craft ratio) or autonomously. They are planning for remote pilots at first for the psychological reassurance factor. They believe the eVTOL terminal, multi-hop paradigm is not a valid starting point. Their website provides a much more comprehensive overview than mine.

    “https://www.kittyhawk.aero”

    Autonomous Detect-and-Avoid (DAA) capabilities

    I was surprised to find the number of products already offered for the eVTOL airspace. uAvionix, makers of SkyBeacon and TailBeacon, has a number of DAA avionics for eVTOLs. There seems to be a crazy amount of R&D activity around UAM and DAA: Honeywell has a new 1.5 pound 3 kilometer range radar for EVTOL DAA that features ground mapping, weather detection, obstacle detection on the ground, and detection of up to 30 multiple targets. It has already been selected by AirFlow for their eSTOL vehicle. Potential customers have expressed an interest in using the radar for search and rescue operations.

    “https://www.aviationtoday.com/2022/04/15/honeywell-aerospace-engineers-radar/”

    “https://www.aviationtoday.com/2022/02/04/intuvue-rdr-84k-radar-system-demonstrates-autonomous-detect-avoid-capability/”

    “https://www.unmannedairspace.info/uncategorized/detect-and-avoid-the-global-research-programmes-tackling-the-next-major-technology-hurdle-for-utm/”

  15. Bah! Darn keyboard. The sentence beginning “They are not planning any eV autonomous detect-and-avoid (DAA) capabilities terminals” should read “They are not planning any eVTOL terminals – equipped with various means to assure the landing area is clear, they claim the H2 only needs the space of 8 parking spaces to land.

  16. The whole “take off and land at any street corner” thing is a pipe dream of those with no understanding of the laws of physics. Anything heavy enough to carry a couple of people is going to kick up more of a storm than bystanders will tolerate. Not to mention the spinning rotor blades.

    All the UAM vehicles are cost-reduced helicopters, no more, no less, and will be confined to specialized, controlled landing spots. Do the math for available vertiports vs loading/unloading and recharge times, and you’ll quickly realize that as an urban mass mover it doesn’t scale.

    • Follow the link in my post to the Kitty Hawk website and you can judge for yourself if the downsides you described in your comment apply to the H2.

      OKC now has a gen-u-wine streetcar (on rails, no less) that was constructed after much input and comments from the public (which I happily contributed to). One important point had to be made clear: Streetcars are NOT light rail. Apples and cumquats. Similar differences for eVTOLs. I think our natural resistance to the Climate Change hustle can color our perceptions of things that just might be improvements. The promise of commercial aviation was discussed and advanced while aircraft were regularly falling out of the sky from attempts to deliver the mail etc. without the needed infrastructure. Were the commercial aviation advocates wrong to advocate?

      The subsidies forced on us for electric transportation were wrong-headed, but I believe had the transition been allowed to succeed on it’s own merits it would happen anyway. The problem with Bye’s eFlyer is not the concept, it’s the power source. In “Fate is the Hunter” Ernie Gann describes flying instrument approaches using the four-course the radio range. How many of us are surprised that the R&D between then and now has resulted in the equipment and infrastructure we enjoy today?

      There now seems to be a critical mass of companies focused on electric vehicles that I predict will deliver the power sources required to redeem the promise of Bye’s and other’s vision. Of course there will be false starts and failures just as in the past, but the fittest will survive. The abiility to spread the weight of the power source over much of the airframe provides aircraft designer more scope. The simplicity and fault tolerance offered by a mature electric aircraft power package will just make too much sense from both a value and safety perspective. Expect to see owners of GA aircraft at overhaul time elect to install such a package.

  17. Trains against passenger drones, which is what normal people call them, share one characteristic.
    Almost all urban trains are now driver free — everything from closing the doors to accelerating to braking, or stopping at signals is done remotely, and often with no human interference until a siren and blinking light go off.
    So far there have been no accidents with driver less trains — Docklands light railway in London been going nearly 30 years now.
    Of course trains have around 200 years of safety rule books to draw on — passenger drone programmers might want to start reading them from the start… oh sorry forgot, this lot do not read they only watch videos…

  18. I have had the opportunity to basically compare all 3 modes of transportation to/from the same destination. Traveling by car from CT to MD would take between 5 and 7 hours depending on traffic. By train, it was about 4.5-5 hours plus about another 40 min to travel to/from the train station, so for simplicity call it 5.5 hours. By private airplane (Piper Archer or Dakota), it was about 4 hours door-to-door (including pre-flight) on average (I did manage 3.5 hours once). I never flew the route commercially, but it’d be about a 40 min flight, plus about 30 to board/unload, plus about 40 min to travel to/from the airport, plus about an hour for security, so round that to about 3 hours total (and that’s probably being optimistic). Private plane and train were pretty close on cost, depending on if I took the regional or acela. I have no idea how much the commercial flight would have cost, but I suspect pretty close to these two. Car is by far the cheapest (even with tolls and gas and planned maintenance), but also the slowest and most tedious. On paper, commercial flight is still the quickest, but in practice, private plane most likely beats it out (and is certainly less stressful), at least at this distance.

    So could UAM work? At about 100 miles or so, yeah, it could, provided you’re going somewhere not served by rail. Beyond that, I think rail still wins, especially if UAM doesn’t have the range yet. But I don’t see UAMs replacing cars or trains; they would only supplement them in a few specific use cases.

  19. This article is totally miss-titled. It should be: “What’s a Happenin’ In The Metaverse Today!!”. Light Rail and eVTOLs are very successful means of transportation in the Metaverse. Always on time and there’s always an empty seat next to a young good looking person. The wind never blows, rain doesn’t corrode and snow is only at the ski resorts. I watch over my grandson’s shoulder while he travels throughout the universe and went from one country to another in seconds. Some of the best looking food I have ever seen at the most exotic restaurants. Then, Grandma called us to dinner because regrettably, we couldn’t eat the Metaverse food.

  20. Here in the Phoenix metro area, a definite car-centric valley of over 5 million peoples, a new stretch of light rail that hasn’t even broke ground or solidified right-of-way legalities has been announced by the City and Valley Metro to begin at $276M per mile for 5.5 miles or $1.65B total cost in 2022 numbers. Future cost overruns are not in the calculus.
    It would close vital 4 lane boulevards to 2 lane and displace businesses the entire route.

    Maybe trains could work out East with all of the Vertical Living spaces and congestion, but looking at a half-dozen riders on an expensive chariot here that the exhausted riders stood in 100 degree heat to catch then walk a quarter mile to their destination is not supported by anyone I know. An Uber is nearly as cost-effective, door-to-door.

    As far as “Just for Los Angeles alone, Joby envisions thousands of such flights a day. If it reaches stated capacity, you wouldn’t be able to look up and not see an eVTOL buzzing somewhere”- Scotty, beam me the ef out of here.

    And don’t be so sure that the NIMBY ground dwellers won’t develop into BANANA zealots – Build Absolutely Nothing Anywhere Near Anyone.

    • “BANANA” … that’s good, Dave. I’m gonna remember that one 🙂

      Around 2017, I listened to Eric Lindberg and his ERAU PhD partner, et al, deliver a pretty compelling presentation for eVTOL at a large EAA chapter. They envisioned eVTOL’s flying everywhere like 3-D ubers. Where did that idea go … absolutely no place. So what it their company doing now … developing hybrid-electric power systems for others. They’ve finally recognized that pure electric power is NOT the way to go even though electric motors are. And — likely — there are too many players trying to build air vehicles. So they’re focusing on developing hybrid power systems using sustainable aviation fuels (SAF) for others now.

      On their website, they even have a picture — for the slow learning pure battery power fanatics — that shows that a drop of liquid fuel is 20 times as efficient as a battery. GREAT! I support that idea. Take the best advantages of electric motors and marry it with a highly efficient SAF powered engine running at best efficiency to gain range and reliability. Kinda like a Toyota Prius.

      Take a look:
      verdegoaero.com/our-story

  21. Back in the late 90s, the consulting company I worked for already had an assignment with the FAA to help develop the regulatory framework for “personalised air transport”. While some clear requirements emerged, we’re still waiting for the actual regulations. What makes us think they’ll suddenly pop up and be fit-for-purpose? Esp. with drones wanting to fill that same airspace now.

  22. “nor have I seen any experimental/amateur built activity in this space”
    Disappointing, as I think it is possible to build a two seat VTOL homebuilt with largely off the shelf components. Electric for VTOL, piston engine for cruise. Wings can be small and highly loaded as no worries about stall speed. Smooth ride in turbulence. Likewise landing gear isn’t being carelessly thrown at ground at 60 knots at some indeterminate rate of descent, hence lighter. The electric motors and props are small and lightweight and batteries are also relatively small (LiFePO4 to handle high current) and only have to handle two consecutive takeoffs and landings without recharge. Take the autostab electronics for VTOL flight from any number of quadcopter autopilots.
    EAA ought to be more than building RV kits and restoring warbirds (nothing against EAA, I’m currently President of EAA Chapter 1308 – the only Chapter in Australia).

    • As a former president of EAA chapters, I can say EAA is characterized by what its members express. Personally, I don’t know more than two or three members who have an interest in building or owning an eMobility device. If you feel there is not enough homebuilding beyond the most commonly available kits, you’re welcome to design and build something else. Personal initiative on the part of individuals is what EAA is about so if you want a quadcopter, you can go for it. If you do, and your story gets written up in some future issue of Sport Aviation, I’ll probably skip over it just like I skip over the mega$$$$$ Warbird resto and airplanes-built-around-their-glass-panels stories.

  23. There are connected Interstates within three miles of my house and that of friends who live on a residential airpark. There are no rail or bus connections.

    It takes 2:25 to drive there, even on Labor Day weekend. It takes 1:00 to fly the 172 there, but my hangar is :25 from home and there’s at least :20 of preflight. So we save :40 by flying, but then we have no wheels once there.

    Then there is the weather issue: it may be glorious CAVU when we head over but serious crap when we need to return. So we end up driving more often than not, which is far more tiring.

    Interstates connect metropolitan areas, many of which have HOV lanes for funneling traffic from outlying areas into the city. Imagine if only one of those lanes was dedicated to autonomous cars. Your vehicle would communicate with the cars around you, so everyone makes the best time possible without interference from the meat-sacks behind the wheel.

    The infrastructure is already in place and smart vehicles are making serious progress. I would expect “self-driving” cars to be readily available long before eVTOL “taxis” clear the inevitable FAA/DOT hurdles, much less acceptance by the traveling public. They, and more buses or trains, are not going to solve the “how do I get around now” problem at the end of your trip.

  24. I really do hope that the EVTOL concept takes hold. Pure electric is just silly but distributed electric for VTOL and piston engine for cruise makes lots of sense. Private aviation’s main drawback is its impracticability. No transport at other end, requires airports etc. I was ruminating on this a week or so ago and decided that we haven’t really come anywhere from the 1934 Messerschmitt 108. Put an IO-540 in it and you’d have a perfectly acceptable modern light aircraft. Next issue of Aviation Trader (Australian) arrived couple of days later and lo and behold there was one in New Zealand for sale – with IO-540 in it.
    Guys, this is a nearly 90 year old design. The small end of aviation has gone nowhere in nearly 90 years. Time for Aviation 2.0.

  25. Usual excellent perspective from Paul. Yes, a giant shake-out is inevitable. And likely will be by funds exhausted in arduous un-mapped certification processes as well as failures to meet essential new noise standards. System capacity will be crucial and cannot be met if the ground leg is cars taking freeways to vertiports. Cars are unsustainably bad in terms of cost, parking spaces, safety, gridlock, infrastructure cost and idle time. Idle time of the largely ramp-parked or hangared piloted GA fleet is untenable in cost and scale. What is needed is walk-up service in high duty-cycle vehicles to highly distributed destinations. Scheduled trains cannot provide that. Too much headway waiting time, too few destinations, abysmal ridership historically, too much infrastructure cost. Nor do they offer social distancing. Swarms of autonomous 2-seat or 4-seat sky taxis can work if mass-scale is reached with ubiquitous airparks. But nobody has solved the crucial noise problem yet. Details will be revealed at: https://anesymposium.aqrc.ucdavis.edu/2022-program