Advanced air mobility could substitute 11 million transport journeys by 2040

31 August 2023 4 min. read

From freight to healthcare, advanced air mobility technology could soon be offering exciting new ways to transport materials, goods and even people. The move would come with economic and ecological benefits – with more than 11 million journeys substituted every year by 2040.

Advanced air mobility (AAM) is an emerging aviation sector that will use new types of vehicles to transport passengers and cargo on short-haul, low altitude flights, with electric vertical take-off and landing aircrafts (eVTOL) aircraft similar in size to helicopters. Alongside a separate, growing market for drone technology, AAM is giving rise to a range of new transportation options, which could revolutionise the supply chain of every industry.

Even as the AAM market is buoyant with global investment reaching $7 billion in 2021, however, it is unclear whether this level of market momentum will translate into viable transport alternatives in the UK. According to a new study from PwC, there are multiple challenges that must be addressed to enable AAM to flourish, including perception; infrastructure; technology; safety and security; regulation; business models; and skills.

AAM could substitute transport for 11 million journeys by 2040

If these challenges can be tackled, though, then the AAM market could add major value to the UK economy in the coming decades – particularly when focussed on compelling use cases. To that end, PwC assessed the viability of AAM in the UK based on a comparative analysis of six AAM use cases, against the current travel and freight options the country’s industries use.

According to the researchers, AAM uses with longer distances and higher occupancy were much more attractive than the current options for distributing goods across the UK. If those cases are scaled out to 2040, the analysts believe AAM could substitute as many as 11.4 million freight and traditional haulage journeys – something which would both present opportunities for economic growth, and with the push to net zero.

Studies suggest that scope three emissions – including the carbon footprint of a company’s supply chain – account for 95% of a company’s carbon impact. Pointing to the Skybus project – a 30-50 seat battery-electric eVTOL which pledges to deliver a zero-emissions park and ride concept – among examples of how AAM adoption could reduce emissions, PwC asserted that substitute AAM uses could lead to a 222 million-tonne reduction in CO2 emissions each year, the equivalent of removing 120,000 diesel cars from British roads.

AAM could substitute transport for 11 million journeys by 2040

At the same time, this could present major opportunities to the UK economy. The researchers’ scaling approach suggests that by 2040, the annual cumulative benefits of AAM technology could range from £4.7 billion to £9.4 billion. The bulk of this could first come from rural rideshare schemes, but in the coming decades, adoption of AAM for air ambulance services and sub-regional shuttle services could also see benefits boom.

Rural rideshare services – the equivalent of a bus or train route from between small villages, and linking them with other transport hubs – could be worth £6 billion in benefits by 2040, thanks to the high quantity of counterfactual journeys it would replace. But due to the importance of their work, despite being less common, AAM air ambulance benefits could be as high as £2 billion by 2040. Even though there are a relatively small number of journeys an eVTOL could replace in this way, PwC still believes it could deliver a large marginal benefit per journey in that case.

Looking ahead, however, this all hinges on supplying AAM with the right talent. Pilot demand and skill level is expected to be high – at least in the initial years of AAM use. While it will be lower than traditional modes of transport – a remote pilot can be responsible for managing four eVTOLs – PwC’s most rapid scaling model suggests around 1,000 pilots will be needed in the industry, and these will need to be highly qualified, like commercial airline pilots now.

While these requirements may fall in the next decade, as eVTOLs are developed with more sophisticated self-driving systems, those looking to experience the benefits of AAM technology by adopting the technology early will need to factor this into their plans.