Today’s airspace can handle eVTOLs — but not too many of them

Research by NASA and Joby suggests that one of the most lucrative early use cases for eVTOLs is also the most challenging for air traffic management.

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This post appeared as part of our Three Points Newsletter on August 29, 2022

A study conducted by NASA and Joby Aviation indicates that eVTOL aircraft will be able to launch initial, low-volume urban air mobility operations in U.S. airspace as it exists today. However, such operations will be difficult to scale without changes to air traffic management, especially around the busy airports that will be among their primary sources of passenger demand.

The research is the latest in a series of studies launched by NASA in partnership with Uber Elevate, which was acquired by Joby in December 2020. Using performance specifications for Joby’s four-passenger eVTOL aircraft, it analyzes five specific use cases in the Dallas metropolitan area, which Uber had identified as one of its Elevate launch cities before handing off its flying taxi project.

Related: The daunting economics of taking an air taxi to work

The use cases range from a simple flight across the northeast fringe of the metro area — which does not require the pilot to speak to air traffic control — to more complex missions into Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport and its surrounding Class B airspace. The researchers defined procedural steps for each use case and examined the implications for controller and pilot workload, traffic and wake separation, and more.

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