The British public has given a conditional thumbs up to the new electric and potentially autonomous aircraft being proposed by the ambitious companies vying for leadership in the advanced air mobility (AAM) sector. A new report commissioned by the government-backed UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) provides firsthand insights into social attitudes toward eVTOL air taxi services, so-called regional air mobility using new low- and zero-carbon aircraft, and commercial drone operations.
According to UKRI, most respondents see value in the technology and applications being proposed, but they have concerns about factors such as safety, security, and benefits being widely available. This has prompted the agency, and its Sciencewise program, to provide a further £1.8 million ($2.2 million) to fund more research into what it would take for AAM to achieve a win-win result for all stakeholders.
The list of concerns and priorities flagged up in the report include the following: personal safety and possible collisions in “busier and more crowded airspace”; the potential for automated vehicles to be hacked by cyber criminals; privacy and data protection threats from aircraft being used for video surveillance; the perceived need to constrain “uncontrolled expansion of commercial uses of future flight technologies”; accessibility and affordability, “given the potential to exacerbate [social] inequality”; the desirability of AAM creating jobs for people from underprivileged backgrounds and in places where jobs have been displaced; and the possible impact on wildlife and biodiversity.
Respondents to the initial UKRI research identified benefits such as more responsive emergency medical services, improved public transportation networks, and more effective ways to support and sustain key infrastructure (such as rail and power lines). The potential for the new modes of air transportation to deliver convenience at a far lower environmental cost was also highlighted as a positive factor.
Evidently mindful that perception is reality, UKRI is determined to gain a more complete understanding of how public support for AAM initiatives can best be secured. The agency appears to understand that vast pools of investment and quantum leaps in technology will not alone carry the day.
“Science and technology can change so fast that policy and regulation often struggle to keep pace,” commented UKRI’s head of public engagement, Tom Saunders. “We welcome this timely public dialogue, ensuring the public’s priorities are front and center as new future flight technologies, applications, and policy developments emerge. UKRI’s Sciencewise program helps researchers, policymakers, and innovators understand what the public really thinks, and ensures that experts, government, and the public can design a better future together.”