Despite Uber having selected Melbourne as its third aerial launch city for 2023 and the technical and current operational feasibility of e-air taxis, a new study has found that mass adoption is unlikely in the next 10 to 15 years due to infrastructure challenges and delays in delivering a fully autonomous service.

Key findings from the report – released by Boston-based management consulting firm L.E.K. Consulting – include: 

Infrastructure. Current infrastructure is unlikely to be able to accommodate urban air mobility at scale. Achieving the 4,000-passengers-per-hour throughput required will need custom-built, large-scale infrastructure. While technically feasible, these structures would require prime real estate in densely populated urban environments.

Cost. With scale manufacturing techniques, autonomy and pool usage, Uber says aerial taxis could be cheaper than car ownership today, at $0.44 per passenger mile. L.E.K.’s analysis broadly aligns with these cost estimates. However, to meet these projections, it is necessary to assume a heavily utilised model at scale, with minimal infrastructure investment.

Public acceptance. Trust in any technology is critical to scalability. We expect early adopters being willing to try electric vertical takeoff and landing aircraft while early flights are piloted. However, with scale, a fully autonomous solution will be needed — and when autonomous aircraft are introduced, considerable work will be needed to drive customer acceptance.

“Whilst Uber’s piloted commercial launch plans may seem aggressive at first glance, they are operationally and technically feasible, and are very much in line with the likes of other industry participants Lilium and Airbus,” said L.E.K. principle and report author Natasha Santha. “Delivering a fully autonomous solution, however, will take several years and will be contingent on millions of incident-free flying kilometres to match the safety standards of other passenger aircraft.”

Additionally, the report identifies four key aspects to ensuring mass-market pricing, including:

Maximising utilisation by minimising turnaround times (i.e., maximum turnaround time at c.8-10 minutes).

Ensuring high load factors through ridesharing and retaining an average passenger capacity per trip of at least c.2-2.5 passengers.

Minimising fixed network costs by using existing infrastructure and attractive other investors to keep initial capital costs below c.$5 million-$10 million per skyport (i.e., takeoff and landing zone).

Ensuring efficient vehicle manufacture by keeping vehicle costs within the range of $1 million-$2.5 million.

“In the 2020s, we are likely to continue to see rollouts in new cities, regulatory change and further technological improvements,” said L.E.K. partner and report author George Woods.