Flying cabs are ready to take off, but cities are not ready for them

Flying cabs and drones that can transport people are expected to become commonplace in the skies over our cities in the near future. Major players in the aerospace and automotive industries, such as Boeing, Hyundai, Airbus and Toyota, are already developing fleets of these innovative vehicles. Europe and the U.S. are already laying the groundwork for a new era of urban mobility by developing new rules for operating air cabs. Australia is also preparing to follow suit.

Despite this, flying cabs face important scientific and safety challenges. One such problem is a phenomenon known as wind gusts, which can destabilize aircraft.

Dr. Abdulgani Mohamed and his team at RMIT University in Australia have devoted more than a decade to studying these dynamics and recently published their findings. According to their study, sudden gusts of wind that form around urban buildings can create serious safety problems for air cabs and drones.

This means that air cabs and drones operating in cities will need more power during takeoff and landing compared to operations in open spaces or airports. “These aircraft need powerful engines that can quickly change the thrust generated by the propellers to get the car back on course quickly, and that process requires more power,” Mohamed explained.

Mohamed and his team believe that countries around the world need to create weather-specific regulations for these Advanced Air Mobility (AAM) aircraft to ensure safety and reliability. This includes specifically addressing the problem of safely crossing the flow fields of buildings. Mohamed calls for wind modeling and site-specific measurements to identify hazardous regions.

“We need to identify hazardous areas to avoid when we choose to locate vertiports – where these vehicles will land and take off. Not only will this improve safety, but it will also reduce fleet downtime due to windy conditions,” he said.

It may also require modifying existing buildings to serve as dedicated vertiports. Modifying existing buildings to serve as such is the easiest solution. “Special vertiports mean we can integrate geometric design features to reduce the occurrence of hazardous flow conditions, and we’re looking into that in our current study,” he shared.

While Australia is still in the process of determining whether the Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) or the Bureau of Meteorology will address these safety and weather issues, one thing is clear: Flying cabs will need weather information at a much higher resolution and speed than they currently do for flight planning.

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