Pictures like these are becoming familiar. We are told drones and air taxis will soon become commonplace in our skies. We are told the problems of noise and security will be sorted out. We are told they will ease traffic congestion on our roads. We are told they are essential to delivering medicines in emergencies and that they will have particular benefits for poorer countries. But there is still lot of uncertainty about many of these claims.
This briefing examines whether the claims made about drones and air taxis are accurate.
- The term Advanced Air Mobility is confusing. Air taxis are aircraft. Drones are buzzing machines.
- They are promoted on their ability to deal with health emergencies and deliver goods in countries with poor transport infrastructure (which they do) but the business case is built on the delivery of meals, coffees and beers.
- At present, drone noise may not be a problem but a swarm of drones buzzing overhead will be very different. And air taxis are not quiet.
- Noise regulations should be in place before the machines take to the skies.
- As our city roads become quieter, the noise of the drones and air taxis will be more noticeable.
- The impact on birds and wildlife is unknown.
- Jobs created may mean jobs lost elsewhere. While any new business sector will create jobs, it may not increase overall employment if it means jobs are lost in other sectors of the economy.
- Safety and security concerns remain.
A Mass Transport System in the Sky
The big selling point of drones and air taxis is their health benefits but this masks the fact that in Europe the business case is built on the transport of meals and coffee.
Advanced Air Mobility, as drones and air taxis are now called, is a meaningless term to most people. Air taxis are a type of aircraft which can carry both passengers and freight. Drones are relatively small machines which buzz around above our heads.
‘Health-washing’ seems to be taking place. Drones and air taxis can be very beneficial in dealing with health emergencies, in delivering to remote places where roads and railways may be poor and in photographing sites for new developments but the industry is clear: the business case, certainly in Europe, is built on commercial deliveries of things like meals, coffees and even beers.
The noise impact of drones swarming above our heads every day and of air taxis making regular trips is unknown. The industry acknowledges that it does not know whether the noise will be acceptable to the public.
As our city roads become quieter, the noise of the drones and air taxis will be more noticeable. The introduction of electric cars and, in many towns and cities, of lower speed limits and of measures to encourage more cycling, walking and public transport will mean that noise from road traffic is reduced.
Noise regulations need tobe in place before permission is given for the large-scale use of drones and flying taxis. We should not be repeating the mistakes of the past. Politicians need to take action before there is a problem.
The impact on birds and wildlife is unknown. Birds and wildlife could well see drones as predators. Serious work is needed into this.
Jobs created may mean jobs lost elsewhere. While any new business sector will create jobs, it may not increase overall employment if it means jobs are lost in other sectors of the economy. Jobs in drone delivery and air taxi transport will mean job losses in surface level transport. It is pure speculation to suggest that the total number of jobs will increase. What is clear is that the job losses will largely involve unskilled workers while the gains will be in the skilled sectors.
Safety and security concerns remain. Most people accept that the chances of conventional aircraft crashing are now low. But ‘unmanned’ drones swarming low above our homes is a different matter. What regulations are in place? Fears increase with the industry’s stated aim that in due course it plans to operate the air taxis without pilots. On security, the industry says that the delivery drones will not have cameras – they will be guided by laser lights – but people would be more reassured if every drone had an identifiable marking.