UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) engaged EAMaven to analyse 20 potential routes across the UK to assess the viability of advanced air mobility (AAM) in the UK, and chose 14 electric conventional take-off and landing (eCTOL) and six eVTOL routes.
These routes met a range of criteria including the Government’s Levelling Up and Northern Powerhouse agenda, and the Union Connectivity Review. Using a range of data sources and a bespoke AAM demand model, EAMaven determined the number of passengers who would switch from traditional road and rail modes of travel to AAM services.
The company found that in many cases, it had theoretical load factors above 100%, suggesting an induced demand effect which is down to the new service being offered and the significant time savings achieved.
It identified 390 potential routes with one airport having 28 routes which include both eVTOL and eCTOL routes, and estimated that over five million passengers per week could travel on these services where a large proportion of them would come from people travelling by car, helping to decarbonise regional travel in the UK.
The number of aircraft required will be 224 in total, made up of 160 four-passenger eVTOL and 64 19-passenger eCTOL aircraft. Annual revenue generation is estimated at £704 million per year, equating to just over £3.1 million revenue per aircraft. Average aircraft utilisation is 1,854 hours per year, while eVTOL are flown 1,965 hours per year and eCTOL 1,581 hours per year on average.
Through increased productivity, £2.6 million per week was put back into the economy, or £124 million annually, using Department for Transport (DfT) WebTAG benchmarks. Time savings amounted to 11 person years per week, or 528 person years annually. Based on attracting travellers away from car journeys, EAMaven calculated that carbon emissions from cars would be reduced by 9,000 tonnes annually.
The Economics of Hydrocarbon Aviation v Electric Aviation
As engine technology evolved, the efficiency and complexity of hydrocarbon-powered aircraft increased, requiring aircraft to become larger, carrying more passengers over longer distances. Consequently, large hub-and-spoke airport systems were a natural economic outcome.
Conversely, electric aircraft, due to their lower capital, operating, and maintenance cost, will be able to operate out of smaller airfields at lower costs, which may also be closer to the passenger’s true origins and destinations.
An analysis of regional jet and turboprop aircraft operations in Europe in 2017 shows a trend whereby regional aircraft manufacturers are developing aircraft with increased range and seat capacity, whereas airlines’ peak average sector length was only 370 km accounting for 47% of the frequencies offered.
In this case, aircraft with a range of up to 4,500 km are being operated on sectors of up to 1,000 km, or only 11% of their range capability. Electric aircraft can operate in this ‘sweet spot’, which are those routes below 500 km in distance, thus addressing 5% of aviation carbon emissions.
The study demonstrates the frequencies accessible on the selected origin-and-destination (OD) pairs as an indication of how electric aircraft can contribute to regional connectivity, while reducing the carbon impact of travel.
The study also identifies the potential revenue generated by flights, as well as the economic stimulation that is attributed to increased productivity of travellers spending less time in a car or on a train. The following table sets out the OD pairs, with distance, driving/public transport time, aircraft type and travel time for AAM modes of transport.
Estimation of Demand
The following table sets out the demand assessment between the 20 OD pairs which was taken through an iterative process to smooth peak demand and account for the effect of scheduling on demand.
Across the 20 routes, a total of 528,000 trips were undertaken during the study week, before being assessed using a bespoke approach to demand modelling. The method considers a shifting of some demand during the peak periods to account for a scheduling effect whereby, as passengers achieve more usable hours during their day, more are willing to shift their departure time.
In many cases, a load factor of more than 100% is calculated – which is the lost custom due to the scheduling exercise, in that there is more demand than supply. Load factors of greater than 100% could be inferred to be an ‘induced demand’ caused by providing this new service.
For this analysis, the estimated carbon emissions for electric aviation flights were derived using publicly available information from electric aircraft manufacturers, and an estimation of the UK energy mix in 2024.
This information is used to calculate the estimated carbon emissions associated with the potential flights on the 20 routes assessed. Using DfT estimates of average passengers per car and average carbon emissions per kilometre, the estimated carbon emissions from road trips were calculated.
Time Savings and Increased Economic Efficiency
Across the routes, when assessing the time saved, the average for a single journey was about 2.4 hours – or 4.8 hours on a return flight. For an average working day of eight hours, this represents 60% of a working day. With reference to travel on public modes of transport in one week, a total of 67,000 hours could be saved, equivalent to 8.3 years.
For road users, the time savings is 21,000 hours or 2.4 years on a weekly basis. Combining the two modes means that, on a weekly basis, the time savings is equivalent to 10.7 years. On an annual basis, the potential time savings equates to approximately 528 years.
Using DfT WebTAG data, EAMaven estimated that the annual economic value of the time savings is approximately £124 million for both modes of transport. In the case of road users, the value used is higher as drivers are less productive than on rail.
It has been clear that there is not only a place for AAM services, but in many areas a real need. Each part of the research has shown a case for the introduction of these air services across a variety of UK regions to help support, and complement, existing transport infrastructure, with almost no exceptions.
This assessment focused predominantly on the economic scope for the introduction of this new technology, as this is often considered the bedrock on which its viability will be judged. While some more societal factors such as emissions and time saving are included, there is further opportunity to assess the wider social benefits of an AAM network by considering the benefits of greater connectivity and convenience in both rural and remote settings, and heavily-populated city-centre locations.
It is also important to remember there is still scope for substantially improving the results from this research further. Were a rational and efficiency-led operator to run an AAM network that is adaptive to the specific needs, demand and costs of designated routes to maximise their effectiveness, the case becomes ever more compelling for supporting UK transport routes with AAM aircraft.