Advanced air mobility (AAM) could generate as much as $13 billion in economic activity in the state of Ohio over the next 25 years — but only if this new generation of electric aircraft delivers on its promise to be much quieter and less obtrusive than today’s helicopters.
That’s according to an economic impact analysis prepared by Crown Consulting in collaboration with NEXA Capital Partners and the University of Cincinnati. The Ohio Department of Transportation commissioned the study last year as part of the state’s effort to “develop the transportation system of the 21st century.”
Crown and its research partners examined two broad opportunities for the seventh most populous state in the U.S. — AAM services that use mostly larger eVTOL aircraft to move people and cargo; and small unmanned aircraft systems (sUAS) that can be used for delivery of lightweight packages, infrastructure inspections, and other purposes.
The researchers used interviews, surveys, and assessments of Ohio’s existing transportation infrastructure to identify the six most likely AAM use cases: on-demand air taxi, regional air mobility, airport shuttle, emergency medical services, corporate/business aviation, and cargo and freight delivery.
Seven high-potential use cases were identified for sUAS, including various types of infrastructure inspections, public safety, agriculture, and delivery of packages and medical supplies.
The researchers predict that the economic activity generated in Ohio by AAM will grow steadily over the next two-and-a-half decades, from $400 million in the 2020-2024 timeframe, to $5.1 billion between 2041 and 2045, when passenger use cases involving AAM aircraft will be fairly mature. They expect that 7.2 million such passenger trips will be made in Ohio in 2045.
“These statewide figures prove AAM to be a profitable business over the 25-year period, which is crucial to the development of initial infrastructure that could be funded by government initiatives, private sector investments, or a combination through public private partnership models,” their report states. “It is concluded that with a profitable long-term business model, investors can safely provide funding for AAM development knowing they will receive their returns in the future.”
The researchers also predict that AAM activity will create 15,000 new jobs, $2.5 billion in tax revenues, and 1.6% in gross domestic product growth over the 25-year period.
Compared to AAM, sUAS are not expected to generate substantial numbers of jobs or revenue, but they still promise benefits in efficiency and productivity, explained Rubén Del Rosario, Crown’s senior director, Aerospace Systems. During a video briefing of the study results on June 8, he said that “all the non-passenger small UAS use cases would provide significant benefit by making more efficient use of resources, improving productivity, enabling higher fidelity of data, increasing societal benefits such as workplace safety, and diminishing environmental impact.”
Both AAM and sUAS could also have beneficial catalytic impacts, including improved labor market efficiencies, better suburban/rural connectivity, increased educational opportunities, and accelerated demand for alternative power sources such as hydrogen.
The report recommends that Ohio take targeted steps now to support the growth of the AAM sector. These include establishing a strategic, policy, and legislative framework for AAM implementation; supporting pilot programs and local AAM planning initiatives; demonstrating national leadership through Ohio-based AAM projects; and positioning Ohio to attract participants within various AAM supply chains.
Even if Ohio adopts these recommendations, Del Rosario cautioned, there are still a number of barriers that could forestall widespread adoption of AAM and sUAS. For the Ohio study, his team focused specifically on noise, as the economic benefits of eVTOL aircraft could be “severely limited” if they create unacceptable noise pollution in their operational communities.
“AAM and small UAS will make noise unlike any existing aircraft or helicopter, and the human response to this noise signature is still not completely known,” Del Rosario said. For that reason, the study recommends that Ohio become proactively involved in gathering and disseminating acoustic data, incuding by incentivizing companies “to fly their sUAS and AAM systems at the Ohio UAS Center to generate acoustic data for sharing with the broader community.”