"New York City Sunrise September 16 2015" by Anthony Quintano is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Regional Sky Transit

Regional Sky Transit (RST) is the name for a new transportation system made feasible by autonomous electric air vehicles.

RST would offer safe, affordable, emission-free flights of up to 100 miles in ultra-quiet, autonomous “Sky Taxis” that offer trip speeds about 4 times faster than by car. Using high-proximity pocket airparks that are roughly the size of a soccer field, RST would connect communities across urban mega-regions. RST users would pay no bridge toll, fuel cost, parking fees or tolls, and would have no waiting for ticketing, security or boarding. Using a mobile phone ride-sharing app, they would reserve and board a two-seat Sky Taxi and be airborne in under 2 minutes. Users would enjoy a panoramic field of view of the landscape passing below and work or play using free onboard Wi-Fi.

Two-person Sky Taxi

RST would complement surface transit as well as airline travel with pocket airparks co-located at bus, rail and major airline hubs. The capacity and distribution of RST would effectively extend other rail systems without the high cost of adding tracks, for RST’s highways in the sky would cost nothing. Importantly, in residential areas, Sky Taxi noise would be imperceptible outside the airpark perimeter fence. Sky Taxis would be available 6 AM to 11 PM every day to all segments of the population: workers, students, tourists, the elderly, the disabled and even the blind.

Highly distributed, low-cost pocket airparks would be business magnets for tenants like FedEx and Starbucks that would both pay rent and enhance local sales tax revenues. Urban greenbelts would make more sense as people sought to live and work within walking distance of pocket airparks. Sky Taxis could reach remote areas in developing countries without having to build roads and bridges, and could aid evacuation and relief efforts in case of natural disaster.

To realize these substantial environmental, governmental and societal benefits will first require bringing about a mission-capable Sky Taxi. In California’s Silicon Valley area alone there are 7 startup companies in a headlong rush to do so. These include Airbus, Google and Aurora Flight Sciences. Uber, a $65B company, has declared that it would buy and operate the first successful Sky Taxis. Each company is designing its own version of a Sky Taxi without coordination with any standards for community noise, airpark size/proximity, system capacity, charging stations, etc.

Just as it was crucial to set standards for the gauge of early railroad tracks, standards will be essential to rapidly implementing community-acceptable RST, particularly noise standards, because they will dictate both Sky Taxi and airpark design.

Happily, the peer-reviewed AIAA studies by the non-profit Sustainable Aviation Foundation (SA) have identified the essential standards for RST—the crucial goal/metrics that ensure that RST becomes affordable, high-capacity, non-gentrified, public transit. SA has embedded these goals into its “Sustainable Aviation Challenge” (SAC), the tech prize to evince the ideal Sky Taxi. The SAC will be a high-tech festival, a STEM Olympics that attracts innovative Sky Taxis from teams from across the globe. They will all come to demonstrate their surpassing performance in combining safety and speed with expeditious ultra-quiet short take offs. The high-leverage SAC will publicly prove the limits of what can be achieved and will greatly accelerate the realization of RST. The annual SA Symposium in San Francisco provides the crucial program support for the SAC by converging and advancing all of the technologies necessary to RST.

The SAC and SA Symposium aim to make RST happen fast. Together, they offer a unique opportunity to simultaneously address the urgent issues of climate change, surface gridlock, high infrastructure costs, and the need for renewable energy and seize the lead in the electric aircraft movement. Let’s start the conversation!

Traffic Problems

Despite earnest and informed government efforts, public transit has consistently failed to take enough cars off the road to eliminate surface gridlock. Public transit is expensive to build and requires fare subsidies in order to win meaningful levels of ridership. ARB Board Member Dan Sperling, the Founder of the Institute for Transportation Studies at UC Davis, in his book Two Billion Cars (p 176) clearly states, “Virtually all [government] attempts to get Americans out of their cars have failed.

In 2015, Secretary of the Department of Transportation, Anthony Foxx lamented that the US transportation system is “in a huge ditch” due to unfunded and deferred infrastructure maintenance. He stated publicly thatIn the next 30 years, 75% of the population will live in metro mega-regions . . [and] Multi-modal systems are going to be needed . . ”.

NHTS and DOT data clearly show an inexorable slowing of average commute trip speeds, which in metro areas have now fallen to just 22 mph when the 43% uncertainty time is included. This imposes a huge cost to both productivity and GHG emissions. Climate change and air quality concerns increasingly demand that transportation converts to electric vehicles and stop wasting fuel in gridlock.

Tom Vanderbilt, in his book “Traffic” (p 166) points out that “. . . in a world of bottlenecks, small changes can have big effects (a 5 percent drop in traffic, it is said, can increase speeds by 50 percent …” Herein lies one great promise of RST. At 10% ridership of inter-county travelers, emission-free RST could undo surface gridlock and quadruple trip speeds for its users—a huge win-win. And, compared to BART tracks that cost $1B per mile, the 4-times-faster RST would use ‘highways in the sky’ that cost $0 per mile and yet could haul more people than BART.

About the Sustainable Aviation Foundation

The non-profit Sustainable Aviation Foundation (SA) is uniquely qualified to guide the development of the ideal Sky Taxi. SA’s volunteer Board Members are the founding stewards of the electric aircraft movement and they are each pilots and builders of experimental aircraft. Together, they have over 120 years experience in aviation. Board Member Tyler MacCready helped his father, the late Dr. Paul MacCready, win the Kremer Prize for human-powered flight in California in 1978. Tyler is now CEO of Apium, a company developing autonomous vehicles. Board Member Wayne Cook built his own aircraft and has repeatedly won re-election as President of the Experimental Aircraft Association in Sonoma County.

After hand-building a freeway-legal electric car in 1973, founding and presiding at the CAFE Foundation for 34 years, and chairing the first-ever electric aircraft symposium in 2007, SA President Dr. Brien Seeley now chairs the annual Sustainable Aviation Symposium dedicated to advancing the RST system that he introduced in his peer-reviewed AIAA paper in 2015. His papers on Regional Sky Transit prompted AIAA to name him as Chair for AIAA’s Transformational Flight Program Session at SCITECH 2017. Dr. Seeley also wrote and chaired the 2011 NASA Green Flight Challenge (GFC), aviation’s largest ever tech prize.

The GFC was won by a 4-seat pure electric aircraft that, using geothermal energy, flew the 200-mile course above Sonoma County at 107 mph while getting 403 passenger miles per gallon. NASA called the GFC “A Lindbergh Moment” and “the Dawn of the Age of Electric Flight”. The GFC was so successful in leveraging taxpayer dollars, that the Obama White House issued an order through OSTP that all Cabinet Agencies should use tech prizes to achieve their future goals. Accordingly, SA has created its new tech prize, the Sustainable Aviation Challenge, to bring forth the ideal practical Sky Taxi for RST.

You can read more about Regional Sky Transit in these AIAA papers:
Regional Sky Transit – AIAA 2015
Regional Sky Transit II – AIAA 2016
Regional Sky Transit III – The Primacy of Noise – AIAA 2017