Transportation

In addition to urban air mobility, why not rural air mobility?

Comment

Jeff Miller

Contributor

Jeff Miller is the retired executive vice president of marketing at Aerion Supersonic and an aerospace marketing consultant.

Personal air vehicles — those nifty electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) aircraft — have become one of the hottest aviation concepts since the Wright Flyer inspired a flood of competitors.

Touted as quieter, cleaner and cheaper than commercial helicopters, these electric air taxis promise to address city-dwellers’ mobility woes and have captured the attention of major aircraft and aerospace designers worldwide, including Bell Helicopter, Boeing and Airbus.

With hundreds of millions in startup capital flowing to a nascent urban air mobility (UAM) industry, we might pause to ask: Can these new eVTOL aircraft serve rural areas, too? Could they help lift economic prospects for the millions of people living outside of big cities? Should we be thinking beyond UAM to rural air mobility — RAM?

The initial focus of the 100 or more companies working to create eVTOL aircraft and related systems may help solve the pressing urban problems of congestion and gridlock. It’s no surprise that Silicon Valley entrepreneurs are in the thick of this pursuit, as their lives are directly affected by the terrible traffic their mushrooming enterprises help to create.

But there are good reasons to consider applying these technologies to rural America as well, or even first.  Rural residents face a host of logistical issues that have contributed to significant declines in rural population and economic stability in recent decades. If you’re living in a rural area, you’re almost certainly far away from specialized healthcare, let alone a GP. You’re a long way from community colleges and universities; and far from advanced manufacturing jobs, or knowledge-based desk jobs, or even the nearest Costco. Many rural towns are so hard to access, why would anyone want to expand or relocate a business there?

Already, we see the merits of bringing greater connectivity to rural areas, which is why rural broadband is subsidized to the tune of more than $700 million annually by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Rural air mobility could be part of a new infrastructure plan, should DC mandarins ever create one. The FAA’s Essential Air Service program for small communities, or something like it, could be expanded to include vertiports in towns and on farms or at small manufacturing facilities. RAM operators could receive essential air service subsidies, at least as part of test projects.

RAM clearly isn’t a panacea for every economic challenge facing rural America, but it may be part of the solution. Indeed, flying these RAM flying taxis around in wide-open areas and small towns may help refine the technologies required for denser airspace.

One big challenge for urban air vehicles is operating safely over heavily populated areas. They need to pretty reliably not crash. They need complex deconfliction traffic management. They need an infrastructure of lots of landing pads on prime real estate. These challenges, and many others, will need to be addressed before eVTOLs grace urban skylines.

Do these vehicles have the range and payload capacity to fly across vast rural counties and not just across San Francisco Bay? The Lilium Jet air taxi, according to its designers, will be capable of covering 300 km in 60 minutes.

Will we ever get an infrastructure initiative from Washington? Who knows. But if we do, I would advocate for RAM test programs in selected rural areas. And if the government won’t do it, private industry certainly has that capability — and an opportunity to refine valuable technologies in the process.

Remember, the Wright Flyer wasn’t perfected over New York City.

More TechCrunch

A Singapore High Court has effectively approved Pine Labs’ request to shift its operations to India.

Pine Labs gets Singapore court approval to shift base to India

Ahead of the AI safety summit kicking off in Seoul, South Korea later this week, its co-host the United Kingdom is expanding its own efforts in the field. The AI…

UK opens office in San Francisco to tackle AI risk

Companies are always looking for an edge, and searching for ways to encourage their employees to innovate. One way to do that is by running an internal hackathon around a…

Why companies are turning to internal hackathons

Featured Article

I’m rooting for Melinda French Gates to fix tech’s broken ‘brilliant jerk’ culture

Women in tech still face a shocking level of mistreatment at work. Melinda French Gates is one of the few working to change that.

14 hours ago
I’m rooting for Melinda French Gates to fix tech’s  broken ‘brilliant jerk’ culture

Blue Origin has successfully completed its NS-25 mission, resuming crewed flights for the first time in nearly two years. The mission brought six tourist crew members to the edge of…

Blue Origin successfully launches its first crewed mission since 2022

Creative Artists Agency (CAA), one of the top entertainment and sports talent agencies, is hoping to be at the forefront of AI protection services for celebrities in Hollywood. With many…

Hollywood agency CAA aims to help stars manage their own AI likenesses

Expedia says Rathi Murthy and Sreenivas Rachamadugu, respectively its CTO and senior vice president of core services product & engineering, are no longer employed at the travel booking company. In…

Expedia says two execs dismissed after ‘violation of company policy’

Welcome back to TechCrunch’s Week in Review. This week had two major events from OpenAI and Google. OpenAI’s spring update event saw the reveal of its new model, GPT-4o, which…

OpenAI and Google lay out their competing AI visions

When Jeffrey Wang posted to X asking if anyone wanted to go in on an order of fancy-but-affordable office nap pods, he didn’t expect the post to go viral.

With AI startups booming, nap pods and Silicon Valley hustle culture are back

OpenAI’s Superalignment team, responsible for developing ways to govern and steer “superintelligent” AI systems, was promised 20% of the company’s compute resources, according to a person from that team. But…

OpenAI created a team to control ‘superintelligent’ AI — then let it wither, source says

A new crop of early-stage startups — along with some recent VC investments — illustrates a niche emerging in the autonomous vehicle technology sector. Unlike the companies bringing robotaxis to…

VCs and the military are fueling self-driving startups that don’t need roads

When the founders of Sagetap, Sahil Khanna and Kevin Hughes, started working at early-stage enterprise software startups, they were surprised to find that the companies they worked at were trying…

Deal Dive: Sagetap looks to bring enterprise software sales into the 21st century

Keeping up with an industry as fast-moving as AI is a tall order. So until an AI can do it for you, here’s a handy roundup of recent stories in the world…

This Week in AI: OpenAI moves away from safety

After Apple loosened its App Store guidelines to permit game emulators, the retro game emulator Delta — an app 10 years in the making — hit the top of the…

Adobe comes after indie game emulator Delta for copying its logo

Meta is once again taking on its competitors by developing a feature that borrows concepts from others — in this case, BeReal and Snapchat. The company is developing a feature…

Meta’s latest experiment borrows from BeReal’s and Snapchat’s core ideas

Welcome to Startups Weekly! We’ve been drowning in AI news this week, with Google’s I/O setting the pace. And Elon Musk rages against the machine.

Startups Weekly: It’s the dawning of the age of AI — plus,  Musk is raging against the machine

IndieBio’s Bay Area incubator is about to debut its 15th cohort of biotech startups. We took special note of a few, which were making some major, bordering on ludicrous, claims…

IndieBio’s SF incubator lineup is making some wild biotech promises

YouTube TV has announced that its multiview feature for watching four streams at once is now available on Android phones and tablets. The Android launch comes two months after YouTube…

YouTube TV’s ‘multiview’ feature is now available on Android phones and tablets

Featured Article

Two Santa Cruz students uncover security bug that could let millions do their laundry for free

CSC ServiceWorks provides laundry machines to thousands of residential homes and universities, but the company ignored requests to fix a security bug.

3 days ago
Two Santa Cruz students uncover security bug that could let millions do their laundry for free

TechCrunch Disrupt 2024 is just around the corner, and the buzz is palpable. But what if we told you there’s a chance for you to not just attend, but also…

Harness the TechCrunch Effect: Host a Side Event at Disrupt 2024

Decks are all about telling a compelling story and Goodcarbon does a good job on that front. But there’s important information missing too.

Pitch Deck Teardown: Goodcarbon’s $5.5M seed deck

Slack is making it difficult for its customers if they want the company to stop using its data for model training.

Slack under attack over sneaky AI training policy

A Texas-based company that provides health insurance and benefit plans disclosed a data breach affecting almost 2.5 million people, some of whom had their Social Security number stolen. WebTPA said…

Healthcare company WebTPA discloses breach affecting 2.5 million people

Featured Article

Microsoft dodges UK antitrust scrutiny over its Mistral AI stake

Microsoft won’t be facing antitrust scrutiny in the U.K. over its recent investment into French AI startup Mistral AI.

3 days ago
Microsoft dodges UK antitrust scrutiny over its Mistral AI stake

Ember has partnered with HSBC in the U.K. so that the bank’s business customers can access Ember’s services from their online accounts.

Embedded finance is still trendy as accounting automation startup Ember partners with HSBC UK

Kudos uses AI to figure out consumer spending habits so it can then provide more personalized financial advice, like maximizing rewards and utilizing credit effectively.

Kudos lands $10M for an AI smart wallet that picks the best credit card for purchases

The EU’s warning comes after Microsoft failed to respond to a legally binding request for information that focused on its generative AI tools.

EU warns Microsoft it could be fined billions over missing GenAI risk info

The prospects for troubled banking-as-a-service startup Synapse have gone from bad to worse this week after a United States Trustee filed an emergency motion on Wednesday.  The trustee is asking…

A US Trustee wants troubled fintech Synapse to be liquidated via Chapter 7 bankruptcy, cites ‘gross mismanagement’

U.K.-based Seraphim Space is spinning up its 13th accelerator program, with nine participating companies working on a range of tech from propulsion to in-space manufacturing and space situational awareness. The…

Seraphim’s latest space accelerator welcomes nine companies

OpenAI has reached a deal with Reddit to use the social news site’s data for training AI models. In a blog post on OpenAI’s press relations site, the company said…

OpenAI inks deal to train AI on Reddit data