How robotic air taxis and robotic air commuter services could be rolled out

Automated suburban air vehicles (SAV) should be technically ready by 2015 with low noise electric or highly fuel efficient systems. They could be deployed in some moderate volume of a few thousand per year by 2020.

Here I will consider how an air taxi and air commuter service could be rolled out in the San Francisco Bay Area (which includes San Jose, Oakland and other cities).

There are many airports in the area besides the three main international airports.

The following General Aviation airports have sufficient traffic volume to have an air traffic control tower. These airports have Class D airspace.

* Concord/Buchanan Field Airport (KCCR) in Concord, Contra Costa County
* Hayward Executive Airport (KHWD) in Hayward, Alameda County
* Livermore Municipal Airport (KLVK) in Livermore, Alameda County
* Napa County Airport (KAPC) in Napa, Napa County
* Palo Alto Airport (KPAO) in Palo Alto, Santa Clara County
* Reid-Hillview Airport (KRHV) in San Jose, Santa Clara County
* San Carlos Airport (KSQL) in San Carlos, San Mateo County
* Charles M. Schulz – Sonoma County Airport (KSTS) in Santa Rosa, Sonoma County – served by a commercial airline, Horizon Air

General Aviation non-towered airports
South County Airport

The following airports do not have control towers but are listed by their owners as open to the public. Pilots announce runway and airspace usage via direct radio contact. These airports have Class E airspace for those which have an FAA-published instrument approach procedure, or Class G airspace otherwise.

* Angwin-Parrett Field (2O3) in Angwin, Napa County
* Byron Airport (C83) in Byron, Contra Costa County
* Cloverdale Municipal Airport (O60) in Cloverdale, Sonoma County
* Gnoss Field (KDVO) in Novato, Marin County
* Half Moon Bay Airport (KHAF) in Half Moon Bay, San Mateo County
* Healdsburg Municipal Airport (O31) in Healdsburg, Sonoma County
* Hollister Municipal Airport (KCVH) in Hollister, San Benito County
* Nut Tree Airport (KVCB) in Vacaville, Solano County
* Petaluma Municipal Airport (O69) in Petaluma, Sonoma County
* Rio Vista Municipal Airport (O88) in Rio Vista, Solano County
* Sonoma Skypark (0Q9) in Sonoma, Sonoma County
* Sonoma Valley Airport (0Q3) in Sonoma, Sonoma County
* South County Airport (E16) in San Martin, Santa Clara County
* Watsonville Municipal Airport (KWVI) in Watsonville, Santa Cruz County

The following airports are operated by the federal government and are not open to the public. These airports have Class D airspace.

* Moffett Federal Airfield (KNUQ) in Mountain View and Sunnyvale, Santa Clara County
* Travis Air Force Base (KSUU) in Fairfield, Solano County

Those facilities have parking and have airspace clearance and it would be relatively easy to upgrade them as air commuter nodes.

For new pocket airports of two, twelve and twenty-five acres in size:
There would need to be a bidding and certification process to allow new mini-airports to be built. The FAA and other regulatory bodies would need to be involved. It should be part of a larger national and regional transportation plan.

I would first look to enhancing the existing transportation system.

The transfer stations at Millbrae, Daly City, MacArthur and Bay Fair would make sense to connect with Air bridges. Cross Bay air bridges would make sense to reduce travel times from 1.5 to 2.5 hours to 15-30 minutes.

There is a 55 page essay from the CAFE foundation about pocket airports and suburban air vehicles.

Experts predict that ground travel delays due to surface gridlock will get substantially worse in the next 20 years. Door-to-door trip speeds in the Los Angeles Basin, for example, are predicted to be just 22 mph in the next 10 years.

Unlike surface transportation, flying can provide highways in the sky with unlimited numbers of lanes and overpasses, off-ramps and merges. A highway in the sky is never blocked by accidents, toxic spills, “rubberneckers” or pedestrians. It can be dynamically reconfigured instantly and does not require public purchase of expensive land that must be permanently removed from open spaces or any other use. Unlike paving with asphalt and the urban heat islands it creates, building aeronautical highways does not require millions of barrels of crude oil. The JPDO is already planning such pathways in America’s NextGen air traffic system and similar efforts are underway in Australia.

The transformation of aviation enabled by SAVs is predicated upon the concept of “pocket airports” and heliports, affordable parcels as small as 2 acres that can be situated within a very short distance from one’s destination doorstep. That short distance, modeled here as just 3 miles or less, can be traveled by walking, biking, golf cart or DOT 500 vehicles on low-traffic residential streets.

According to the Metropolitan Transportation Commission statistics, there are 88,500 road vehicles that cross either the Golden Gate Bridge or Richmond San Rafael Bridge every morning during commute hours in Northern California. Vehicles from Sonoma County comprise 13,500 of those morning bridge crossings. In accordance with traffic flow studies that show gridlock to be relieved by as little as 4% reduction in vehicle traffic, it appears that removing 3500 of those 88,500 morning bridge crossings could undo the surface gridlock that plagues commuters there. That county’s morning gridlock ranks as the second worst in all of Northern California.

Assuming the same average occupancy rate as surface traffic, 3500 commuting SAVs operating each morning from pocket airports in Sonoma County could undo the surface gridlock there. Simply put, this would entail 350 aircraft departures from each of 10 pocket airports. If those airports were like the 12 acre

where 240 operations per hour are possible, each airport could depart its 350 aircraft in 1.5 hours, such as between 6:30 AM and 8:00 AM. Alternatively, a more distributed network of 20 smaller pocket airports could be used. The already-existing 6 CTOL airports in Sonoma County, although somewhat remote from city centers, could make the county’s future need for additional pocket airports more easily met.

The network of pocket airport infrastructure necessary to realize this model would cost only a fraction of the cost of adding lanes to the existing freeways, which typically cost $20M per mile. These cost savings are even more impressive when compared to subsidized transit systems, as evidenced by the recent cost of a Bay Area Rapid Transit extension that cost $161M per mile.

The great promise of GQ V/ESTOL aircraft as a transportation solution is that they can complement commercial air travel by restoring its door-to-door trip speeds, by eliminating ground travel delays. The Green Flight Challenge program can efficiently promote such transformative aircraft as a path toward a potentially enormous new market. GFC can trump the Innovator’s Dilemma that afflicts civil aviation today.

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