Monday Insight – December 6, 2021

On The Edge of Heresy

Battery/Electric Powered Aircraft:
There’s A Moral Responsibility To Consider

Over the next six months, all manner of paper mâché gurus will be tripping over each other to trumpet the next big thing in air transportation.

It’s called Advanced Air Mobility. The term “AAM” will be the next universal buzz-term for those in the know.

See, the panting projections are that there will be thousands of small, battery-powered air taxis whisking consumers silently and sustainably across metro areas and even entire regions. Sort of the 21st century reincarnation of the Checker cab, only with VTOL capabilities.

According to those who seem to possess more than our mere-mortal vision, we’re going to see millions of people happily buzzing across metro areas and across regions in these little flying machines, decimating CO2 and bringing us to a new Utopia of clean, socially-acceptable transportation.

It’s The New Dogma. Do Not Bring Up Pesky Questions. Now, whatever you do, do not under any circumstances doubt this wondrous future. The science has been decided… the need has been defined… the picture is drawn and the future is certain. The assumptions are in stone. By 2030, electric air taxis will be the new modality for short-haul transportation, we are assured.

And, the exciting kicker, they tell us, is that it will clean up the environment and be “sustainable.”

Careful – Some of This Is Intellectual Kool-Aid. Sorry to rain on this intellectual parade, but standing as far away as necessary not to get a contact high from whatever is being smoked in these discussions, there are several facts not in evidence in the AAM rapture.

One is logistics. There are no hard estimates of cost of this new modality… or of necessary regulation where they can and can’t operate. Or, little things like air traffic control. Not inconsequential. Take a foggy day over New York City and think about it, with or without all the new technology that’s being assumed.

Oh, not to get too excited about the mobility thing. These aren’t like taxis that can take folks from a house in Flushing to the apartment on West 66th to visit Lucy and Desi. No, they only can operate between “vertiports” – which may be limited due to available space. (On the top of skyscrapers? Not likely. One suggestion in that direction, and the pictures from the New York Air helicopter crash on the Pan Am Building will be front and center in the Times.) Getting to and from vertiports isn’t like hailing a cab on the curb. Not to imply that there isn’t value in the air taxi concept, but there are differences.

The other point not to be mentioned – prepare for a heretical statement – is that battery power, based on current and expected technology is not “sustainable.” It is dependent on pulling minerals out of the ground, just like is the case with fossil fuels. The main difference is that the process for battery minerals is hugely problematic from all aspects.

What is ignored is any discussion of the environmental, social and security issues surrounding the production, life span and disposition of the batteries that supposedly make this AAM miracle possible. These are huge. Any cursory investigation of these aspects reveals that there is a lot more work that needs to be done before the visions of electric cars and planes and transportation should be advanced any further.

The Total Environmental and Social Costs Are Being Ignored. Do not misread this. There are roles for alternative power sources, and battery/electric is certainly one. But there are major fundamental problems that are being unconscionably ignored. Not just problems, but threats to the environment and to social justice and to national security in regard to battery technology.

For starters, do a quick search of the sources of cobalt- a necessary mineral for batteries under current technology. Take a look at how it is mined, who is doing it, and who is controlling it. Then draw your own conclusions.

Along with promulgation of the wonders of air taxis and short-haul flying, there is also the responsibility of assuring that these major challenges are aggressively resolved.

Here’s the bottom line: until these issues are addressed, the expansion and use battery power should be carefully restricted.

We’ve covered this in the latest Aviation Unscripted video, as well as an earlier review in May.

We’d strongly suggest that airports and communities take a look, because this will be a fundamental issue in future aviation facility development. Click here.

And don’t hesitate to let us know your thoughts.


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