The re-emergence of regional air mobility (Regional Air Mobility, RAM) could revolutionize short-haul travel. This trend is driven by innovative technology, a focus on sustainability, frustration with existing transport options and the emergence of mobility-as-a-service. From the study of McKinsey Aerospace and Defense shows that the market potential of this sector – in terms of passengers alone – is estimated to be 75-115 billion dollars by 2035, taking 300-700 million passengers per year.
According to McKinsey, more than 50 companies are investing in RAM startups and developing new aviation technologies, including green operations, digitization and autonomous flights. RAM uses underutilized regional airports and aims to provide a more economical, environmentally friendly and equitable transport model for distances between 150 and 800 km. The key factors enabling the growth of the RAM market, according to McKinsey, are the experience of seamless customer experience, mature aircraft technology, public acceptance, new energy infrastructure at smaller airports and a significant increase in regional fleets.
Electric flight: a sustainable solution for regional mobility within Europe
Trends show that RAM’s time has come, the report said. “The world will soon discover this revitalized form of aviation, which is more sustainable and makes use of the underutilized infrastructure we already have today. Short-haul flights will help stimulate economies outside major metropolitan centers. Material uncertainty remains about the future of RAM, but there is a clear path to help make strategic decisions and create value in a market whose time is right.
Changing industries with sustainable driving technologies
The results of the McKinsey study are consistent with previous research by Roland Berger. Despite the long-term decline of the regional aviation industry, investment in new regional aircraft that use sustainable energy has exploded over the past two years to more than $3 billion, the report said. “One important reason: short flights are very suitable for testing important technologies such as electricity, hydrogen and hybrid propulsion. However, there is still much to be done to unlock the full potential of this new generation of mobility.
Short flights are well suited for testing important technologies such as electric, hydrogen and hybrid power.
Experts and industry leaders are working to meet the challenges of technology to achieve versatility and make short-haul flights more environmentally friendly and cost-effective. About 400 development projects worldwide are focused on alternative propulsion for regional jets, most of which are based on electric or hybrid systems.
Electric propulsion is considered most suitable for short-range urban air mobility (Urban Air Mobility, UAM) and RAM markets, with hydrogen propulsion offering long range but limited by technological limitations of fuel cells and batteries. As the industry evolves, these new awareness systems will play an important role in reducing the environmental impact of space and achieving global sustainability goals.
Pioneering projects and companies in regional air mobility
Various projects and companies are leading in the development of regional air mobility. For example, the advanced air mobility market includes many vehicles, from small drones to regional jets for 19 or more passengers. RAM use cases include charter flights, cargo operations, feeder flights and new route testing.
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Interestingly, according to Roland Berger, the long-haul RAM segment dominates, with 35% of all projects targeting aircraft with a distance of more than 300 km but less than 19 passengers. This is surprising considering that most of the funding in 2021 went to the UAM or short sector of RAM. However, investors are betting on more established short-range UAM projects, with the intention of expanding their scope once the technology is ready and the market matures.
Government policies and regulations play an important role in implementing and introducing sustainable mobility technologies in air mobility. With governments and the public increasingly focusing on sustainability, new initiatives and policy frameworks are being developed to reduce the impact of aviation on the climate. For example, hydrogen propulsion for regional use could provide a range of over 2000 km, covering 70% of all European transport capacity.
For an electric space, the entire ecosystem must come
However, several challenges must be addressed before RAM can become an attractive transportation option, “potentially leading to a $50 billion market” (less than half of McKinsey’s most optimistic estimates). These challenges include public acceptance, adoption of new technologies, investment in infrastructure (such as charging stations, connection to land transport networks and storage platforms) and access to renewable energy at competitive prices.
Scenarios for the future of regional air mobility
Considering the current state of the aerospace industry and technological development, there are three possible paths for the RAM market by 2050:
- Base case – a market of 25 billion dollars with long-term aerospace market growth of 4% CAGR and high prices of renewable energy.
- Best Case – $50 billion market with stable renewable energy prices and RAM ticket prices that compete with trains and cars.
- Side case – a $10 billion market with limited renewable energy, high energy prices and the growth of the aerospace market.
McKinsey is more optimistic:
Regardless of the specific results, it is clear that regional aviation has the potential to transform short-haul travel and lead the aviation industry to a more sustainable and efficient future.