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Where California Leads, Will a UAM Nation Follow?

Regulations, Sustainability, Operations, and, Oh Yeah -- Taxes

Where California Leads, Will a UAM Nation Follow?
By Nanci Mora

With nearly 40 million people (13 million of them in metropolitan Los Angeles, 3 million+ in San Diego, and approximately 2.5 million in the San Francisco Bay Area) covering 160,000+ square miles (roughly 423,000 square kilometers), the state is an ideal sandbox for the development of UAM and regional air mobility planning, implementation, and operations. That was the focus of a recent report, “Advanced Air Mobility: Opportunities, Challenges, and Research Needs for the State of California (2023-2030)” as part of the California Resilient and Innovative Mobility Initiative, a joint undertaking by the State of California and the University of California Institute of Transportation Studies

The Aircraft

The reporting was led by UC Berkeley’s (Cal’s) Adam Cohen, a survey researcher with the Transportation Sustainability Research Center, and Susan Shaheen, professor and co-director of the University’s Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Transportation Sustainability. “Advanced Air Mobility: Opportunities, Challenges, and Research needs for the State of California (2023-2030),” identifies the four aircraft industry professionals are familiar with: Short Take-Off and Landing (STOL), Small Uncrewed Aircraft Systems (sUAS, aka drones), Uncrewed Aircraft Vehicles (UAVs), and Vertical Take-Off and Landing and Electric (VTOL) Vertical Take-Off and Landing (eVTOL).

Operating Environment

Cohen and Shaheen et al confront the regulatory environment and the safety concerns therein which UAM must address: flights beyond approved airspace and in proximity to people and property which pose unsafe operating conditions; system failures which might lead to loss of control; cybersecurity risks; and, other hazards ranging from bird strikes to sudden weather changes, and sabotage.
Working with federal authorities, the California Department of Transportation (CalTrans), the study posits, can mitigate safety risks including wildlife management and grants funding UAM infrastructure, among other areas of concern. Those concerns include aural noise, visual noise, privacy and will require adequate infrastructure (such as charging stations), vertiports, and vertipads.

Forego the Taxes, Fund the Future

The State of California can foster this aviation revolution by providing tax incentives to businesses to grow, stay, or relocate to California. Tax credits could be dispensed to fund research and development and provide utility companies with incentives to produce the energy these (largely) electric-powered vehicles will require. The State can also skew outcomes to ensure lower-income communities can share in the benefits UAM will offer. Building permits will be required and the State can work through its interagency networks to ensure the wealth and the burdens are equitably shared.

In 1989, the Los Angeles Times reported, “As California Goes, So Goes the Nation, Alas.” Whether that holds up more than three decades later and beyond, remains to be seen when it comes to the future of UAM.

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Nanci Mora