Yu Zhang, Ph.D., an Associate Professor at the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering and Affiliated Faculty of Center for Urban Transportation Research at the University of South Florida, is leading a series of studies on planning and implementation of Urban Air Mobility (UAM). UAM is an emerging concept proposed in recent years that uses electric vertical take-off and landing vehicles (eVTOLs) for transporting passengers and goods in urban and metropolitan areas by making use of low-altitude airspace. Lately, NASA expanded the concept of UAM to Advanced Air Mobility (AAM), which covers not only urban but all previously not served or underserved areas by aviation using new aircraft (not necessarily VTOLs). AAM includes UAM and many UAM suitable tools and technologies can be applied by widely–defined AAM as well.
One of Dr. Zhang’s studies focused on the network design and demand estimation of UAM, specifically, determining optimal locations of vertiports (sites where eVTOLs land, takeoff, and are charged) and estimate diverted demand of UAM from existing ground transportation modes by considering the interactions between vertiport locations and users’ travel mode choice. The study took five counties in Tampa Bay Area as the case study and used disaggregate demand data from activity-based modeling. The outcomes show that the percentage of travelers switching from existing ground transportation modes to UAM is small, however, these users bear lower generalized travel cost and avoid significant excessive travel time by taking UAM. And meanwhile, the travelers remaining on using ground transportation also benefit from slightly reduced travel time.
Dr. Zhang’s another study designed an Automated Advanced Air Mobility Flight Planning System (AAFPS) that could be used to enable Provider of Service to UAM (PSU) defined in FAA’s Concept of Operations v1.0 for Urban Air Mobility, third-party service providers that offer traffic management and information sharing for UAM operators. The AAFPS determines pre-departure conflict-free 4-D trajectories for UAM vehicles and offers real-time conflict resolution for UAM operations. The AAFPS is not only suitable for the corridor concept described in the FAA Concept of Operations v1.0 for early-stage UAM implementation but also serves the needs of future high–density UAM operations desiring point-to-point direct routes.
In a third study, Dr. Zhang took Tampa International Airport as the study airport to identify the potential location of vertiports on or near the airport and explore possible procedures for eVTOLs landing at and taking-off from these vertiports without interfering with the existing arrival and departures and without compromising the safety of airport operations. The study suggests dynamic procedures for UAM by closely monitoring the usage of airport runway configurations and developing an automated procedure assignment for UAM operations.
Ongoing UAM projects in Dr. Zhang’s Smart Urban Mobility Laboratory (SUM-Lab) include: modeling the environmental impact of UAM; understanding diverted and induced demand of UAM; developing a simulation platform for simulating UAM operations that could be used for fleet planning, operational scheduling, and policy scenario analysis. These on-going projects will also take Tampa Bay Region as the study area to demonstrate the proposed methodologies and simulation platform.
The first scheduled commercial airline flight was operated between Tampa and St. Petersburg on January 1, 1914, which shortened the travel time of more than 11 hours by rail to only 23 minutes. Tampa Bay Region now is ideal for the adoption of UAM services due to the geographical statistics and urban sprawl that occurred in the last several decades. Dr. Zhang’s research not only advances the literature in the academic field but also provides building blocks for real-world implementation of UAM.