Emissions Alert

electric vertical takeoff and landing aircraft illustration
Image courtesy of Dave Brenner/University of Michigan School for Environment and Sustainability

The notion that a small, electric-powered aircraft will spare the atmosphere of harmful emissions doesn’t hold up to reality.

A recent study by the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, in tandem with Ford Motor Co. in Dearborn, concluded that an electric vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) aircraft would cause as much or more emissions as an internal combustion engine in commutes of 60 miles or less, based on how electricity currently is generated.

“This study has received widespread national and international interest, particularly given the curiosity about their feasibility and the future potential of flying cars as a viable mobility option,” says Gregory Keoleian, senior author of the study and director of the Center for Sustainable Systems at U-M.

“We’ve cautioned against deployment that leads to unintended consequences. Public transit systems such as light rail are the most efficient modes of transportation. Buses can also perform well when they have high occupancy. If VTOL (aircraft) deployment shifts travel from these modes, it will be unfavorable from an environmental perspective.”

For trips longer than 60 miles, a fully loaded four-occupant VTOL aircraft results in fewer emissions than average-occupancy (1.54 passengers), ground-based internal combustion or electric vehicles, the study says. Keoleian adds that a single-occupant VTOL aircraft never produces lower emissions than a single-passenger electric vehicle.

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