Recent technological advances have only recently made Urban Air Mobility feasible as a realistic alternative to existing transport modes. Despite the growing interest, this disruptive service requires accurate strategic investments to ensure its viability in the short- and long-term. While airports have been identified as potential sites for vertiports, extending operations to the urban rest of the urban landscape is still an active area of research. To date, this problem has been addressed through eVTOL demand modelling and operations separately, with a complete breakdown of costs seldom considered. This research proposes a holistic approach to maximise returns of investment to ensure commercial viability of the UAM network. In doing so, this paper integrates a demand binary logit model and an operations model to solve the hub location problem. A case study based on South East England, which connects the central London and its surrounding cities with the UK's largest airports: Heathrow and Gatwick. Our findings suggest that networks with five vertiports, eVTOL prices 1.7 times that of taxis, 2 minutes waiting time, operated using two-seater short range vehicles would result in maximum returns. Further analysis indicates that the corresponding vertiport placement mainly included low land cost zones close to very high demand zones, and city periphery zones acting as 'park and ride' stations, with their combination resulting in a return of investment three times larger than typical investing indexes.
Imperial College London, August 2021