Cities and regions in the spotlight at Amsterdam Drone Week
Aeroplanes? Cities? Except for airports, nothing there to look for! Well... are you sure about it?
Mobility services through the urban airspace - understanding the low-level airspace just above buildings, roads, and people in cities - are investigated by a multitude of stakeholders. And experts say Urban Air Mobility (UAM) will become a reality within the next three to five years (!).
But how enthusiastic are citizens to get pizza delivered to their gardens or to climb on air taxis and fly over congested roads to be on time for their appointment? And how safe would all these operations be? Who is liable in case of an accident? So many questions have been raised by the irruption of a whole universe in the urban mobility ecosystem: the aviation universe.
Regulated initially at the national level exclusively, with standards and guidelines developed at the international level, it is progressively being harmonised through European policy and legislation. And with potential services coming closer to cities' grounds, local authorities have a word to say.
For this reason, the 2021 U-Space regulatory framework adopted by the European Commission forces member states to collaborate with local authorities for the definition of:
- the airspace volume localisation above cities where air mobility services can be provided;
- the restrictions to apply in this designated airspace volume;
- the benefits to mandatorily provide in this airspace volume to ensure safe mobility operations.
With this in mind, key stakeholders involved in airspace operations are now looking at local authorities: civil aviation authorities, air traffic controllers, vertiport designers and operators, air navigation service providers, aircraft operators, aircraft manufacturers, and many more.
This week, the Amsterdam Drone Week (the annual gathering of the global UAM ecosystem) included a specific Cities & Regions stage where several European and global regional governments and municipalities were invited to speak along the three days event. Most of these sessions were coordinated by the UAM initiative Cities Community (UIC2), led by Vassilis Agouridas. POLIS was well represented by Secretary General Karen Vancluysen, who discussed UAM in sustainable urban mobility with the city of Amsterdam, the International Federation of Pedestrians, EIT Urban Mobility, ERTICO, and Rupprecht Consult. POLIS members from Madrid City Council, Rotterdam, and the Örebro region were convened in a panel on the implementation of innovative air mobility services. The Paris Region was invited to speak about the use of air mobility services planned for the Olympic Games in the summer 2024. Berlin and Amsterdam presented use cases for implementation in German and Dutch cities, while Brussels addressed the issue of cybersecurity, and Rotterdam additionally showcased air mobility support for urban maritime services.
Climax of the POLIS show, our member the Province of North Holland organised a whole session on the integration of Air Mobility in an urban environment from a Californian perspective, based on their "Coast to Coast" partnership with the State of California in the USA. A delegation of stakeholders including State representatives, researchers, NASA and UAM experts, and the city of San Jose came to the event to explain the collaboration challenges they face, in parallel to the difficult regulation process of an emerging sector, and the very much needed capacity building at authority level. Perceiving the great mutual learning opportunities between European and American cities, they pushed their trip to Brussels, where POLIS supported their introduction to the European UAM landscape. Grounds for a great collaboration among the network members on this topic!
Another key collaboration for POLIS focuses on research and innovation projects supporting the development of relevant UAM services. Involved in the already-ended EU-funded project USEPE, POLIS collaborated with other EU-funded projects AiRMOUR, AURORA, and FlyingForward2020 to assess citizens' perspectives on UAM services. At Drone Week, they discussed in a session on UAM challenges and opportunities the role cities should have in its implementation, based on the knowledge and results gathered from their use cases in various European cities. More insights on this fundamental topic for POLIS members are available on their social media.
This is a rising topic, and POLIS has a key role to play in helping cities build capacity to address the upcoming challenges. From multimodal integration to collaboration between all interested authority departments, not forgetting citizen engagement and research procurement, there is a lot to deal with.
In our upcoming projects MAIA (Multimodal Access for Intelligent Airports) and MUSE (Measuring U-Space Social and Environmental Impact), we will specifically address the connectivity of airports with other mobility infrastructures in the city, and the definition of indicators and methods to assess the impact of UAM in cities and regions.