Urban Air Mobility (UAM)

Introduction

Urban air mobility (UAM), its emerging associated technologies, albeit some of them are not entirely new, and regulatory frameworks, as well as the opportunities they promise to open for various urban stakeholders, can without doubt claim to be innovative. Yet, UAM is not only an element of aviation and mobility technologies advancement but predominantly about mobility planning and urban developmentin the context of improved wellbeing of citizens.

To this end, UAM may feature prominently in the formation of urban innovation and sustainable transition strategies. A core question, cities and regions face, is: how should UAM be integrated in higher level urban mobility planning? Or, in more practical terms: which role should UAM assume in existing, or envisioned, urban transportation systems?

Furthermore, when considering the implementation of urban air mobility, cities and regions face more than the challenges of designing and developing the related physical and digital tools and infrastructure. Key challenges arise from the need to estimate not only the direct and apparent costs and benefits from developing the third (vertical) dimension of space but also the pertinent positive and negative externalities. In this context, the wider societal embracement needs to be nurtured. That is including not only the direct costs and benefits in terms of user adoption of a new mobility mode but also the indirect costs and benefits in terms of the wider embracement of the new mode by the citizens being users or non-users of UAM services.

The above highlight the importance of the readiness of local authorities to take action and responsibility in the field of introducing modern technologiestechnologies, such as UAM related technologies, for shaping new, or improving existing, services for their citizens. This also includes, for example, their legislative readiness, their capacity to support the planning, modeling and implementation of UAM services into the sustainable urban development plan (SUMP) process, as well as proactively create and deploy tools for involving citizens in the UAM co-creation process; this is why UIC2 - the UAM Initiative Cities Community - was established in 2017. Its members are only cities or regions, that are driving the development of their local ecosystems by engaging and involving a variety of stakeholders from the academic, industrial and institutional/governmental domains.

Description

Main Goal: The mission of UIC2 is to drive the sustainable and secure transition of urban mobility to the vertical dimension. 

Context: The Urban-Air-Mobility Initiative Cities Community (UIC2), was established in October 2017 within EU's Smart Cities Marketplace. In September 2022, the 5 th Anniversary of the UIC2 was celebrated with its transition to the EU’s CIVITAS Initiative, shaping in this way the CIVITAS Urban Air Mobility Thematic Cluster under the CIVITAS Thematic Area of Demand and Urban Space Management.

UIC2 is a city/region-centric and citizens’ needs-driven community making the voice of the European urban/regional communities heard in the emerging sector of urban air mobility. UIC2 fosters collaboration across disciplines and sectors pertinent to UAM with the aim to jointly shape the future of UAM services. An overview of the UIC2 approach, activities and achievements can be found in a UIC2 presentation dated February 2022 (link to document found in the Documents section).

Map

As urban air mobility is a relatively newly introduced term, there is not a universally agreed and used definition of it. The definitions vary to the perspective of each stakeholder group. For example, EASA defines UAM as “an air transportation system for passengers and cargo in and around urban environments.” The UAM Initiative Cities Community (UIC2) defines UAM as:

‘‘Very-low altitude airborne traffic*, above populated areas, at scale, that is sustainably integrated with surface mobility systems’

*Traffic manifested by various types of suitable airborne vehicles.

UIC2 develops its work and positions on the acknowledgement that the cities and regions are best placed to define the fundamental characteristics of the UAM services to meet their citizens’ needs. Local authorities can, not only have an influential, or even deciding, role in the development of UAM infrastructure (physical and digital assets for UAM), but also in the co-shaping of UAM-related policy, regulatory and legislative issues; both at the national and European levels. For example, ongoing policy work led by the European Commission deals with the EU’s Smart Mobility Strategy and the recently announced Urban Mobility Framework (UMF) as well as the Drones Strategy 2.0. UIC2 has completed in December 2021 the first Practitioner Briefing on Urban Air Mobility and Sustainable Urban Mobility Planning (SUMP-UAM) published by Eltis, the EU’s mobility observatory.

Among the most significant challenges is integrating the UAM elements, such as vertiports and landing pads, into the city landscape from the point of urban planning, as well as of the city wellbeing, the planning and responsible usage of the low altitude airspace above metropolitan areas. The use and management of urban airspace has been a topic of priority for UIC2 members who presented the UIC2 Manifesto on the Multilevel Governance of the Urban Sky, in December 2020. This manifesto has had an influence on the shaping of Article 18(f) of the (EU) 2021/664 implementation regulation that enables local authorities and entities to actively participate and coordinate their activities with the U-space (low level airspace with drones traffic) competent authorities designated by Members States.

The preparation of UAM services requires consideration of many factors ranging from the aviation safety and security of operations to the integration to existing (or future) surface mobility services. To this end, when analysing the UAM environment, the key aspect is, apart from fundamental safety and security issues, to express and articulate public and wider societal benefits in various dimensions, such as improving the quality of life through, for example, improved medical care services, accessibility as well as economic and environmental aspects. A recent EASA study on the social acceptance of UAM, showed that Europeans clearly favour UAM use cases that have a distinct social benefit. This includes any kind of medical and emergency related transportation, including use cases for disaster management. The study also highlights the ten key takeaways on UAM societal acceptance

It should be noted that the social acceptance priorities may vary from city to city due to their, for example, cultural and geographical characteristics. In fact, the terms of public, social or user acceptance may prove insufficient to indicate the challenges from the introduction of a totally new mode of mobility. In fact, UIC2 coined the term ‘societal embracement’ back in 2018 to reflect the fact when dealing with future and scaled UAM services for the citizens of metropolitan areas the terms of user acceptance and public acceptance are insufficient. This is because these terms refer principally to either the user and customer adoption or, their concerns in terms of safety and security from the use new technologies linked to UAM. On the other hand, the term societal embracement indicates that a wider set of stakeholders in the society needs to be taken into consideration, going beyond the concept of users and customers to that of citizens (user and non-users). Subsequently, the term societal embracement implies, and requires, the establishment of a social contract in place that guarantees the society’s resilience in making the necessary cost- benefit/impact trade-offs.

Members of UIC2 are participating in numerous EU-funded projects on UAM. UIC2 follows the achievements of EU projects as several cities and regions involved in the UAM Initiative (UIC2) are also members of these projects (e.g. under the frameworks of Horizon2020, Horizon Europe, SESAR JU). That brings not only updated knowledge in topics such as managing the urban airspace in the context of U-space but also topics related to sustainable and integrated mobility as well as studies on societal embracement challenges and practices. In addition, UIC2 is in the Advisory Boards of most of the EU-funded UAM / U-space projects.

To know more contact us at: uam [at] civitas [dot] eu

Useful Links:

Management

Vassilis AGOURIDAS
Leader of the UIC2
uam [at] civitas [dot] eu

Documents

.eu web awards
covenantofmayors.eu
eltis
EPOMM
European Mobility Week
managenergy
Smart Cities Marketplace
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