EU collaboration to improve urban air mobility

  • June 21, 2021
  • Steve Rogerson

Three EU-funded projects have formed a coalition to boost the development of urban air mobility (UAM) programmes using passenger and cargo-carrying drones in European cities.

Flying Forward 2020, Airmour and Aurora aim to create an end-to-end chain of UAM innovations and developments to improve the current urban airspace transport system in European cities.

The UAM industry in Europe has grown rapidly in recent years, owing to research and development (R&D) investments from organisations, academia, governments and the European Commission. The goal of these R&D activities is to provide cities with safe and efficient technology resulting in reduced carbon footprint. Using very-low altitude zero emission passenger or cargo-carrying drones enables cities to improve the quality of life of their citizens.

Currently, there is an urban airspace ecosystem consisting of various initiatives and EU-funded projects, working independently or in smaller networks on developing and incorporating these technologies to different sectors of city infrastructures and regulatory frameworks. However, for this ecosystem to become sustainable and have a long-term impact on European cities and their inhabitants, there is a need to establish a more comprehensive coalition. Combining efforts offers an opportunity to gain a broader perspective, resulting in an integral vision and better aligned outcomes.

The common purpose of this collaborative network – supported by UAM initiatives Sesar JU and UIC2 – is not only to establish an ecosystem of UAM options, but also to increase stakeholder and public knowledge and acceptance of these developments. It also provides opportunities to exploit the synergy between each project and the associated demonstrator cities.

Joining forces provides benefits to all parties of this expanding coalition and facilitates the strengthening of these relationships. Joint activities of this network will include:

  • Developing public and private partnerships (PPP) with unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) industrialists, unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) operators, infrastructure developers, local governments and regulators to develop and incorporate very-low altitude UAS transport;
  • Consolidating UAM activities to form a community of knowledge transfer and engagement-building practices;
  • Unifying management processes to organise, monitor and improve relationships with stakeholders to position this UAM ecosystem globally; and
  • Connecting urban airspace experts from different sectors to facilitate crossover industry innovation and knowledge transfer.

In the coming years the projects will showcase interesting real-life demonstrations and technologies and will work on improving UAM regulatory frameworks.

Regulation can be swiftly outpaced by technology. As urban airspace operations are continuously evolving, valid questions regarding safety and possible bottlenecks will continue to be raised, which is why it remains imperative to maintain an open dialogue with European member states and regulating bodies. This collaborative network builds, integrates and aligns technology, along with EU-compliant interoperability, governance model and legal frameworks. This will help address any concerns in a unified approach for a common purpose.

Joining forces also delivers an opportunity to craft an efficient urban airspace transport system building on living lab results. The knowledge gained from these demonstrators makes it possible for cities to achieve decreased pollution levels, reduced transportation time, less congestion on the ground and improved emergency medical services.

Ultimately, the focal ambition of this collaborative network is to expand knowledge and awareness in cities and increase public acceptance of UAM developments. The mutual goal is to break through current European environmental, societal, economic and technological barriers to impact positively the lives of all members of all European communities.