A number of new terms have been coined to describe the new mobility possibilities (for passengers or freight) arisen from the electrification of air vehicles in metropolitan areas. For example, to name a few: UAM (urban air mobility), AAM (Advanced Air Mobility), RAM (Regional Air Mobility) and IAM (Innovative Air Mobility) are commonly used terms. But how do cities and regions perceive these terms? In fact, although these terms differentiate in terms of the actual air vehicles used and their capabilities, needling down the definition is not the first priority for local authorities. The first consideration for them, is how to address the emergence of a new type of air traffic over metropolitan areas no matter the actual type of airborne vehicles. To this end, UIC21UIC2, or the UAM Initiative Cities Community that is part of the EU’s Smart Cities Marketplace, is a member of the Advisory Board of AMU-LED. Members of the UIC2 are only cities and regions across Europe. https://smart-cities-marketplace.ec.europa.eu/action-clusters-and-initiatives/action-clusters/sustainable-urban-mobility/urban-air-mobility-uam has been using the term UAM, and thus the word ‘urban’, only as a semantic to refer to the emerging phenomenon of:
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
In other words, the term ‘urban’ is used to refer to metropolitan areas whether this is covering, strictly speaking, urban, suburban or regional mobility. What it does matter is the very low airborne traffic above populated areas. This is the definition we will consider in this post.
In Europe, very low airborne traffic of, initially, unmanned air vehicles (drones) will be managed through the U-space and its associated enabling services. According to the EU’s U-space Implementation Regulation (EU) 2021/664, and specifically of its Article 18(f), national competent authorities shall establish a coordination mechanism for the planning, execution and review phases of U-space by involving public and private entities, including at local level. This multi-level governance approach is required to ensure that the perspectives of all relevant stakeholders (i.e., involved or affected entities) are taken into consideration. To this end, local authorities, whether being a regional or municipal authority shall be involved in the deployment phases of U-space.
Furthermore, and depending on their competences, or willingness to develop pertinent competences, the role of local authorities may vary from simply advising or safeguarding local interests, to becoming more active by managing certain, of even, all, activities assigned to the newly introduced role of ‘U-space Coordinator’:
- Such a role aims to ensure that all first stakeholder perspectives have been taken into account, for example through public consultations, and second that alignment and coordination of pertinent entities have been put in place.
- It also aims to provide informed recommendations to competent authorities for the nature and specific deployment characteristics of a U-space in a given locality. To this end, more ambitious local authorities may aspire to develop the needed competences to even carry out more operational tasks by managing certain aspects of U-space, depending on their national jurisdictions (e.g. City-States, Cantons), in the frame of their overall metropolitan development and transport planning activities and responsibilities.
UIC2 has been putting forward the topics of the aforementioned discussion in the wider agenda of developing and deploying UAM services and to this end it has had a leading and influential role in both the development of the SUMP-UAM Practitioner Briefing and the shaping of Article 18(f)7see UIC2 Manifesto on the Multilevel Governance of the Urban Skies, December 2020, https://www.amsterdamdroneweek.com/press-releases/cities-regions-manifesto/ and its supporting Acceptable Means of Compliance (AMCs) and Guidance Material (GM). Projects like AMU-LED not only deliver on technical merit but make the necessary initial step to bridge the gaps between local authorities (cities and regions) and the aviation community. Further collaboration and coordination work is required either through funded deployment projects, or public-private project initiatives at national, regional or local levels to safeguard the impact of technological excellence and to nurture societal embracement.
In addition to the areas we have identified above, UAM presents new challenges for cities and regions that need to be addressed such as the financing mechanisms for new services or how solutions contribute to cities’ sustainability objectives. To be explored in the next future…