What is all about the role of cities and regions in the preparation and deployment of UAM services?

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’:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.

In addition to the regulatory and compliance challenges, there are other non-written challenges that need to be addressed if UAM services are to be realised and scaled as envisaged. For example, as noted during the UIC2 Panel at World ATM Congress 2022 (Expodronica track), there is an imperative for more proactive and close coordination of aviation authorities with local authorities (e.g. cities and regions), in terms of collectively elaborating  challenges and opportunities towards holistic, and integrated, urban development and mobility planning (e.g. Sustainable Urban Mobility Plans2UIC2 has developed the SUMP and Urban Air Mobility Practitioner Briefing published by Eltis, the EU’s Urban Mobility Observatory, https://www.eltis.org/in-brief/news/new-sump-practitioner-briefing-urban-air-mobility). In other words, going beyond treating single UAM operations on a case-by-case ad-hoc basis. Furthermore, it was highlighted in this UIC2 Panel the importance of putting forward ‘city metrics’ for evaluating operational and societal impact measures (e.g. noise, visual pollution, ecological footprint), which in fact many of them are needed to address or mitigate the concerns identified in the EASA study on UAM social acceptance in 2021 (e. g. noise/sound levels to meet city sounds level, visual pollution, wildlife protection). 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 20183UIC2, An Overview, First Forum of the UAM Initiative Cities Community Amsterdam, October 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 embracement4UIC2, An Overview, First Forum of the UAM Initiative Cities Community Amsterdam, October 20185Agouridas et al, 2022, Working Papers. 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 it 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-offs6Agouridas et al, 2022, Working Papers..

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…

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