There’s a lot going on around the world as we move towards the topic of Urban Air Mobility and Amsterdam Drone Week just held a webinar to discuss Developing UAM ecosystems: Connecting Cities & Regions with Innovative Air Mobility. The panel was moderated by Munish Khurana, EUROCONTROL and included panelists Kay Wackwitz – DRONEII, Joyce Abou Moussa - Innovation Hub Groupe ADP, Hiroko Nakamura – University of Tokyo and Han de Glint - KPN.

Before diving into the discussion, an interesting topic I noticed during the session was the use of different terminology based on the region. Urban Air Mobility (UAM), Advanced Air Mobility (AAM) and Innovative Air Mobility (IAM). I wonder if we’re trying to create too much segmentation in this topic and it’s going to confuse those not intimately involved in the development of working solutions?

The market stats

DRONEII began by sharing some figures related to the investment of $7B in this market, $4B of which was focused on UAM and eVTOL. The priorities of companies going to market in this space have shifted from product development hiring to marketing & sales and staff development hiring. This shows a shift in the market from developing ideas to being ready to actually launch products.

The approach from Paris

Paris is gearing up for the upcoming 2024 Olympics and a full scale up UAM functionality by 2030. The vision for the Paris area is something that requires extensive advance planning in order to ensure integration with existing modes of transport and city infrastructure. Introduction of new functionality must be incremental and include all stakeholders from the public and private sectors. Airports must be integrated with the vertiport network and regulations need to incorporate AAM into city planning. This will all help to advance consumer acceptance of this concept.

Involvement from the Ministry of Transportation is considering the multi-modal transportation alignment, while the Ministry of Health is considering medical emergency use cases. Environmental authorities are considering the implications of vertiports in the communities that will house them. Test beds need to allow for regulators, NGOs, city mayors and the general public to experience UAM.

Today the focus in on the vehicle. It needs to go beyond this with trials to bring communities onboard, while addressing airspace integration, environmental implications and infrastructure requirements.

Tokyo has a different view

In Japan, the idea is more above movement between cities as opposed to the short hops being considered in Paris. In this region it can take one day to travel between cities and the goal would be a solution that reduces this to half of a day. This would allow greater quality of life options for residents to live further away from the larger cities. In 2021, the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism published the Japan AAM Roadmap . 

Both public and private sectors need to work together to achieve these goals, similar to the outlook from Paris. Tests will begin in unpopulated areas to ensure safety and security and mitigate negative industry/public perception.

The role of a telecom

KPN envisions a ‘sky full of drones’ and the need for 5G to help with this sustainable future vision. Three pillars of telecom services will support this:

  1. Connectivity services for drones: connectivity, quality of service for critical applications and air coverage maps
  2. Ecosystem for drone trails and flights
  3. Value added services in the future in support of this market.

In order to provide an adequate digital infrastructure and avoid technology connectivity challenges there needs to be a prioritisation of what’s needed for what applications.

Crossing borders in Europe where telecommunications connectivity becomes a roaming situation could become a challenge for BVLOS flights. Trials are taking place to address this topic with GSMA involvement.

What about the ANSP?

The ATCOs are already fully engaged managing traditional aircraft, how can this be added on top? EUROCONTOL’s view was that there needs to be deconfliction functionality that is automated, as the ATCOs can’t manage all of this traffic manually and they need to be looking at the whole airspace. They are conducting EU airspace assessments in quite a few countries currently. Harmonisation is important, but the needs of specific locations need to be considered along with integration with the existing mobility mix.

Perception must be addressed through increased communication from all players. On the 29th of November, the EU will release its Drone Strategy. It will be interesting to see how this region can move forward as a single team as today the players don’t seem to all be going in the same direction. Just consider all the different terminology mentioned at the beginning of this piece as a small representation.

Picture credit: Groupe ADP, eVTOL flyng over Paris city (©iStock)