Dr Franz Kirschfink - Hamburg Aviation - Urban Air Mobility

Ready for Urban Air Mobility? Hamburg as well! How drones could relieve traffic – Part 2 of the interview with Hamburg Aviation

Charlotte Ebert
04.02.2020
3 pictures
7 minutes

When you think of Hamburg, the Elbe Philharmonic Concert Hall, the St. Pauli Piers Landungsbrücken and of course those delicious sweet pasties (Franzbrötchen) immediately come to mind. However, few people know that Hamburg is the world’s third largest civil aviation location and that every sixth aircraft in the global fleet is built in Hamburg. Dr Franz Kirschfink, Managing Director of Hamburg Aviation e.V., told us this. The Aviation Cluster is an association that promotes the development of the aviation industry in the Hamburg Metropolitan Area.

Interview with Hamburg Aviation – Dr. Franz Kirschfink

I would like to talk to you about a project that is definitely a topic of the future and also lies within Hamburg Aviation: Urban Air Mobility. What exactly is it about?

It’s about using the third dimension of movement in urban areas, too. And in a way that is not yet the case today. So far, we have been using the third dimension mainly for longer distances. This has a relatively strong limitation. With drones and the possibilities of autonomous flight, the question arose as to whether technology could be used in other ways to bring urban spaces into this dimension and make them accessible to everyone.

The city of Hamburg is very interested in this. In addition, we have an environment here that strongly favours the interaction between the various players needed: On the one hand, major aviation players are located here – not everything about the technology has to be invented by car manufacturers. On the other hand, we have an air supervisory authority which is responsible for the airspace up to 350 metres in the city-state of Hamburg and is also located in the economic authority. One of its tasks is to ensure that air traffic safety is weighed up against economic considerations. There is thus a close link between industry and the licensing authority.

Third, a large number of start-ups and younger companies have settled here. Many of them deal with drones or unmanned vehicles and develop all kinds of business models.

Can you give examples?

The most common business models are filming, photography and crop or pest control in agriculture (more about drones in everyday life). But drones could also be used well at the port. For example for bridge or environmental checks or to detect exhaust fumes. It would also be conceivable to use them for navigation on the Elbe in order to relieve the pilots on board.

One project that we have already won comes from the medical field. Here, tissue samples are taken from an operating table to the laboratory in a short period of time. While the patient is still lying in the operating theatre, the tissue is already being analysed. So far, the transport has been done by taxi, but of course much more time can be saved by avoiding city traffic with a drone.

Firefighters already use drones in major fires today: they transmit information about the extent of the fire and where the fire is located. This could all be greatly expanded.

And finally, there is the very big issue of freight and passenger transport. This is the ultimate application waiting for us, so to speak. However, we are still very cautious in this area so far.

Hamburg Aviation

What challenges would passenger transport pose?

First of all, you need ports from which vertical take-off and landing aircraft can take off and land. How do you deal with the resulting noise and how do you integrate these Volocopters into the rest of the air traffic? You need very clear rules that must be followed. An Urban Air Traffic Management would have to regulate and coordinate these traffic flows.

That is a completely different dimension. There are 800 to 1000 approaches per day at Hamburg Airport. If we were to add vertical takeoffs, we would probably have that number per hour. Particularly when you consider that these means of transport are not reserved for the elite, but should be made available to a large part of the population.

The WiNDroVe network is also part of Urban Air Mobility. The German acronym stands for the promotion of the economic use of drones in metropolitan regions. How does this contribute to the overall objective?

We launched the WiNDroVe project two years ago and received a small grant from the federal government. The aim of the network is to openly exchange and complement each other and not to get in each other’s way. The city of Hamburg has now decided to support the project with a 6-figure sum so that we can further expand the network and work on the topics of the future. In the end, however, drones will not deliver Amazon or DHL packages. I don’t believe that this will be the future.

Then what is it?

I’m thinking more of very critical things that I can speed up without spending more money. Let’s go back to the example with the tissue samples. Transportation by car not only takes longer, it also costs more and leads to a higher environmental impact. Such applications of use must be identified. This is then not a one-off aspect, but solves various problems.

Among other things, we use it to equalize normal traffic on the road. But I can only relieve this traffic if I have another concept for the air that is guaranteed to work faster. In addition, autonomous driving must be thought of in a fundamentally different way. People have a subjective need for safety. This may not be satisfied if I don’t have a person on board who controls the device. The technology has long since been developed, but it is important to us throughout the whole story that we approach the subject very cautiously and positively from the outset. For example, by using drones for population-related issues such as fire monitoring or environmental compatibility of ships. It should be recognised that drones are not the work of the devil, being used only by the military or allowing spying on the neighbourhood.

All in all, I am working a lot on the acceptance of this topic, together with Hamburg Aviation. One has to explain to people what these means of transport are good for. And in such a way that it becomes clear how the advantages outweigh the “damages”. If, in the end, only the upper ten thousand can afford it, then we’re not getting anywhere.

Hamburg Aviation

Hamburg was one of the first cities to be welcomed into the Urban Air Mobility (UAM) initiative of the European Innovation Partnership for Smart Cities (EIP-SCC) supported by the EU Commission. What does this bring to the project?

Above all, it serves the exchange of experience. As a region and city, it is an important topic for us, which is why we have already founded WiNDroVe beforehand. We would like to exchange ideas throughout Europe, so the initiative came at the right time one year later.

However, the projects are initiated and paid for by the cities themselves. WiNDroVe runs independently and is also supported by the city. A lot will happen in the coming years. Fortunately we are not the only ones in Germany, other cities are also participating. The exchange among each other will play a major role. If Baden-Wuerttemberg and Bavaria push the hardware well, we won’t have to devote additional attention to the topic. However, we are already a little further along on the subject of organizing traffic. Exchanging and sharing information would be a good thing for Germany as a whole.

It would also be fatal if the idea of competition were to arise.

There is already a bit of “Mia san Mia” (“we are who we are”). That’s OK too, there must be an incentive and regional focus. But I was shocked this year at one of the first major conferences in Berlin: There is far too little cooperation between the ministries ­­– which, however, must be there! The transport and interior ministries are arguing about responsibilities, but would have to work closely with the economy and the environment ministry. I would like to see different perspectives, but one view and joint progress.

Many thanks for the interview!

Dr Franz Kirschfink - Drones - Urban Air Mobility

About Dr. Franz Josef Kirschfink

Born in Belgium, he originally comes from a background in physics. He received his doctorate in elementary particle physics and began his career with Lufthansa in 1989. He is passionate about complex topics and has been Managing Director of Hamburg Aviation since 2014. Privately, he is married and has lived in Hamburg for more than 30 years.

Dr Franz Kirschfink - Hamburg Aviation

Photographer s.h.schroeder / © WingMag

by Charlotte Ebert

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