Urban Air Mobility - Smart Cities

Within and between cities – urban air mobility for smart cities

Reiner Hertl
09.04.2019
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4 minutes

Conveying passengers and freight swiftly above ground-level traffic jams, urban air mobility (UAM) is on the rise. The aviation industry, the automotive industry and many collaboration projects between the two are competing for market shares, as are a great many startups and pioneers. How will the new “sky streets” transform the urban landscapes of the future?

Drone and air taxi technologies from multiple mobility players

Mexico City and Singapore are just the beginning, with air taxis capable of taking off and landing vertically now set for testing in multiple metropolitan areas. Airbus, for example, will soon be piloting its CityAirbus in Ingolstadt, Germany.

In the autumn of 2018, the five MAHHL cities (Maastricht, Aachen, Hasselt, Heerlen and Liège) joined the UAM initiative of the European Innovation Partnership on Smart Cities and Communities in a bid to develop mobility solutions with added value. 

In June 2018, Hamburg was one of the first German cities to be welcomed to the partnership as a model region, and Geneva is also a member. eVTOLs (Vertical Take-Off and Landing craft) and drones (UAS, or Unmanned Aerial Systems) are a continuous growth market whose on-demand options promise to open up new, shorter air routes.

Pilot routes and model regions

In the world’s metropolitan regions and major cities, car, bus and rail transport systems have been butting up against their limits for a long time. In Germany’s crowded, congestion-plagued areas – such as Hamburg, the Rhine-Ruhr region and the greater Munich area – electric and hybrid-drive “flying cars” are also set to fly past commuter traffic. This will please traffic researchers, as well as all those responsible for climate protection and noise reduction. These new forms of air traffic must be coordinated with established aviation and other forms of transportation, such as shipping and rail, as their routes could overlap. As well as the yet unresolved technical and technological issues, solutions to which are still being hammered out in various quarters, the legal regulations governing airspace and its safety must also be further fine-tuned and updated. The complexity of new innovations promises to make this no easy task!

Traffic management, legal framework and air traffic provisions

We cannot wait until the engineers have finished developing the aircraft to enact legislation

German transport minister Andreas Scheuer

, commented Andreas Scheuer, the German Transport Minister, at the CityAirbus project launch in Bavaria’s boom town of Ingolstadt. Rolf Henke, Member of the German Aerospace Center (DLR)’s Executive Board and head of Research and Technology, points out that the interaction of “hundreds to thousands of this type of aircraft in narrow corridors” requires a form of air traffic control, “completely different from anything we’ve experienced before. Relying on the vehicles’ autonomous functions alone will hardly be adequate.” He also states that “we are still working on the rules and permissions which will apply in all these situations. These are not yet in place, and in the interests of us all – whether we are passengers in air taxis or pedestrians on the streets – achieving that will probably take some time.”

Other continents, too, must also create legal frameworks from the ground up. “It is essential for the government to take a leading role in the definition of safety standards,” stated Yasuo Hashimoto, a researcher at Tokyo Aviation Management Research, in Tokyo last autumn. 

Urban architecture, city planning and local infrastructure

In a recent article on urban air mobility, we discussed the necessity of and options for adapting urban architecture and infrastructure to the demands of new types of aircraft. Multi-storey car parks and the roofs of high-rises and new buildings, for example, will be converted to accommodate takeoff, landing and loading areas, such as vertiports, landing pads and hubs. Will, therefore, a landing pad for air taxis be part of the renovation work at Munich’s main railway station? Other metropolises have also been preparing for their future mobility requirements for a long time. The Aviation Cluster Hamburg, which is also home to the WiNDroVe drone network, provides some insights into the situation.

SXSW 2019, ITS World Congress 2021

Experts project that Germany’s first air taxis will be transporting passengers by the middle of the next decade. In the UAM market, where a gold rush mentality is currently prevailing, competition reigns supreme and the battle for market shares is in full swing. There is, however, also a great deal of emphasis on dialogue, cooperation and partnerships. At the end of March, for example, Hamburg, the official partner city of the European Urban Air Mobility Initiative, presented at SXSW in Texas, the leading global conference for emerging technology trends. ZAL, the Center of Applied Aeronautical Research, and the Hamburg Aviation cluster were also involved.

Hamburg is also set to host the Intelligent Transport Systems ITS World Congress in 2021, which is held every three years in America, Asia and Europe in rotation. One of the key topics is Urban Air Mobility.

by Reiner Hertl

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