Flying Forward 2020 (FF2020) is a collaborative three-year research and innovation project funded by the European Union under the Horizon 2020 programme with grant agreement number 101006828. Our project is developing an entire state-of-the-art Urban Air Mobility (UAM) infrastructure by incorporating this new form of mobility within the geospatial digital infrastructure of cities. It includes a governance model and framework, a regulatory framework, a geospatial digital infrastructure, a Digital Toolbox, an Identity of Things (IDoT) scheme, and interoperability frameworks. The solutions developed during the project are being tested in five living labs across Europe: Eindhoven, Milan, Zaragoza, Tartu and Oulu – enabling an open dialogue with stakeholders, end-users and citizens to improve processes and results. Ultimately, FF2020's goal is to have a positive and lasting impact on the quality of life of European citizens and to create sustainable partnerships and cities.
EU FUNDING PROGRAMME: Horizon 2020 (H2020)
CALL FOR PROPOSAL: MG-3-6-2020: Towards Sustainable Urban Air Mobility (RIA)
GRANT AGREEMENT NO.: 101006828
START DATE: 1 December 2020
END DATE: 29 February 2024
PROJECT COORDINATION: Brainport Development
The challenge is to enable Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) to become a useful component of tomorrow’s mobility by integrating them into the overall transport infrastructure network of a city with guidance from city planners and transportation experts.
UAS and the Urban Air Mobility (UAM) market, in general, is an entirely new kind of transportation and will require substantial development and modification of current infrastructure. According to several studies, the infrastructural constraints include vertiports built downtown to host take-offs and landings, battery charging stations (which are a critical element for safety, but also for business viability since charging times should be as short as possible), new digital procedures as well as new services for air traffic management at Very Low Level (VLL), maintenance facilities with skilled personnel to handle the drones and passengers (which also require attention to its security aspects). A 5G cellular network is imperative in this context to ensure fast, low latency, highly reliable communication between the unmanned aircraft in the air, its control unit on the ground, the entities responsible for Air Traffic Management (ATM), several service providers (e.g. meteorological or geographical information) and public users, such as police officers.
Many cities already have heliports. Therefore, they possess the necessary infrastructure for landing sites. Only five heliports will suffice to create attractive routes in the first UAM deployment phase. In the next phase, selected geographies will have up to 40 vertiports with relatively small take-off and landing sites specifically designed for passenger drones. In the final phase, megacities with a population of five million or more will have up to 100 such sites to provide satisfactory service coverage. In this context, the International Standard Organisation (ISO) is developing a complete ISO 23629-XX5 series of new standards for the management of air traffic at very low levels as well as ISO 5015-2 series for vertiport operations – including ground handling, which needs to be in place for proper operation.
A series of key questions related to this challenge is being addressed by EASA and SESAR 3 JU, but there are still other challenges we can contribute to resolving, e.g. how to automate procedures adaptively, making it easy to apply and compliant with relevant legislation.
FF2020 expects commercial Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) transport to remain a highly regulated market that will remain under the guidance of the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) and the two other globally preeminent regulatory agencies: EASA in Europe and the FAA in the USA. However, as stated in Article 44 of the mentioned convention, ICAO is solely responsible for international operations and long-range flights at heights above ground of 150 metres or higher. Urban flights will not be standardised by ICAO but are still subject to aviation provisions applicable on a regional and/or national scale.
Looking at the regulatory and legal requirements, one can identify rules for several aviation domains along with the initial and continuous airworthiness of the aircraft itself (and all its components, including the control unit on the ground as well as the command and control data link with the aircraft); the operations; personnel competency; Low-level Traffic Management (LTM); and the vertiport infrastructure. However, since the responsibility of regulating access to airspace remains at state level, there is a need to complement the current EU regulatory framework with a common approach between the Member States for tackling the whole operational concept of Urban Air Mobility) UAM, and not only the aspects concerning airworthiness certification. Moreover, while safety regulations are being processed, there is still the need to develop regulations to undertake other issues such as security, liability, privacy, environmental protection, etc.
Today, the set of EU regulations necessary to facilitate the accelerated integration of UAS into urban national airspace systems is not complete, as there are still gaps in, e.g. insurance and security. Since aviation regulations, including those for UAS, are becoming more complex, it would be difficult for a small or medium-sized enterprise to comply with all of them without the support of digital tools. Digital tools would also greatly help the police and other law enforcement agencies to check the identity and flight parameters of several UAS in the sky.
While flying in a passenger-carrying UAS or delivering goods via drone – mainly above and in cities – may sound appealing, it will create challenges as yet unknown. Once UAS operations reach their full potential, addressing safety and security concerns, mitigating visual and noise pollution, plus ensuring socio-economic equity in accessing mobility becomes vital. There are two main challenges we need to tackle.
The first challenge is the expected increase of movement within urban airspace in the upcoming years. Visual and noise pollution could have a big impact on the quality of living within cities. To guarantee the convenience of this new mobility, services should be customer-focused/human-centred. But we need to take into account what the effect will be on the environment, on humans and nature. During the design of urban airspace, we need to consider that the volume of movements (including its side effects) is in balance with the absorption capacity of communities.
The second challenge is the expected increase in data and data ownership. According to the Tallinn Declaration on eGovernment, people have insight into and control over their data. With the introduction of 5G, the market will grow from 10 billion connected devices worldwide to 500 billion connected things. Next to the digital identity of humans, we need to secure the digital identity of objects (to ensure responsibility, accountability and security) and the identity of AI (Artificial Intelligence) algorithms. The identity of AI is a key factor because it will be the interaction model between humans and machines. UAS will need to find a balance in securing the common (‘break the glass' in case of emergencies) and the privacy and security of the individual.
The overall challenge is how to make a close collaboration possible between multiple stakeholders across industries, professions, communities, civil society, individuals and regulatory authorities not limited to aviation, all of whom will have to work jointly to create a socially acceptable and profitable business model within the urban air mobility market.
Turning the revolutionary concept of drones above cities into a daily reality can’t rely on the efforts of one city or one manufacturer alone. This new critical asset needs a sustainable business model which secures the role of the government within the market for planning, regulation and, where necessary, enforcement. Additionally, the EU needs to act to secure technology sovereignty and use the potential of the envisaged market developments.
The first challenge is that cities will require an adaptive digital infrastructure for the UAS. An infrastructure secures the interoperability between components, which will make it agnostic (necessary to avoid vendor lock-ins), and it enables cities to anticipate quickly new technologies and innovations (i.e. the developments in AR/VR and mixed reality). Currently, cities have silos within them, which are translated into the current digital infrastructure. This makes (intracity and intercity) interoperability difficult and adaptation to new emerging technology impossible.
The second challenge is to generate a sustainable business model for cities. Due to the current fragmented digital infrastructure, cities are depending on the IT market (vendor lock-in). The potential of an adaptive infrastructure is enormous. With the investment in an adaptive digital infrastructure, UAS will facilitate cities to overcome their societal challenges and decrease societal costs (i.e. urban planning, operation, administration). Therefore, cities need to get in control of their digital infrastructure as a curator to enable a market in which corporates, SMEs and start-ups can thrive, but where the gains of the investment are put back into the infrastructure of the city and its communities.
The third challenge is implementation. New ideas aren’t innovations until you execute them. The European Commission has acknowledged that the biggest challenge in Europe is the upscaling of digital solutions and infrastructures. Hence, they support the Join, Boost, Sustain movement (see www.living-in.eu) as a value-driven approach to upscale digital solutions for 300 million Europeans, yet the knowledge within cities of digital transformation and technology is still limited. Cities need support in a simple, effective, no-coding way of implementation in which public interest is safeguarded while keeping their focus on their role as curators of public values and improving their citizens’ quality of life.