About FF2020

Urban Air Mobility on the Rise

Redesigning mobility as we know it

Flying Forward 2020 is a three-year collaborative research project that will develop a new Urban Air Mobility (UAM) ecosystem aligned with the Digital Government Transformation (DGT) of European countries, which focuses on incorporating Urban Air Mobility within the geospatial data infrastructure of cities. Building and incorporating all related data from UAM infrastructures and operations within the digital infrastructure of cities will allow helping society to fly forward in a safe, secure and effective way. This will make life easier, cheaper and provide more opportunities by getting products faster and more efficiently across Europe.

FF2020 offers an entire state-of-the-art geospatial UAM ecosystem which includes a governance model and framework (interoperable and scalable); regulatory framework (machine-readable and executable); geospatial digital infrastructure (technology agnostic digital toolbox); Identity of Things Scheme (identity framework for operators, drones and authorities); and interoperability frameworks (technical, semantic, legal, policy and organisational) – which fully comply with existing EU-regulation and yet challenges these regulations by providing new insights.

The Challenges of Urban Airspace

Challenge 1
Creating appropriate infrastructure and how-to upscale it.

The challenge is to enable UAS in becoming 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 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 down-town 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)4, 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.

Challenge 2
Regulating an entirely new industry.

A series of key questions related to this challenge are being addressed by EASA and SESAR JU, but there are still other challenges we can contribute in resolving, e.g. how to automate procedures adaptively, making it easily applicable and compliant with current legislation.

FF2020 expects commercial 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 aforementioned 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 level6, 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 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. insurance7 and security8. 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.

Challenge 3
Overcoming psychological barriers and social acceptance.

The main challenge is to gain the acceptance and trust in the technology, which needs to be perceived and recognised by the entire society as beneficial, safe, secure, and respectful of the environment, of citizens' rights and their privacy.

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 and 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 in 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 ensure 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), the privacy and security of the individual.

Challenge 4
The complex stakeholder value chain for implementation and market uptake.

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 UAM market.

Turning the revolutionary concept of drones above cities into 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 on 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 (intra 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, SME’s and start-ups can thrive, but where the gains of the investment are put back into to 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 curator of public values and improving their citizens’ quality of life.

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