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A cities perspective of the future of Urban Air Mobility 

Vassilis Agouridas, Leader of the UIC2, UAM Initiatives Cities Community moderated this fascinating session on the perspective of cities about drone operations and the collaboration with Civil Aviation Authorities. 

The UIC2 was established in 2017, within the EU’s Smart Cities Marketplace, transitioning to the EU’s CIVITAS Initiative on its 5th anniversary in 2022. The UIC2 is a city-centric community with a mission to drive the sustainable and secure transition of urban mobility to the vertical dimension. By harnessing collaboration across sectors relevant to UAM, UIC2’s goal is to shape the future of UAM services. 

Three other members of this panel are also members of the UIC2. Vassilis was joined by Pedro Fernandez, Head of Internation Mobility and Environment Projects at the Madrid City Council, Borja Blond Arroyabe, Director of Advanced Air Mobility at Neom, Jacek Woznikowski, Director of the Department of Social and Economic Development and Cooperation at GZM, and Dr. Astrid Szog, Cluster Manager at Regionalmanagement Nordhessen. 

How do you characterise the innovation ecosystem of Urban Air Mobility for Kassel? 

Vassilis kicked off the questioning by asking Astrid how she would characterise the innovation ecosystem around UAM in northern Hessen and Kassel. 

Astrid begins by taking a step back, and explaining that we can not yet refer to it as an ecosystem.

Exploring the current landscape at Kassel, Astrid commented “We have different drone operators and we have also interested institutions for applying the technology for different use cases. We have the regulators, we don't know how much funding we have for really good use cases, for having a regular implementation of the use case. But it's still rather fragmented.”

Innovation, Astrid outlines takes place once something is out in the market. Whilst the technology exists, and there are many fascinating possibilities for use cases, only once it is in the market can we talk about a fluent innovation ecosystem. 

Astrid explained: “So we don't have an ecosystem yet, not even a system, because it's about these linkages. We have a lot of individuals, perhaps groups, but still, we are far from this ecosystem that is really needed if we want to deploy, not even to scale.”

What stakeholders are already engaged and who else needs to be for the development of the European drone ecosystem?

Staying on the topic of ecosystem, Vassilis asks Jacek what type of stakeholders are already engaged or still need to be engaged for the development of the drone ecosystem in Europe. 

As Director of the Department of Social and Economic Development and Cooperation at GZM, as well as his work at a national level with different stakeholders through UIC2, Jacek has a unique perspective and vision of the challenges of the wider drone ecosystem.

The problem of deciding ‘who should deal with drones in the cities’ highlights the sheer number of stakeholders in just one city. Jacek outlined “So when you want to talk to the city, you need to have guys from mobility planning, risk management, municipal police and so on and so on. So look how many stakeholders you get. That’s only in one city.”

When considering stakeholder engagement for cities, Jacek believes there is one aspect which failed, and that is how each entity is working in a separate bubble, whether that be the cities, the regions, the ministries, or the European Commission. 

Vassilis built on Jacek’s point, questioning why we continue to talk about cities as one entity, despite them being made up of many different people and departments. 

Vassilis expanded “When we are talking about social acceptance, public acceptance, and the role of local authorities, it is not one dimension, it's multiple perspectives, multiple dimensions. And that's why coordination is very important.”

How does NEOM engage city members who do not have an aviation background? 

As was highlighted by Vassilis, not everyone who becomes a stakeholder in the drone ecosystem has an aviation background. This adds to the complexity of communicating the needs and requirements of the industry. 

Vassilis asks Borja, as Director of Advanced Air Mobility at Neom, how he engages city members in conversations, especially when dealing with multiple stakeholders who may have varying levels of aviation understanding.

For Borja, this is the “beauty of what we all have to do together. We have to sell our speeches to the cities based on the real things, what are we going to be able to deliver in the short term?” 

Borja acknowledges the difficulty of communicating these complexities to people who do not have a background in aviation. In meetings with stakeholders without expertise in aviation, he explains that you have to keep things simple and cultivate their attention by showing passion for the technology, industry and future possibilities.

How could the Urban Air Mobility Commission help nurture the drone ecosystem in Madrid?

Vassilis Pedro asked Pedro to detail the workings of the Urban Air Mobility Commission in Madrid, and how it will help their drone ecosystem.  

Pedro explains that there is a lack of coordination, compared to other mobility systems such as ground mobility or underground mobility from a city perspective. 

The Urban Air Mobility Commission aims to explore how the city can work with the national government to establish a framework for drone use cases within Madrid. 

Explaining more about the UAM Commission, Pedro commented “There is a lack of coordination. So this Urban Air mobility commission is thought to co-work, co-create, and also make the link, the ultimate link, between aviation, national, regional government from one side and the city council from the other.”

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