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The roles and responsibilities of national, regional and local governments regarding the management of aerial cities | Aerial Cities 2023

We kicked off Aerial Cities 2023 with a panel of the roles and responsibilities of national, regional and local governments regarding the management of aerial cities. 

Lorenzo Murzilli, CEO and Co-Founder of Murzilli Consulting moderated this panel, and was joined by: Darryl Abelscroft, Deputy Director for Future Aviation at the UK Department for Transport; Eileen Quinlivan, Assistant Chief Executive at Dublin City Council; Dr Sebastian Friess, President of Bern Economic Development Agency; Marcel Kägi, Director Aviation Policy and Strategy Division at the Federal Office of Civil Aviation Switzerland; and, Giovanni Di Antonio, Aerospace Director at the Italian Civil Aviation Authority

The panelists discuss and assess the current state of the full vertical of the industry from an international level, down to the city level, outlining the challenges governments face and how industry stakeholders can support government officials to create an aligned vision with clear goals for all.

Aerial Cities: What is Dublin’s progress for drone adoption?

It was only right that an Aerial Cities panel begins by addressing the adoption of drones for cities. Talking about the experience and current progress of drone adoption within Dublin, Ireland, Eileen Quinlivan explained the current and future plans for the city. 

Eileen explains that within the council’s own use, there are approximately 300 flights per year, with 20 drones operating within 20 business units. There is considerable potential for this to be expanded, with a particular focus on drone deployment for emergency services and building inspection usage. 

In 2022, Dublin City Council published the report “Accelerating the potential of drones for local government”, as part of the project under the same name, to collate best practices in public sector drone usage, as well as to provide an overview of the international and Irish drones market, to highlight opportunities and accelerate the building of the ecosystem. 

Eileen expanded on the city council’s plans, explaining that they plan to consolidate drone operations into two main users - survey and mapping, and fire services - so they can develop expertise and learn from other cities within these areas.

Building public awareness around drone operations remains of high importance. Eileen commented on the importance of “listening to the citizens of Dublin to see what are their priorities for how drones should be part of the city infrastructure.”

In terms of drone policy for Dublin, they are still in the early stages, with a development plan in place to figure out the infrastructure and traffic management systems.

How the drone industry can help speed up governmental work for the future of drones 

The panel addressed a stereotype that governmental officials work too slowly and ultimately slow the innovation and success of the industry down, due to slow output of regulations and policy. 

Speaking on this stereotype, Marcel Kagi believes there is work the industry can do to support governments to speed up and push through what is needed for the industry to thrive. 

Marcel explains: “What I’d love to see from industry and what I’m still not seeing is having a clear vision of what they want from government regulation.” He argues that without multiple stakeholders in the game to formulate a clear expectation and vision for the government to act on, it is nearly impossible to see fast results on the regulatory side. 

Speaking on the same challenges from within the UK, Darryl Abelscroft outlined that the UK is also within the vision and outcome phase which echoes Marcel’s experience in Switzerland. 

To help build on communication between regulators, officials and industry voices, the UK created the Future of Flight Industry Group consisting of key people across the sector in drones and eVTOLs to set out actions that both industry and government stakeholders need to maximise the industry for both the economy and communities.

Darryl explains that an industry group like this provides clear goals and visions to allow the government to focus on the actions which will have the biggest impact. 

What is the global community position on integrating drones in both cities and airspace?

We asked Giovanni about the role of a global drone community in integrating drones in both cities and airspace. Giovanni told us that though Advanced Air Mobility is primarily a localised concern, there is an international interest in creating a sense of harmonisation for the industry. 

For international organisations, such as ICAO and JARUS, there is a priority in promoting safety, not only to help expand the market for the industry but also to allow more competitive services for citizens. 

The ICAO for example, established the Advanced Air Mobility Study Group to support the creation of a globally harmonised framework and vision for the AAM industry.

Giovanni also highlighted the importance of collaboration between international organisations such as ICAO and JARUS to agree on visions, and share resources.

“Every international organisation today has internal resources, and we need to make our work efficient and avoid duplication of efforts.”

How can the Swiss FOCA help as an authority to organise the drone industry?

As an authority body, we wanted to hear exactly how FOCA were able to help organise the industry as well as emerging aerial cities. 

Marcel outlines that FOCA has a clear vision of what the drone industry needs in terms of regulation, digital infrastructure and policy. The SORA methodology created by JARUS is revolutionising how drone operators are navigating the regulatory landscape, enabling safe and secure flights. 

Talking on SORA, Marcel outlines: “SORA allows us to issue authorisations that minimise compliance with unnecessary stuff, and by doing that lowers the market entry barrier and makes it possible for smaller companies to sell services and products” 

The challenge, Marcel argues, is the lack of processes to issue authorisations to then implement relevant mitigations to deal with air risk effectively. To solve this, Marcel says FOCA want to implement a “U-space portion of airspace where the use of services is mandatory, where everybody who flies needs to be cooperative. What we need to figure out is how the use of these services can then facilitate issuing approvals and make mitigations within these approvals more efficient.”

The Swiss system of distribution of powers between different government levels is praised by Marcel, as he argues that this challenges the assumptions of federal governments and allows resource allocation to come down to political pressure. A challenge of this, however, is not always knowing which voices to prioritise. 

FOCA has tried to mitigate this by creating private-public partnerships such as the Swiss U-space Implementation (SUSI), which was founded to identify, develop and implement U-space capabilities and technologies in Switzerland. The partnership is between the Swiss FOCA, the Swiss ANSP skyguide, as well as 31 companies in the drone and UTM/U-space industries. 

What continues to limit the drone industry from scaling?

Wrapping up the discussion, we asked the panellists what they believe continues to limit the drone industry from scaling. 

Dr Sebastian Friess outlines that governments have only just come up for air after trying to stabilise an economy through a global pandemic. Now is the time for the industry to speak as a collective. 

Sebastian adds: “Smaller particular interests are coming up to the government level and the governments need to decide who to listen to first. Do that task for them - prioritise your ideas and your needs.”

Commenting from a local perspective, Eileen comments that local governments need to keep pace with the demands of the industry. The biggest challenge for local governments is how they keep pace with the demands of the industry and the development of technology and how they can support these developments.

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