How to bring urban air mobility to life


The launch of UAM services in cities will require the development of an advanced aviation ecosystem on the ground and in the air, explain Jörn Jaeger, Senior Specialist for Aerospace Management & Infrastructure and Barbara Zygula, Regulations & Standards Analyst at Volocopter.


Urban air mobility (UAM) – the aerial transportation of passengers and goods in an urban environment – is enabled by new aircraft with a distributed propulsion system, vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) capabilities, low noise, highest safety, low infrastructure requirements and cost-efficient operations.

On top of that, eVTOL will also contribute to maintaining clean air in cities by being emission-free in flight. Volocopter is positioned to launch an immediate and scalable service with a complete, integrated UAM system and provide quick, safe, and seamless mobility in cities.

To make UAM a scalable, seamlessly integrated reality, a full ecosystem is necessary. Volocopter leads and cooperates with partners in air traffic management, infrastructure and operations to build the ecosystem required to bring urban air mobility to life.

“At Volocopter we are not only designing and manufacturing the aircraft but will also become an air operator and maintain our fleet under Part-145 approval. We are developing vertiport design, our VoloPort, including ground support equipment, and preparing for vertiport operations. And airspace integration is high up on the list of activities. We are also working on VoloIQ, a fully integrated digital platform solution to cover everything from ground and flight operations to booking.”

Jörn Jaeger Senior Specialist Aerospace Management & Infrastructure

Key challenges

Although UAM could take off using the current regulations, infrastructure or air traffic management (ATM), the way to its scalability involves challenges. This new form of mobility is not only about introducing a new aircraft type, but also integrating a new set of operations into our society, gaining public trust, and creating the whole regulatory framework around it.

The first topic to tackle is aircraft certification. To operate commercial passenger flights in Europe, the eVTOL needs to be certified according to the highest safety standards provided by the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) SC VTOL, which is 10-9 for catastrophic failure conditions. These considerably exceed safety levels of drones, helicopters, or conventional general aviation aircraft to allow flights over congested areas from a safety perspective.

While the end goal for Volocopter’s air taxi service is to be autonomous, there will be a pilot aboard for initial operations. The main reason for this is to allow earlier entry to service and to help public acceptance of this new technology. VoloDrone flights, however, will be remotely piloted. This means that two different regulatory regimes might apply to eVTOLs: manned or unmanned, which also brings some challenges.

An important topic, especially in the context of operating in an urban environment, is ground infrastructure. While VTOL aircraft can use existing heliports or aerodromes, such sites are not sufficient to connect desired UAM destinations as operations scale. Hence, dedicated take-off and landing sites, commonly known as vertiports, will be important introductions to a city’s physical infrastructure to support UAM operations. Vertiports’ key differences to traditional heliports are higher passenger throughput, other flight obstacle restrictions, lower noise signature and battery charging infrastructure, essential for eVTOLs operations.

Regarding airspace integration, the aim is to fly safely, efficiently, and to coexist with all other airspace users. The creation of a traffic management system is a great yet complex opportunity for UAM. Firstly, this system will need to be harmonised with existing ATM systems and procedures for flight operations touching controlled airspace. Air traffic controllers (ATCOs) should be involved as little as possible for standard operations.

At the same time, as a different airspace use with partially new airspace users is envisaged specifically at Very Low-Level airspace (VLL) and in urban areas, new systems, procedures, flight rules and roles must be established, especially in previously uncontrolled airspace. While in Europe we see a more integrated approach with U-space airspace, other regions think about a further subdivision of this airspace in airspace for UAM and smaller UAS (though determining the criteria for differentiation could become difficult). In any case, the airspace concept must be developed while considering many more stakeholders. These include but are not limited to air navigation service providers (ANSPs); civil aviation authorities (CAAs) and authorities for safety and security; vertiport operators and airspace users such as general aviation, and operators of flight in public interest such as police, helicopter emergency medical services/search and rescue (HEMS/SAR) missions. In addition, due to the local nature of operations, regional authorities and municipalities will come into (the aviation) play.

Stakeholder Forum

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“In the future we can expect traffic management systems and procedures for incumbent and new flight operations to move towards integration."

Barbara Zygula Regulations and Standards Analyst

However, for now, the safety of their coexistence is achieved by separating these kinds of traffic, for example by means of dynamic airspace reconfiguration or establishing dedicated corridors for UAM services.

“In this context, a challenge for airspace management systems and procedures is to allow for quick airspace (re)configurations and ensure a seamless and secure information exchange between the involved stakeholders, including reactions to off-normal situations”, she adds.

Both manned VoloCity or an unmanned VoloDrone need to be integrated to the airspace, properly equipped, and able to interact with their respective traffic management service provider.

To develop concepts and solutions, Volocopter is participating in various projects aimed at further development and validation of traffic management concepts which are formative in launching the industry. Volocopter successfully demonstrated the integration of Volocopter UAM flights in ATM and Unmanned Air Traffic Management (UTM) systems with flights at the Helsinki International airport in the frame of the Single European Sky ATM Research (SESAR) Gulf of Finland project two years ago. As a result, Volocopter has become a consortium member of the CORUS XUAM project, which is one of the few European lighthouse projects encompassing exceptionally large-scale Europewide UAM demonstrations and the definition of the concept of operations. We also support the evaluation of concepts such as flight-centric sectorless traffic management, system wide information management (SWIM), airport collaborative decision making (A-CDM), airport operations plans (AOPs) or trajectory based operations (TBOs) to be adapted for the UAM industry.

Because of the nature of the short-distance flight, the subject of minimum flight heights must be addressed. ICAO’s Rules of the Air, which are also reflected in the Standardised European Rules of the Air (SERA), include limitations on flights above congested areas, and local governments can restrict or alleviate the intended altitude and routes of UAM operations. Moreover, the coverage of Communications, Navigation and Surveillance (CNS) services in urban zones can be limited, due to low flight altitudes. The challenge includes the introduction of reliable detect-and-avoid mechanisms. Another factor will be weather information: current meteorological services may not be suited enough for UAM city weather reports, where local gusts or changes of temperature may occur. Volocopter has identified all those urban operating characteristics as part of developing workable solutions and actively discussing their application with competent authorities.

In addition to airspace and regulation, interoperability and connectivity are also on the list of industry challenges. Volocopter adresses this by providing an integrated solution where information coming from existing surveillance systems and a combination of data providers can be processed and placed into a sensible picture, which reliably provides information to the pilot. This requires an aviationgrade connectivity service in the urban environment. We are developing a digital backbone for the UAM ecosystem, VoloIQ, to bridge this gap in connectivity while preparing for supporting technologies like 5G.

UAM is a technological revolution, a regulatory challenge and a unique opportunity for growth. Within the current framework, UAM operations can launch, but for their successful development, adjusted and new regulations and standards will play a pivotal role. Aviation regulators around the globe have heeded the call and are addressing these needs. In Europe, EASA and the European Commission are developing the necessary legal framework to safely integrate UAM to European airspace. Volocopter values the ongoing regulatory development and supports it both in Europe and globally by open communication and dialogues with regulators and the industry. We believe that to truly bring UAM to life, rulemaking and technology need to work hand in hand as pioneers on this frontier. We also continuously emphasise the importance of harmonising standardisation activities for the UAM industry, not only in Europe, but also as a common approach towards its implementation globally.

These are the main challenges that UAM will need to address. There are more, and new ones will arise, as we create this new form of mobility – as is with every industry. UAM is not only about new aircraft but about new concepts and solutions in various aviation domains. Volocopter is aware of and pioneering that, while partnering with experts in regulation, air traffic management, infrastructure, airports, logistics, unmanned aircraft system traffic management, and digital solutions to bring urban air mobility to life. Furthermore, we believe that making progress day by day, hand in hand with the regulators, local authorities, stakeholders and the industry is the only effective way to enable UAM to take off and scale up all around the world. The aim of enhancing mobility in cities can only be achieved if we work and think globally. What can be seen as a challenge, is also a great opportunity for change.

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