Urban Air Mobility

Airspace is just empty space filled with air. From a different perspective, airspace is a resource subject to national sovereignty, can take different shapes, fulfil functions and be organized into structures and systems. Structured airspace may be even perceived as infrastructure. Structured airspace is increasingly becoming a recognised element of urban infrastructures and urban air mobility an integral part of urban traffic systems. Furthermore, airspace available for use is becoming increasingly scarce. Urban airspace as infrastructure, as a scarce resource and also as urban space needs to be operated and governed.

This issue of the IGLUS Quarterly is dedicated to an introduction to urban airspace, a new focal point for IGLUS. Urban Air Mobility (UAM) is presented both as a concept and a developing new urban system, with important consequences and potential benefits for cities. While UAM-related policy-making and regulation are still in their infancy, it is already clear that UAM has a considerable potential to significantly change the urban landscape including the built environment and how urban spaces may be designed and utilised. New markets are developing as well as novel ways of performing public functions. The timeliness of this IGLUS Quarterly issue is underscored by the recent publication of the world’s first guidance material for the design of vertiports by EASA, the aviation safety regulator of the EU.

In the first article, professor Matthias Finger sets the scene by providing a context for the governance of urban airspace and also placing it in the broader IGLUS framework. By drawing parallels with already existing urban systems, several key aspects of the development of urban air mobility are highlighted, including the structure of urban infrastructures, the impact of digitalization and the interrelated nature of urban systems.
In the second article, which is based on both literature and stakeholder interviews, I intend to introduce the evolving concept of Urban Air Mobility and provide an overview of the state of play in the UAM domain. There is a brief discussion of the most important stakeholder groups and their narratives shaping the sector. Use cases for the urban airspace and their potential benefits are presented. A list of challenges Urban Air Mobility is facing is also provided.

The third article by Umut Alkım Tuncer provides a comprehensive industry outlook including a thorough literature review, discussing relevant technologies and ongoing projects – both public and private initiatives. The question of what may be expected in the medium and long run in this industry domain is also addressed.
In the closing article, Mira Bognár compares potential approaches to creating a functioning urban air mobility ecosystem through the experimental projects carried out in Singapore and Hamburg. In effect, both cities acted as laboratories for conducting controlled urban air operations.

While all these articles contribute to the image of a lively UAM sector thriving with investors, technological innovations, public and private initiatives, it should be noted that there are still uncertainties, challenges and obstacles that need to be overcome before a mature UAM ecosystem may be established. Having said that, we hope you will enjoy reading this issue.

Iván László Arnold

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