Urban Air Mobility 2021 European Mobility Week 2021 SUSTAINair

Sustainability of Urban Air Mobility ? | European Mobility Week 2021

Between 16-22 September 2021, SUSTAINair marks the European Mobility Week with an elaboration of a novel mode of sustainable transportation: Urban Air Mobility (UAM).

European Mobility Week is a European initiative supporting the use of public transport as an efficient, affordable, and low-emission mobility solution for everybody. The #MobilityWeek annual theme for 2021 is ‘Safe and Healthy with Sustainable Mobility’. The aim is to raise awareness on active urban mobility and low- or zero-emission mobility.

The future of mobility is multimodal | European Mobility Week 2021

Imagine you want to travel from A to B. Ideally, you take your shared rental car to a part of a city where you can park comfortably and change to a public bus or train. On the way to point B, you also use an e-scooter or an e-bike. In 3-5 year’s time perhaps, you will take a ride in a flying electric taxi at one of the vertiports distributed across the city.

The integrated use of several different forms of transport by passengers and freight is called multimodal mobility. It aims to mitigate the negative consequences of transport such as pollution, climate change, noise, congestion and accidents.

One of its ideas is to make traffic jams in the cities and expensive or non-existent parking a thing of the past. However, the impact of multimodal means of transport will be manifold. Car sharing, electric scooters, or rental bicycles are not only novel environmentally conscious directions of the urban transport of the future. Urban air mobility (UAM) has the potential to contribute to a sustainable multimodal mobility system as well.

Urban Air Mobility | European Mobility Week 2021

Self-driving flying taxis or drones delivering groceries might sound like science fiction but are examples of Urban Air Mobility or UAM becoming a reality in European Union cities. The European Aviation Safety Agency – EASA predicts that the first operations will be a reality 3 to 5 years from now.

Urban Air Mobility is a new mode of urban transportation allowing for air transport of goods and people. EASA defines UAM as a new mode of air transport of goods and passengers in urban environments, using electric aircraft taking off and landing vertically, with or without a pilot on board.

The Association of European Research Establishments in Aeronautics – EREA defines the UAM as a future of mobility for urban and remote areas, fostering regional multimodal mobility, and efficient and environmental friendly manned and unmanned passenger and cargo transportation as set out by Flightpath 2050.

Urban Air Mobility, in general, aims to improve the efficiency of transportation in urban and inter-urban areas while reducing the environmental impact.

Technology enabling Urban Air Mobility

Key enablers for Urban Air Mobility were the significant reduction in lithium-ion battery cell costs (110€/kWh in 2020 vs. 1000€/kWh in 2010) and the increase of cell energy density (300 Wh/kg in 2020 vs. 150 Wh/kg in 2010). The development of electric vehicles in the automotive industry strongly influenced the innovation for Urban Air Mobility in Europe and globally.

The leading role of Europe in the development of Urban Air Mobility can be traced back to the first flight of a manned eVTOL proof-of-concept by Volocopter in 2011 (Volocopter white paper). eVTOL are electric vehicles with vertical take-off and landing, one of the newest innovations in the aerospace industry. eVTOL vehicles are electric and function much like a drone. Large omnidirectional fans help the aircraft move in any direction and even take-off vertically. Another critical element of eVTOL flight is the transition between vertical and forward flight. There are also several other European companies developing UAM aircraft at the moment, for example, Airbus, Ascendance, Lilium, Pipistrel, Quantum Systems, and Tecnalia.

SUSTAINair and novel aerospace structures to reduce weight, CO2 emissions

In general, there are several ways of making air travel more sustainable. In a nutshell, here we divide those into two approaches:

  • Switching from fossil-derived jet fuels to renewable ones (electric, hydrogen, SAF) with lower emissions during production.
  • New materials and coating technologies for lighter air vehicles are more aerodynamic and resistant to wear and tear, thus consuming less energy.

The focus of the SUSTAINair project is on the latter.

Air vehicles have always demanded lightweight constructions. Everything that is moving profits from lightweight construction because it effectively reduces energy consumption, which means fewer emissions.

The SUSTAINair project partners investigate novel metal alloys and composite materials and technologies for lighter aerospace components, developing realistic ways to reuse or recycle those materials, thus closing the loop.

Such a combination of metal and composite materials does not come without technological challenges to joining and repair operations, as well as for circular approaches in the end-of-life process.

The joining on air vehicles is currently done by using rivets, which are difficult to remove. Rivets also make aircraft heavier, negatively affecting fuel consumption. Project partners’ particular expertise in welding and other joining techniques could ultimately eliminate the need for rivets. This innovation cannot be adopted without changes to the current standards given by aviation authorities such as EASA, which is providing consultation to the partners in the project.

Last but not least, to increase aerodynamic efficiency and maintain aircraft safety, SUSTAINair´s integrated sensor technology aims to allow real-time, onboard damage diagnostics for structural health monitoring

Urban Air Mobility in the daily life of Europeans

As with any novel technology, the development and its adoption are part of the broader technological, legal and societal debates. The Urban Air Mobility as a breakthrough in urban mobility needs to be accompanied and supported by relevant regulatory measures that would reflect European society’s needs and aspirations and provide a stable and clear framework for the industry. Moreover, the operation of air vehicles in densely populated cities demands conversations about environmental issues such as pollutant and noise emissions.

The EASA´s study on the societal acceptance of the Urban Air Mobility – 20211

The EASA launched a comprehensive study on the societal acceptance of UAM across Europe in November 2020. The results published in 2021 indicate that safety, security, and environmental topics such as noise, impact on animals and battery issues are mentioned as great concerns especially for drones and air taxis. 

The EASA´s survey on societal acceptance of UAM also shown that UAM has a strong support in cases that are valuable to all, i.e. transports to the hospitals, drone deliveries of groceries or medical supply’s, transport of emergency personnel.

Currently in Europe we observe many pilot regions and projects, for example, Frankfurt, Paris, Cologne and Dusseldorf, Linz, Helsinki, and Ingolstadt developing and testing eVTOL concepts – electric vertical take-off and landing. (Full EASA´s report)

European Mobility Week Urban Air Mobility 2021

White paper on the Urban Air Mobility by EREA – 2020

EREA in its white paper on Urban Air Mobility describes a wide variety of challenges faced by the UAM approach. A whole set of new technological standards and certification rules have to be developed in order to provide a solid basis for safe, innovative and sustainable aerial solutions. Developments in research, technology, manufacturing, operations and community outreach are of key importance.

In this process, the topic of Urban Air Mobility raises new scientific questions addressing areas such as safety, airspace and Unmanned Aircraft System Traffic Management (UTM / U-space), performance-based operations, swarm exploration, flight termination, landing systems, detect & avoid, interference-resistant navigation systems, security and cybersecurity and many more. Since neither of these issues can be understood and solved by manufacturers or users nor by legislators alone, collaboration and support from the research community is of increasing significance in terms of forming a link for both technical and regulatory issues.

SUSTAINair project partners planning sustainable daily commutes

The SUSTAINair project partners marked the the European Mobility Week 2021 by documenting their sustainable daily commute to work.