Urban air mobility is a hot topic in the drone industry. We’ve seen the images, the test flights, the prototypes, and the plans for vertiports everywhere.
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As real implementation gets closer, however, a panel of experts from state and local departments of transportation, community engagement consultants, and air traffic control discussed the question their stakeholders want answered: Who wants urban air mobility? From the floor of Amsterdam Drone Week, the California perspective on implementing urban air mobility.
Yolanka Wulff, J.D., is the co-founder and executive director of CAMI, the Community Air Mobility Initiative. CAMI is a non-profit dedicated to engaging with communities and bridging the gap that can exist between new technology ideas like urban air mobility and the actual people expected to use them.
“Acceptance is not the same as engagement,” Wulff points out. “We accept that we have to pay taxes. That’s something that happens to us. But we need to think about UAM in terms of collaboration.”
As real planning for UAM infrastructure begins, that collaboration has become critical. Ramses Madou is the Division Manager of Planning, Policy, and Sustainability for the Department of Transportation in San José, CA. Madou says that for UAM to engage already stretched resources at a city level, they’ll have to define the value to citizens more clearly.
“[UAM] is literally landing on us – and we’re the least well equipped to deal with this right now. Should we be spending time trying to figure out how to make the next rich person’s fantasy toy to take him to his summer home? We don’t want to do that.”
“First, we have to find the use case and the value. We’re still hunting for exactly what that is. Is it in the delivery space? In transportation? Maybe in emergency services?
We in the cities are the ultimate ground truth for this technology. And we have to bring those voices up.”
Matt Friedman is the Chief of the Caltran Office of Aviation Planning. He says that it will be up to local communities to make the decisions about where infrastructure will be located on their own, but recognizes the need to think carefully about the intersection of airspace access and land use policy. While it may seem like an easy idea to use existing airfields for urban air mobility, Friedman points out that in the housing strapped cities of California new homes are often built on available land close to air fields. Those new homes may be negatively impacted by lower altitude UAM traffic. “We’re trying to meet two goods, two important needs: but we don’t want to create new problems when we solve old problems,”
Friedman also comments that both safety and equity are critical considerations for placement of transportation infrastructure, including vertiports. “In California, we learned from the development of the interstate system that where you put those highways has lasting impacts on the community… When a vertiport is placed into a community we want to consider the economic prosperity it brings. We want to know that it benefits the community, and it benefits everyone.”
Ultimately, Wulff’s goal with CAMI is to ensure that technology providers and communities work together on developing UAM. That’s not easy, as Ramses Madou points out, and people will need to take the initiative to make it happen. “The aviation space is very rarified – it’s not a world that is used to dealing with local issues other than noise complaints and land use,” he says. “But now, we have vehicles flying much closer to land and in many more places. Because it’s a new area and there are new integrations between systems that have not had to work together before, it’s up to people to say, ‘hey, I need to be there.’ ”
Are these [UAM vehicles] actually going to be a benefit or not? We don’t know yet.”
“We need to figure out what real problems are that might be solved with these vehicles, and then talk to industry and tell them this is what we need,” says Yolanka Wulff.
Miriam McNabb is the Editor-in-Chief of DRONELIFE and CEO of JobForDrones, a professional drone services marketplace, and a fascinated observer of the emerging drone industry and the regulatory environment for drones. Miriam has penned over 3,000 articles focused on the commercial drone space and is an international speaker and recognized figure in the industry. Miriam has a degree from the University of Chicago and over 20 years of experience in high tech sales and marketing for new technologies.
For drone industry consulting or writing, Email Miriam.
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